If youth ministry needs to change as much as I have been discussing, size needs to be mentioned. To put it simply, we should consider how youth ministry might be smaller. More personal and face-to-face. More relationally close.
Thinking about the need for smallness in youth ministry is a theme suggested by Mark Oestreicher in his book Youth Ministry 3.0. It is further corroborated by youth ministries across the country that have turned to “small groups” to help address needs in the youth ministry.
While small groups that are a part of a larger “big-box” style youth ministry are often the model we have defaulted ourselves to, I’m wondering if that goes far enough. In some (if not many) cases these small groups are not as central to ministry to adolescents as they could be, instead serving as appendages to a ministry still focused upon the youth pastor et al. Ministry to teens that is small needs to go beyond the simple “program” of small groups and begin to consider a full-scale revision and rethinking of such efforts that lets go of the need for the big group approach. Perhaps there don’t need to be any more regular youth group meetings; just small ministry efforts and whole-church gatherings.
Just writing that feels risky. That’s how I know I’m suggesting change.
All ministers and churches are tempted by matters of size. Gauging our human level of success by numbers is a far too common occurrence, despite our stated principles. While growth is a natural development in Christian ministry centered on the good news of Jesus Christ, such change need not happen in an “accumulating towards the center” fashion. Instead it could mean a proliferation of smaller ministry moments and opportunities within the local congregation that are connected to the unique developmental and pscho-social realities of adolescence. Like churches that grow to a certain size before planting or opening a separate campus, so too youth ministries, as they engage new individuals, can simply open new doors for engagement on the part of teens and adults alike.
Where is the youth pastor in all of this? Well, that’s a good question. But, considering my comments the other day, perhaps a bit of an anachronistic one. If we are to consider the option I’ve mentioned today, it implies a new direction for such ministry. No longer should “small groups” be fit into an existing and traditional youth ministry model. Instead, the desire to work in focused and face-to-face ways with young people needs to take the lead. The rest of the things that we’ve come to know and expect? Well, perhaps we should consider putting them away or adjusting them in favor of trying something new. It certainly won’t give us the optics of the large group…but it might just develop disciples in a way we can often miss.
Just some thoughts, friends. I welcome your comments.