How I learned to LOVE my ministry–no matter the size.
As the old saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” It’s the tendency to think that regardless of your situation, things would be better somewhere else. Unfortunately, it’s a way of thinking that’s often overshadowed how I’ve felt in my ministry. In small-church settings, I’ve been tempted to think that if I just had the resources that larger churches have, I could minister more effectively. In larger-church settings, I’ve longed for the kinds of relationships that are fostered in smaller ministries—in settings I had to work much harder to create.
Bigger churches have more volunteers, but they also have more kids.
Over the last two years, I’ve learned that the grass is green and lush on both sides of the ministry fence. By focusing on the positives of my ministry and the great things happening in it, I’ve learned that regardless of size, all ministries have their struggles—and strengths.
My leadership journey began in a large church. We had children’s programming during five services each weekend, a monthly family service, special events, and summer camp for the older kids. I was one of about 20 paid children’s ministry staff members, and we worked with hundreds of volunteers. We were reaching thousands of kids. It seemed like the perfect situation.
However, life circumstances and ministry expectations took a toll on me. After much prayer and wrestling, I left my paid position and transitioned into a volunteer position helping a church plant launch its children’s ministry. My new church had one room for about 10 elementary kids and a nursery for two little ones. Needless to say, everything about this adventure was different from what I was used to.
I learned quickly that I couldn’t do children’s ministry in my new church the same as I had in the larger church. Not only were their sizes different, but the culture of each was unique, too. I had to determine how to formulate a children’s ministry that would work for my new church based on its needs and expectations while working within the limitations of its resources.
It was difficult at first. I tended to have that “grass is greener” mentality. I would think, If only I had this or that then I could do ministry so much better. Over time though, my attitude began to shift. What helped me to make that shift was learning to appreciate and celebrate the unique wins churches of any size can experience in three different areas: resources, relationships, and results.
Resources at Any Size
The large church I came from has more physical resources to draw from than the church I’m in now. It has lots of rooms, huge spaces to work with, and a seemingly unlimited source of supplies. I don’t have access to those resources in my current church. But there’s never been a time I was unable to do something for my kids as a result. Since moving to a smaller church, I’ve learned to be more creative, making use of what I have. For example, when the children’s ministry needed another room, we found a storage closet in our building we could convert into class space. I’ve also learned to ask for help, borrowing items from other churches and relying more on church members. And that’s not a negative—when your congregation is involved, it raises your ministry’s visibility within your church.
One thing I definitely have is the support and participation of my leaders and other key people in the church. Large church or small, it’s encouraging to have people volunteering and spreading the word about children’s ministry. Even so, I’ve also found it’s just as difficult to find enough volunteers at a big church as it is at a small church. Bigger churches sometimes have more volunteers, but they also have more kids. Consequently, the percentage of individuals volunteering in big churches compared to little churches is about the same. Thankfully, the people in my current church place a high priority on children’s ministry and will usually work around my schedule so I have as many volunteers and material resources as possible.
On top of all that, it’s become extremely valuable for me to network with other children’s ministers through websites and conferences. As the only children’s minister in my church, I’ve found my network to be a great avenue for ideas as well as encouragement and moral support.
Go Big or Small
Use the following pointers for adapting ministry ideas for your church regardless of the size.
• Keep the underlying goal and purpose of the idea in focus. Whatever changes you make, stay focused on why you’re using the idea in the first place.
• Honestly assess what resources you do and don’t have. Then focus on what you have—and don’t forget to include your own gifts and skills on the list.
• Let your limitations work for you. Creativity is born from the need to overcome obstacles.
• Keep it relational. Remember: You’re not resizing an idea for the sake of the idea. You’re doing it because of the way it’ll help you touch lives.
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Relationships at Any Size
Your relationships with kids are limited in depth as the number of kids in your ministry grows. I’ve found that after my ministry grew bigger than 12 kids, it became impossible to know all the kids and their stories. When my ministry was smaller, I could tell you each child’s name, family, and school situation, what the kids liked and disliked, and—to some extent—where they were in their spiritual development. But as my ministry has slowly grown, the only thing I could definitely tell you about the kids is their names and who their parents are.
One thing I learned from being in a large church is the importance of developing relationships with volunteers. My volunteers are my biggest source of information. I rely on them to tell me what’s going on with the kids and how things are going in ministry. I trust my volunteers for input regarding programming and to uncover problems that I need to address.
I’ve also come to greatly value the relationships I have with the church leadership. In my small church I have direct access to my pastors and elders. The majority of them volunteer for me in some capacity, and they support me. When I was in a large church, my voice felt very small because there were many levels between the leadership and me.
I also foster relationships in my small church differently from how I fostered them in the large church. In the larger church, I developed relationships with kids primarily through what I learned from volunteers. Now I develop relationships with kids by spending time in their homes and going to dinner with their families. I’ve discovered that kids have a huge influence on whether parents come back— or if they quit coming. So regardless of how the relationships form, the important thing is that they form to begin with.
Results at Any Size
I’ve also had to ask what results I’m looking for in ministry and how I can measure them. In my previous church, results were usually measured by baptisms. That meant the results I witnessed were big, but also less frequent. In my small church, I get to see results on a more regular basis. For example, when I’m teaching and kids connect something they’re learning to real life, that’s a result I’m looking for and celebrating.
When my ministry was smaller, I could tell you each child’s name, family, and school situation.
Another result to celebrate is when kids influence their families to come back to church—for large churches and small churches alike. And it’s a huge win for children’s ministry because it usually means the kids made a connection with someone.
I also measure results by seeing new volunteers step up and fall in love with serving kids. That’s a tremendous success for churches of any size.
Two years after my leap from large church to small church, our numbers have steadily grown. My leadership ability has grown. And I’ve learned to trust God more for direction. But what’s grown the most is my love for the ministry I’m in right now. I’m reminded to not only celebrate and enjoy being a children’s minister, but to celebrate and enjoy where God has placed me, too. At the beginning, I had my doubts. But now I can see the green pastures God has for me.
Amanda Fillebrown has over 10 years of ministry experience and currently serves as the children’s minister at Destiny Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is also a writer and blogs at leavingthefair.com.