Only In a Small Church: Personalized Major League Coaching

tutoring“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 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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(Tutoring photo from Shana Stine • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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7 thoughts on “Only In a Small Church: Personalized Major League Coaching”

  1. Yes, there’s definately an advantage. The challenge? To get others to see it. We lost our entire youth group. (3 teen boys) My husband, the senior pastor is also the Royal Ranger leader and the Youth Pastor. How can that be? It can’t – and that’s why the boys left. They were bummed about it too, but a new guy in town, on fire for God – in another small church – was a youth pastor and only a youth pastor…paid position so he could devote all of this time (he’s single too) to the youth. He leads a band – the youth all play. So there they went. They still come Sunday morning.
    The positive side? My husband no longer has to try and appease both age groups. And in our small town, we’ve tried to gain the perspective that we have a “community youth group” – which is really what it’s becoming. We have COMMUNITY youth events. The churches around are too small to do a lot of stuff on their own…so they pool together. Ah-ha! Another small church solution to a small church challenge…as small churches we just may have to reach out to other small churches in our community and do “church” together.

    1. Cindy, you’re right. It’s very hard to get people (starting with most pastors) to see the value. But being forced to think of new ways to do things is one of the side benefits. It sounds like you and the other Small Churches in your town have found a great new way to do it.

    2. Cindy,
      We do that in our small community as well, seems to work pretty well for the ‘big events’.
      What is starting to add depth to it is that biweekly studies of smaller groups are starting to evolve. More intimacy.
      Sure the ‘draw’ can always be the ‘cool’ place, but we are noticing the younger folks are looking for something in addition to that, something Small churches have!

  2. Wow! More cool stuff just sitting right under my nose!!!
    Being on a school board of a very small school district (260 K-8, graduating class this year will be about 25), having been that youth pastor years ago…
    Why indeed do we not think it will work in our churches?

    To pay you the ultimate compliment my friend…
    I’m gonna use this!

    1. School boards, town councils, planning commissions and the like are some areas where too many churches and church leaders have given up valuable social real estate, when we don’t need to. Way to go, Scott.

  3. Scott – excellent observation.
    What our community has done (we’re in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky) is simply tried to come together FOR our youth..not really, even in an intentional way – but more as a response to our need out of being small.
    For example – we’ve got several small churches that come together once a month for a Youth Skate night – one youth group isn’t enough to warrant having the entire rink to itself…but several youth groups? Yeah!
    We’ve taken community church trips before. Don’t have enough folks to get a “group rate” then invite some other churches.
    Important: the only way this really works is for PASTORS to step out and befriend other pastors in your community. My husband attends a “pastor’s breakfast” once a month – just a couple of guys getting together to fellowship and hold each other accountable. Once those friendships are made – and we realize WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME TEAM – we begin to work together to reach the lost..who cares what church they attend…as long as it teaches the Bible…we’re all good….we all win.

    1. Cindy,
      What you are doing is great!

      We do have a ministers association that meets, but for me as a bi-vocational shepherd, they meet when I can’t make it. I do maintain relationships with other pastors though and team up when we can.
      Love the “group rate” thing, makes SO much sense.
      And YES, we are all on the same team!

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