Not long ago I had a conversation with a youth pastor of a large church in our area that absolutely rocked my ministry perspective. Due to a school schedule conflict, a small group of about 15 students that were a part of his student ministry could not attend their church’s large mission trip. As a concession, this lead youth pastor agreed to take this small group on a later trip. The youth pastor went on and on about how great it was to get to spend time with such a small number of students. Ironically, 15 is a pretty good number of students for me when it comes to getting students to attend an event that lasts more than a day. It really made me wonder if I was using the size of my group to our advantage. What were we doing that embraced our size rather than in spite of our size? Are we making the most of our ability to be flexible and spontaneous with certain events? Are we using our smaller size to have big conversations?
The term leveraging has become a somewhat overused one in church leadership recently, but I feel that it particularly applies to this discussion. Regardless of your church’s size, you must use that factor to your advantage. When I look at the big programs in our area, I lament our lack of resources and critical mass for big events. When I look at their numbers, I admit that I get antsy and wonder if I am making a difference. Here’s what is crazy: sometimes when large church ministers look at smaller churches, they wonder the same thing. They worry about students falling through the cracks and wish they could run a simpler ministry that does not require charter buses when they want to take a trip to Sonic.
One of the problems with leveraging your groups’s size is that the models of ministry that are advertised in books and articles are almost entirely based on very large churches. If a student minister with 40 kids tries to do everything Saddleback or Willow Creek does, there will typically be problems with duplicating that model in the smaller context. The resources that come out of larger churches are great, but the problem arises when we think that our church should look like that church or our program should look like that program. It would be like Mayberry deciding to restructure using the plans of New York City. It just won’t work, and it really shouldn’t. When we focus on becoming more like a larger church’s ministry, we are denying all of the benefits of being a smaller group.
The same holds true for larger churches wishing that they could be smaller. The trick is to embrace the size of your church and determine ways to make the group smaller. Perhaps my friend saw the benefit of the smaller mission trip group and will consider doing multiple mission trips with smaller students. Maybe rather than having the large group times as your key point of emphasis, larger churches constantly discuss the importance of small group discipleship. I served as part of a large college ministry that found it difficult to disciple the mass of college students who came in the doors. The answer was to create small groups that brought certain people together and created different discipleship opportunities.
In the end, our mission is not to have an awesome program. Our mission is not to have the largest number of students in town. Our mission is to make disciples. A huge step in doing that is to stop worrying about how cool our program looks on a flow chart or how awesome our logo looks. When we get down to simply looking for the unique ways that our church can lead students to know Jesus and become his disciple, we will find that God has given us everything we need to accomplish the task that he has called us to.