If a student walks into a small youth ministry, he or she will most likely be greeter and ask a few questions. If a student walks into a mega-church youth ministry, he or she will most likely become one of the many who simply just take a chair and become a spectator. Small church ministries have a faster ability to start relationships and learn about the student before he/she fills out a card indicating he/she wants to get involved in an area bible study/small group.
Ability to rethink and implement more quickly
Youth culture is always changing, so therefore your youth ministry should always be changing. The youth pastor should always be asking? Why are we doing what we are doing? Is it working? And how can we do it better? I would say if you have been using a model for 3 to 5 years, ditch it. Models are immediate responses to current contexts. Trust me your students have probably out grown the model two years ago. After many months of planning, preparing, praying, and assessing you can develop a model without stepping on anyone’s toes. The youth pastor has the ability to implement fast.
Small church youth ministry is literally an on-going conversation. I would recommend that teaching times during program are not 25 minutes sermons. Rather the teaching times be a focused dialogue and at the end the youth pastor land the conversation. In my experience, dialogues are more fruitful than a three point talk. Talks only allow the student to listen, a dialogue engages the student and allows them to interactive with the content presented. In the end having the opportunity to dialogue allows the students to have a higher change to take an ownership to his/her faith.
Students should have a place to serve and participate on Sunday mornings. The small church should value the idea of: Family of Families. Essentially the small church should not be as fragmented as the mega-church, rather it should be more interconnected. The men’s ministry should have some exposure to the youth ministry and the children’s ministry should have the opportunity to hang out with the youth ministry. The youth pastor should feel as sense of connection with the entire church, rather than a connection with his/her mini-church of student ministry. Also, the youth pastor should be a team player with the other senior leadership of the church. Intergenerational solidifies more of a connectedness.
Not ministering to the masses
Small church youth ministry programs should not turn into spectators shows. A small church youth ministry should not have students sitting for the entire program. Actually remove all tables and chairs in your youth ministry program. Invite the students to interactive with one another. The more people, the higher the program relies on performance. We have to remember that the postmodern student is very skeptical of hyper programs.
Not driven by programmatic models, but driven by theological values
We as small church youth pastors should not feel guilty because we don’t have a solid small group program. Our entire youth ministry is a small group. I argue that small churches don’t need small groups. Our youth ministries departments need to be defined by theological values (missional, communal, serving, and love)and not by particular programs (i.e small groups, entry events, discipleship groups, student leadership). For example, youth group can consist of going and getting ice cream and the youth pastor should not feel guilty of fitting a program schedule.
Youth pastors are not managers of programs, but a manager of student’s lives
The small church youth pastor can spend a lot of his/her hours with students, not emailing their team to make sure the banners are ready for Sunday. Also the student can have direct access to the youth pastor if he/she wanted. Yes adult leaders are great, but they don’t have the time and expertise the youth pastor has. How much of your time is spent on planning the program?
Generally, student ministries of mega churches become more about their “label”, than about loving kids. It is easy to get so overwhelmed when hearing about the latest fad the mega church is doing. Small church youth ministry cannot talk about their label because we do not have one and if we did have a label no one would hear about it because we are so small. The only thing to brag about is how we are loving our kids. Small church ministry challenges the youth pastor to assess the community and the kids and creatively develop a program that meets the students right where they are at. The small church youth pastor does not need to get caught up in the “labels”, “systems”, and “models” and DONT feel overwhelmed because your small youth ministry is not doing what the mega-church youth ministry is doing.
The beautiful thing about a small church youth ministry is that it is not about the show and it is okay if our “program” sucks and we only have 15 students showing up to our weekly meetings. Stay small and feel great about your small group.
Stay small and think BIG. If you get big, figure out a strategy where you can get small again.