8 Unique Opportunities for Ministry to Kids and Families in a Small or Declining church
I don't think I need to make the case of how important it is that we minister effectively to children and teenagers in the church. In a small or declining church, however, the problem is that there are often very few children and teenagers, if any at all. This can be a point of great discouragement. If you ask these churches, “What would you love to see God do in this church?” one of the first things they will typically say is, “Well, we'd love to see young families.” These congregations long to see young families with kids and teenagers. It’s what they dream about for their church!
So, how exactly does a small or declining church effectively minister to children and teenagers? While there are no doubt unique challenges, there are also incredible, unique opportunities. It is vital that a church not lose sight of these opportunities...and I believe there are many! Here are a few of them.
#1. Individual care and discipleship. One of the greatest strengths of the small or normative size church in America (75-150 in regular attendance) is that they can give individual care and discipleship to children and teenagers in a way that larger churches may not be able to pull off. When there are dozens and dozens of kids, it can be very difficult to individually shepherd each kid in a personal way. Take my word for it: I have served in student ministries at both large and small churches, and the personal, individual care and discipleship you can give in a smaller church is very unique and meaningful. Remember, at its core, ministry is all about relationships. The kind of a relational ministry a small church can give is profound in the life of a young person.
#2. Greater parental involvement. One of the challenges large churches face in youth and children’s ministry is getting parents involved. From experience and observation, here’s why I say this. In a big church, there are likely at least a couple full-time or part-time staff members focused solely on youth and children’s ministry. On top of this, they typically have a great team of volunteers made up of cool college students and young adults that love hanging out with kids and teenagers.
While this is a great way for these churches to get members involved in serving, it can lead to the negative side effect of parents taking a back seat in the discipleship of their kids. Not always, but often this is the case. Many parents will allow others to disciple their kids rather than jump in themselves. In a small to normative size church, parents can be really involved in the discipleship of their kids in a very healthy and biblical way. Instead of taking a back seat, they get to help drive the car! Church revitalization can provide a need and an opportunity for parents to serve and minister to youth and children directly, as Scripture teaches. This is a huge opportunity.
#3. Available space to redesign. Think about your church building for a moment. Most likely, you are in an old building that hasn't been updated for a LONG time, but the good news is at least you've got a building! Many church planters would give an arm and a leg to have a building like yours. You see, the good news about an old building is that there are rooms and hallways that can be easily transformed into a new, attractive space for youth and children. It is amazing what some fresh paint, a rug, and a few pieces of furniture can do to a room. Dream with your leaders and parents about how your church might be able to create a warm and welcoming environment for youth and children. Get inspired by HGTV and go to town!
#4. Greater flexibility. This is one of the huge advantages to being a smaller church: you can be nimble and flexible. Let me explain this. The larger your ministry gets, the more difficult it is to make changes. It’s just true. To lead change effectively in a large ministry, you have to get far more people on board with even small changes. This can take a lot of time and energy. However, a smaller church is able to be flexible in almost every way: trying new things with kids, creating new events for students, and when needed, able to even pull an audible at the last minute. For example, in a smaller church you can go on unique mission trips and retreats with 7 or 8 kids that would never work with 200. This is a great strength for a church being revitalized. One that should be leaned into.
#5. Inter-generational relationships. One of the beautiful things about most churches in need of revitalization is that they tend to be multi-generational. Instead of seeing that as a weakness, we need to see that as a strength! We need to lean into inter-generational relationships and build off of them. What an opportunity we have to connect young people with older adults, and older adults with young people, in a biblical way, all for the greater edification of the church and the glory of God.
#6. Many young people in the community to be pursued. When you start looking outside the walls of your declining church, there is a neighborhood, there are people, and there are probably families with children and teenagers that desperately need Jesus. And friend, they need to be reached! Many of them are bored, they don't feel loved, and they don’t have many meaningful relationships in their lives. You and your church have the opportunity to reach them and integrate them into your church family in a unique way.
I think of a young man named Hank. Hank was 17 and lived in an apartment right down the street from our church. I would regularly see him hanging around the neighborhood, and he would often ride his bike in front of our church. As several of us in the church began to engage Hank and build a relationship with him, it was clear that he enjoyed being around our church more and more. This is what genuine love and care will do in a person. Eventually, Hank began to come to worship on Sunday mornings, even though he wouldn’t consider himself a Christian. As Hank continued to be loved and connected to our church family, the Lord continued to pursue His heart. In time, the Lord saved Hank and the morning we baptized him was one of sweet celebration.
This is just one example of a young person who needed to be pursued with the love of Jesus by our church. The truth is, there are “Hank’s” in the backyard of your church right now, and the Lord is calling you to reach them and minister to them right where they are.
#7. Everyone has a place. I love this phrase: “Everyone has a place.” In the Church of Jesus Christ, Every child has a place, and every teenager has a place. One of the challenges I have found again and again in larger churches is that certain gifted individuals – adults, kids, or teenagers – are involved in everything and take leadership in everything. The negative side of this is that those individuals who may not be as outgoing or gifted tend to take a back seat. As a result, they're just not as involved. In smaller churches, and in revitalization-type environments, we can truly say that everyone has a place, and everyone has a role. This is a beautiful thing! Every individual can feel valued and have the opportunity to play an important role in whatever is going on. This is a huge advantage.
#8. Momentum can be built more quickly. In revitalization, the Lord brings new life into a dying church. And new life always brings new energy. A handful of folks who are excited about what God is doing in your church, open to trying new things for the Lord, can build momentum much more quickly than a large number of folks who are complacent and comfortable, not wanting to change. This is true for the congregation as a whole, but it is particularly true for youth and children’s ministry. If there is vision, unity, and love, momentum and excitement for this ministry can be built quickly.
Even in the face of many challenges, don't lost sight of these unique opportunities to minister to kids, teenagers, and families in your small or declining church. The Lord loves to show His strength in our weakness and smallness. Trust Him, trust His Word, and love people...and in particular young people... like crazy! Your church can do this!