I’m taking my family to a bigger church.
I doubt if there’s a small church pastor that hasn’t felt the pain of those words.
I was reminded of that pain while getting re-acquainted with a friend over coffee recently.
My friend is a semi-volunteer staff member at a church that used to be a very-big-verging-on-mega-church, but through a series of bizarre circumstances the church has lost a lot of people and is now a small church in a big building.
Here’s a story he told me about some of the pain their church was experiencing now that it was no longer big.
Blinded by Bigness
A dad had come to his pastor recently to say he was pulling his son out of the youth group to go to a nearby megachurch instead.
The pastor asked the dad why. Was there a problem in the youth group? Had the youth pastor, the church or the kids done something wrong to his son?
The dad told him there were no problems. His son liked the youth group and the youth pastor, and would miss his friends. This was the dad’s decision, not the teenager’s.
“But why would you do that?” the pastor asked the dad.
If you’re a small church pastor, you’re ahead of me on this one, aren’t you? You’ve heard it before. Here’s what the dad told him. (Let’s all say it together, class).
“The youth group isn’t big enough.”
When Smaller is Better
“What did your pastor say to that?” I asked my friend.
The answer the pastor gave the dad was brilliant.
He asked the dad this question. “If your son was at a big baseball camp and a major league coach picked out a handful of the best players, one of whom was your son, and said ‘I’m going to spend my time coaching just these few boys to prepare them for college ball’, what would you do? Would you say ‘no’ because he was no longer going to be in the bigger group? Of course not. You’d be willing to pay extra for the more personalized attention, wouldn’t you? That’s the kind of personalized spiritual coaching your son is getting in our church.”
The pastor was right.
Coaching is done better in smaller, more intimate settings than in larger, less personalized groups. That’s why healthy big churches emphasize their small group ministries. But it’s what healthy small churches have already.
Unfortunately for that pastor, and for that teenager, the dad couldn’t see it. He took his son and left the church and the youth group.
Smaller Class Size
When public schools cut back on funds and have to let teachers go, what’s the biggest worry for every parent? They don’t want the class size to be too big. Even if there’s a teacher’s assistant, they want their child to have the teacher’s attention.
We understand the value of breaking into smaller groups for schools and sports. Even megachurches understand the value of getting their members to join a small group. So why do we devalue it in smaller churches?
Yes, there is value in large groups. I love big and megachurches for what they add to the body of Christ. But there is something wonderful to be gained in a church youth group where the youth pastor knows every kid by name, school and family situation.
It matters when a teenager, sitting in their robe for graduation, can nudge their friend to point out that their youth pastor is sitting right over there waving at us.
And in many small churches, the pastor is sitting next to the youth pastor, waving and smiling too.
No, not everyone will understand the value of that – or even need it. But for those who do, I’m grateful for every small church pastor – and youth pastor – who steps up and matters in the life of the people they serve.
Copyright © 2017 by the author or Christianity Today.
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