Article by Melissa Goodloe
Is your little church surrounded by corn fields, near the only stop light 25 miles outside of the nearest town? Or is it so big that it’s a small community in and of itself?
When we think of small community churches, we think of those that are in little towns located miles apart in rural areas; however, your small community could be located within a mega-church, or involve a specific group of people living within a large urban area.
No matter where small churches are located, we must be intentional about our ministry with young people, regardless of if we have one youth or one hundred. Jesus tells us in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) that it is all about the one. He leaves the 99 behind to go and find the one that was lost and then rejoices in celebration when the one is found.
I grew up in a small community (population 2,361) and my church was across the tracks outside the main part of town. We had only two youth in attendance; another girl my age and myself. We had the same Sunday School teacher, for as long as I can remember, and a congregation that loved us both. It was not until a new pastor arrived in 1988 that I realized I was missing anything. Our church could not afford a full-time pastor, so we were yoked with another church that had a handful of high school age youth. He introduced us to church camp, convocations, youth rallies, and getting together once a week with other Christian young people. As a pastor, he took an active role in the ministry to youth. He encouraged the congregation to be involved also, and to seek God’s will in how they could minister to this group. He was looking for the one lost sheep.
As I grew older and my faith matured, I felt God calling me into ministry. After my ordination, I sought to minister to the young members of my congregation. After all, they were a vital part of my church family with their own individual needs! Today, I pastor a church two miles outside a small town (population 7,284) and we have two or three youth in attendance. An added blessing for this congregation is the several younger children who will one day become a part of the youth group. I am focused on our young people as individuals. Each one has his or her own strengths, weaknesses, dreams and goals. My call is to help guide them on the road to Christian maturity. The congregation shares this goal and seeks to encourage family involvement, as well as foster the learning and creative play needed for the young people to build a relationship with God. They too are looking for the one lost sheep.
Pastors, youth ministers and Christian educators, let’s take a step back and look at what you are doing each week; are you doing all you can to reach the one that is lost? Are we accepting the individuals who may not fit in with the larger group? Are we intentionally seeking the youth in your neighborhoods who do not attend? Are we planning events and committing ourselves to be there if only one person shows up? Are we completely focused on the one or two youth we have in our churches instead of going through the motions of youth ministry?
There is a return for being intentional in youth ministry. When planting seeds, you may not always see the outcome of your labor, but you may be blessed to witness them grow up to be used by God in a mighty way. God is at work in the communities that are open to receive—no matter big or small, urban or rural. You need only have faith and be intentional in your ministry.