A few weeks ago there was a flurry of conversation in the interwebs stemming from a comment Andy Stanley made during a message. You can read some about it here. Andy Stanley has been a huge influence on my life as a Christian, husband, father, pastor, and leader. He's a big reason I work full-time for a church today, so I'm certainly biased. However, this post isn't designed to discuss his comments and make judgments about them. I want to address a good question that came up in the conversation.
I believe small church student ministry can be done well, but continue reading to learn about the challenges and the hard truth.
Can A Small Church Do Student Ministry Well?
Absolutely. It's just different, in my opinion.
One of the things Andy said is that North Point Community Church intentionally tries to launch campuses that are large enough to create the kind of student ministry environments they want to create. They want separate environments for middle and high school and a critical mass feel that would help new students feel like they're part of something exciting. That is how they prefer to do it.
The hard truth
There is truth in what Andy said, but it doesn't mean small churches can't do student ministry well. The truth is that it is a challenge to minister to the 6th-grader and the 11th-grader together. Their worlds are so different. I've been there. It's also hard to create an engaging environment with 8-10 students. I've been there too. As many critics to Andy's comments pointed out, though, you can absolutely do it. The approach has to change.
Know your size culture
Tim Keller wrote a great article entitled Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How strategy changes with growth. It is a MUST read for every church leader. In fact, we'll give it to people in our church who have issues with how we do church, especially when we know it's a size-culture issue. Tim makes so many good points in the article, one of which is, “There is no ‘best size' for a church.” The core premise of that article is something I agree with, a church's size isn't right or wrong, but different strategies are needed to lead them well.
Student ministry in a small church
I don't even know how to define small church quite frankly. The average church is about 80 in size, and church sizes definitely vary depending on where you are in the country. Where I live, a church of 1,000 is quite rare. In other places, 1,000 might be small. But, here's what I do know. A student ministry of 12 can't be led like a student ministry of 120, which can't be led like a student ministry of 1,200.
How small churches do student ministry well
Here is how I've seen small churches do student ministry well, along with some things we did when I was a volunteer in a smaller student ministry.
- They make relationships the priority. Large churches want to do this too, but small churches major in it. Every student is known well by multiple leaders and the other students. In many cases, those relationships have a lot of history as leaders have known those students their entire life.
- They integrate. Students are just as much a part of the church as anyone else. They know kids, they know senior adults, they're in the main service and they're part of everything the church does.
- They lead it like a small group. Smaller churches use some of the key practices of leading a small group in leading their student ministry. They create a safe environment. They make it feel like family. They help new students get to know everyone in the group from day one.
- They show up in student's lives. Smaller churches have student leaders who show up in the lives of students. They go to games, musicals, plays, practices, and wherever they can cheer on that student.
- They get students involved. Again, large churches want this as well, but small churches get students involved in doing ministry.
Now, can small churches mess this up? For sure. Just like large churches can mess it up in other ways. I think Andy was specifically thinking of small churches that cast students aside and overlook that important ministry. None of us want that.