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Ideas for Small-Church Youth Ministry: YS Idea Lab with Stephanie Caro

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Stephanie Caro is one of the small-church youth ministry gurus who are part of the National Youth Workers Convention. For the last three decades, Stephanie has been an incredible resource to youth workers across the country through her books and through the work she does with Ministry Architects. In this YS Idea Lab, Stephanie shares a few of the best ideas she has for youth workers in small churches

If you don’t have time to watch the full interview, take a look at a few of the key things I gleaned from the conversation with Stephanie:

Most churches are small.

If you’re a small-church youth worker, you’re not alone. In America, 90% of churches have fewer than 299 members, and the average youth group in America has 7 to 8 students. The good news is that there are a lot of small churches that know how to do sustainable youth ministry as a natural part of the DNA of the church. Some of the many benefits of small-church youth ministry include the following:

  • You can know every kid’s name
  • You can be present on every kid’s turf (school, programs, sporting events, etc.)
  • You can make quick, last-minute changes
  • You might be able to fit all your students into 1 church van
  • You can integrate student events into the larger church calendar

Focus on doing a few things really well.

There is a temptation to try and keep up with the programming and schedules of larger churches, and the unfortunate result is that you’ll tend to do things in a fairly mediocre fashion. But if you scale back and focus on a handful of things you can execute well, then you can still deliver a quality event or program in a ministry setting with limited resources.

Integrate students into the entire church.

If you’re part of a small church, it’s important for you to create a space at the table for students in everything you do. If you’re holding a church-wide event such as a potluck, a yearly pumpkin patch, or a movie in the park, be sure to create room for students to help in the preparation of the event. Their involvement will communicate that students’ opinions matter and that there is a place for them to serve in the rest of the church.

Another idea Stephanie shared is to invite the rest of the church to student events. For instance, if you have a student performing in the annual Christmas concert at school, use that as an opportunity for the church to support and celebrate the student. Invite the entire church to the performance and host a dessert bar at the church afterward. Imagine a student looking out into the crowd and seeing seats filled with people from church who have come to cheer him or her on.

Never cancel an event.  

This should be your number one rule. When you’re planning out your yearly event calendar, be sure to plan events that don’t require a minimum number of students. That way you never have to cancel an event if only one or two students show up. When you cancel an event due to low attendance, you’re communicating to the few students who did decide to show up that they aren’t valued. Steer clear of events that require a certain number of students, and have a plan B in case attendance is lower or higher than expected.

Leave a legacy of systems and processes.

Most of us will not be serving in the same youth ministry for the next 10 or 20 years. One of the best gifts you can leave behind for your small church is a detailed description of all your systems and processes. Write them all down in a notebook or an easy-to-access digital file system. That way, the things you’ve learned over time aren’t just living in your own head. Those systems and processes will help whoever steps into your shoes know the best ways to plan for each event and prepare for the year-long youth ministry calendar..

The YS Idea Labs are filmed on location at the National Youth Workers Convention. Check out more YS Idea Labs HERE and register early for NYWC to save BIG: NYWC.COM.


JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.COM.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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