I doubt if there’s a Small Church pastor that hasn’t felt the pain of hearing those words.
I was reminded of that pain while getting re-acquainted with a friend over coffee a few weeks ago.
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.
His pastor had been given a copy of The Grasshopper Myth, which he had latched on to like a spiritual and emotional lifeline. The pastor then gave a copy to my friend, who recognized my name on the cover. So he read the book, then called me and we met for coffee.
Here’s the story he told me.
Blinded by Bigness
A dad had come to his pastor recently to say he was pulling his son out of the youth group and would be taking him to the youth group of 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. “What’s the problem with our youth group?”
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 pointed out to the dad that his son had an opportunity in his current youth group that he was overlooking.
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.
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. They’re concerned that their child won’t get the attention they need when there are too many kids in the class. Even if there’s a teacher’s assistant. They want their child to have the teacher’s attention.
We understand the value of smaller groups for schools and sports. Why do we forget it for church?
Yes, there is value in large groups. I love big and megachurches for what they add to the body of Christ. And yes, there are small groups available in big churches, usually categorized by gender, age and need. All of that is great.
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.
So what do you think? Is there an advantage to being in a Small Church when it comes to having people’s personal, spiritual needs met? Have you ever faced a question like this pastor? What did you do?
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