Big Thinking in a Small Church

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How to beat the “giants” that stalk a small
church

Imposing. Monstrous. Unbeatable.

Such are the “giants” that stalk a small church. If left to
roam, they can erode our confidence, steal our joy, and squelch our
mission. Nearly every children’s ministry faces tough odds, but
small churches are more tender when attacked.

Yet difficulties need not pummel a small church. Rather, think
big! Where problems dwell, build possibilities. And where obstacles
stand, seek opportunities!

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Successful children’s ministry in small congregations is rooted
in our mind-set-in seeking positive solutions to imposing problems.
Consider the following “Goliaths”…and dare to be a David!

THE POCKETBOOK BLUES

Smaller churches are notorious for tight budgets. And, in
children’s ministry, that means walking away from some great (and
costly) programming. If dollar-stretching were an Olympic event,
many a small church would mine gold.

The answer is to be creative. I once planned a “Little Rascals”
film festival (featuring over five films) and paid less than a buck
to my local library! In fact, dozens of inexpensive resources
abound within communities, including low- to no-cost goods from
fast-food restaurants, Christian bookstores, and entertainment
outlets.

And don’t forget the resources within your church! Big back
yards. VCRs. Animal farms. Vans. And computers. We once threw a
free “burger bash” compliments of a deacon who owned the
restaurant.

A FEW GOOD PEOPLE

Most small churches suffer from volunteer shortage. Our problem
is that we often overlook potential volunteers. The church leaders
in one small Montana church had exhausted all efforts to find a
volunteer for five kids. On the edge of shutting down the program,
they discovered a 70-year-old gem. She was hardly “hip” in youth
culture. She had no curriculum and knew nothing about programming
frills. She just loved kids. Five years later, she’s still loving
them-all 30 of them!

Children’s ministry volunteers can be anybody-parents, senior
citizens, singles, and even teenagers.

WHERE IS EVERYBODY?

Ever planned the “greatest event that nobody came to”? Remember
the frustration? the anger? Low turnout occurs in every program-no
matter the size. But what’s a headache for large churches is a
migraine for small churches.

Be careful how you react to low attendance. If you ask, “Where’s
Julie?” or “What happened to Miguel?” you’re asking the wrong crowd
and sending a dangerous message.

Instead of investigating who’s not there (and why), celebrate
those who are there! After all, continual absentee inquisitions
will only suggest to children that they matter more when they’re
absent!

It’s better to be prepared. Low turnouts are inevitable, so have
a backup plan. Go for pizza. Play in a park. See a movie. Celebrate
kids’ presence, rather than sending them home.

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t count kids; make kids count!

NO TIME!

Smaller churches have an inbred dilemma-far more jobs than
people. So the few tend to wear multiple hats. Teaching the
fourth-graders. Sweeping the sanctuary. Mailing the newsletter.
Driving the church van. No one specializes in a small church
because there’s too much to do.

Smaller churches can better prepare people for ministry by
creating job descriptions for children’s workers. List the
responsibilities. Implement short-term, definitive commitments
rather than open-ended, “until you die” responsibilities.

Finally, reward volunteers. Honor children’s workers in church
services. Create a Children’s Worker of the Month program. Affirm
volunteers with personal letters, phone calls, and visits.

If you pat a back, they’ll be back.

SPACE: THE FINAL FRONTIER

Space is a huge obstacle in children’s programming-in any size
church. Unfortunately, that’s because most churches are built for
adults, not kids. Classrooms are constructed for table discussions,
not active-learning experiences. And fellowship areas are made for
coffee, not kickball.

In a decade of children’s ministry, I’ve seen small churches put
kids in every conceivable space. The church kitchen. Back-room
closets. Attics. Furthermore, I’ve held children’s meetings in a
variety of places-from baptistry dressing rooms to renovated mobile
homes.

Of course, few were satisfactory. But none were beyond hope. The
secret is to let the kids “own” their room. Allow them to decorate
it. Paint it. Clean it. Stock it. If it’s theirs, they’ll meet
anywhere, including the preacher’s office!

Now, there’s an idea.

THE GREEN-EYED MONSTER

Contentment is hard in small-church ministry. It’s difficult to
feel satisfied. Especially if you’ve got the First Church of
Effective Children’s Ministry two doors down, bulging with ideas,
money, and kids. Against the blade of “success,” failure can cut
deep.

But numbers are relative. Success is not in numbers as much as
it is in ministry. If changed lives are produced, it won’t matter
whether it’s five or 50.

One issue for smaller churches is crucial: Stop seeking success
for success’s sake! Desiring to be a Wal-Mart is fine, but few
corner shops ever see 25 aisles of merchandising. It’s far better
to succeed in a few things than ultimately fail in many.
Specializing is the answer. Give your program a unique signature.
Develop a top-rate children’s church, a quality after-school
program, or a ministry to children from broken homes.

Success isn’t pulling off “blue-light” specials. Success is
having repeat customers. Again, and again, and again.

Nobody said children’s ministry in a small church would be easy.
But nobody told David he had Goliath’s number either. Big jobs mean
hard choices. Tough situations require determined people. “Giants”
will always roam a children’s ministry. And they’ll continue to
taunt, trick, and test our resolve. But giving in will never
produce success.

So face the giants…and dare to sling the stone!


Rick Chromey is the author of Youth Ministry in Small
Churches (Group Publishing.) and Energizing Children’s Ministry in
the Smaller Church (Standard Publishing). Please keep in mind that
phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to
change.

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