Original photo from Great Beyond.
For most youth workers, at least part of your time this fall will be spent preparing for what’s ahead. You may already be looking toward Christmas programs, New Year’s Eve events, or even spring 2015. If you’re working in a small church, your enthusiasm for that preparation may already be suffering due to the all too familiar struggle of limitations. You may be recognizing that everything you want to do requires money, time, and people… three things you don’t have in excess.
If this describes you, you may already be discouraged, frustrated, and even ready to march into your church’s next board meeting and call everyone out. All of these responses are, perhaps, understandable. Sure, there’s a lot of frustration that can come with leading a small ministry. Sure, there’s a lot of frustration that comes with not having the time, money, and people to do all that you want to do. But embracing your size, and even embracing the limitations that come with that size, can help you to develop a great ministry schedule for the students God has entrusted to your care.
Here are a few keys to embracing your size when planning.
Maximize what’s awesome about being small.
First, embrace and maximize what’s awesome about being small: RELATIONSHIPS! One of the toughest things about leading a large ministry is creating a setting with a “small feel” so that relationships can be built. However, if you’re leading in a small setting, you’ve already got that! So as you plan this fall, maximize that strength by organizing events that are designed to just spend time with your students, and for them to spend time with each other. That’s one way you can maximize your limited time with them, and maximize a key strength of a small ministry.
Find creative ways to utilize your church family.
If you’re in a small ministry setting, you may have a hard time finding any volunteers at all to work with you in the trenches week after week. So you may be, for the most part, going it alone. But there are some creative ways to connect the students in your ministry with the rest of the church family. Intergenerational ministry opportunities can always be valuable to your students, and there’s the added benefit that your senior pastor may then take part in some of the planning when you involve the rest of the church (relieving some burden from you). FYI: Sticky Faith’s resources provide lot of great ideas to help this along (www.stickyfaith.org).
Make sure not to OVER plan.
More doesn’t always necessarily mean better. In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t. The reality is that the same limitations that you face are hurdles for your students and their families as well. Families are busy. Between sports, school activities, and work, most families feel stretched and overburdened. As a result, if you plan too much, your students are likely not going to show up anyway. And, if they do, you’re likely to become just one more thing they have to check off the list. So, you’re better off just trying to plan a smaller number of really good things. It will maximize your limited time, and each event will have more impact on your students, because they’ll be more inclined to see your event as a fun opportunity.
Utilize good resources.
Utilizing the good resources that are available to you can often save you time. If you don’t have time to come up with ideas for the coming months, there’s no shame in seeking out resources that provide great ideas for you. Actually, most of the best ideas I’ve ever had in youth ministry are the ones I’ve ripped off! There are tons of great resources available to you through Youth Specialties (www.youthspecialties.com), Fuller Youth Institute (www.fulleryouthinstitute), and other organizations that can save you from being creative when creativity’s just not coming. So, if you feel yourself lacking in the creative arena, why not seek out some of the great resources that are already available all around you?
Remember that you’re not alone.
The biggest thing to keep in mind as you prepare is that you’re not alone. Preparing for the future can be exciting, but it can also be discouraging for youth workers in any size ministry when they begin to see the limitations placed on them. Instead, recognize that God placed you where you are, and that the impact that you make in the coming year has very little to do with budget, people, and time—and it has everything to do with the one who created you to serve Him right where you are.
Matt Larkin serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (www.acgc.us). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MattWLarkin.