Some of the most helpful lessons I have learned have been from my own mistakes. This includes discovering the difference between big and small churches.
At the time that I was called into ministry, I was attending a church that had a weekly attendance of about 800. I enrolled in seminary and needed to do a placement at another church. I ended up at a church of less than 80.
My assigned role was that of youth pastor. That seemed to make sense in that I had been a volunteer leader in my church’s youth group and my new church really wanted a youth group. A perfect fit.
Although I grew up in a small church, there was no youth group during my teens. I had no idea what youth ministry looked like in a small church.
So I did the only thing I knew and I tried to duplicate what I knew from my large church youth experience. While God was gracious and some good things happened, looking back, I did not lead that youth ministry well. It could have been so much better if I had just embraced the small church context instead of trying to force big church ministry on a small church.
My next church was bigger than my first placement, but not near the size of the large church. I was able to fit in much better. Part of this was not my own wisdom, but because I was inheriting some structures instead of starting from scratch. Still, I’m much happier with that chapter of my ministry.
I share this because this is an important reminder for all people in ministry, not just youth ministry. There are differences between big churches and small churches. It is never as a simple as duplicating the strategy and tactics of big church in a small church. Not only will it not grow the church, it may shrink it.
What ministry in big and small churches have in common is a faithfulness to God and a sensitivity to context. We should bloom where we are planted and not try to compare to other gardens.
I hope that I have learned my lesson but I’m self-aware enough to remind myself of embracing my context.