Students learn best in small groups. One-on-one mentoring is even better. We all know this. So why do we take our students to events with world-class speakers, extraordinary worship bands, and well-produced skits when we know they’re based on a learning model that doesn’t work?
We do it for a lot of reasons. We’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to do these events. We do ministry in a celebrity driven culture. We like it when students gush over the presenters and musicians they just saw—and we might want to hear them ourselves. Sometimes we just want to attend an event students will like but doesn’t take us a lot of energy to run. We lack the resources to do cool stuff. There are hundreds of reasons to go large. But when all is said and done, none of these reasons are why we do youth ministry.
Youth ministry is about helping students connect with Jesus. While these events may help in the short term, they seldom help you make substantial headway toward your goals.
We need a new pressure and a new focus. Student attendance is down, and we have less time with them than ever.
Jesus set the example for us. He consistently focused on the few. There’s no question that Jesus spoke to many large crowds in his ministry. For example, the crowd in Mark 4 was so large that he had to speak from a boat so everyone could hear him. He proceeds to tell them the parable of the sower and the seeds. Then he waits to explain the meaning behind the parable until he is alone with his twelve disciples, his closest followers. Why not include this in the large-group talk? The answer is in the parable itself: his close friends are like the seeds sown on good soil. It takes time, attention, and nourishment to produce a crop. But when the word truly soaks in, those who absorb it will yield greater fruit.
That’s one of the reasons Jesus focused on the committed, the ones who would go the distance. In many cases Jesus stayed away from the crowds, instead challenging people to truly commit to following him in every aspect of life. He didn’t invest as much time in the “looky-loos” and “rubberneckers.”
What does “small” mean for us in youth ministry? It means we need to focus on developing adult leaders who can mentor students and lead small groups. This work can be harder and not as immediately rewarding as a major event or production. Not only are adults busy, but few have the spiritual maturity to lead students. That’s why this must be a church-wide effort. We need to convince our church leadership to join in on the work. The entire leadership team should be moving adults toward spiritual maturity so they can serve the body of Christ—especially the students.
Small can be so much more powerful than large. A grown person can lie on a bed of nails without injury, but a single, tiny needle? That’s a different story. Next time you have the option to spend a load of money on a spectacular event, consider letting the opportunity slide. Long-term small group investment is far more effective. And when youth groups stop going to these events, the event promoters will be forced to change. Perhaps they’ll shift focus to equipping the adult leaders who invest in students at the microcosmic level.
About the Author
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners who never leave their side. Doug grew up in… Read More