Posted by: Chris Sandel | April 9, 2008

Is Bigger Better?

Kyle, our student ministry intern, sent me this article today. It is an interview of three youth ministers who have led ministries in mega-churches and moved into smaller ministries. They discuss the difference between large and small ministries and why they transitioned.

I’ve been processing some things along these lines lately so I thought I’d comment with a few of my own observations from the WSCC context and my own experience:

  • I definitely agree, the larger the church, the more your time is taken by leading volunteers. “You can’t work individually with a thousand kids! You’re going to either work with your staff or volunteers, which means you’re not so much a youth pastor as you are a pastor to adult leaders or an administrator.” I think it is important to know your style and gift mix. If you’re getting into youth ministry because of your skills hanging out with kids and pouring into them on a one-on-one level then a big church probably isn’t the best fit for you. I think people can have a HUGE impact by knowing themselves and knowing that is their gift mix. When you know that is how God built you, you can go to a smaller (or really a more normal sized) ministry, spend tons of time with students personally and do all that you can to pour deeply into kids and their families for 20-30 years. I think the impact that a ministry like that can have is incalculable.
  • A the same time, while bigger is definitely not better, you do have an opportunity to influence and impact a significant number of lives (of both your students and your leaders) in a larger ministry context. In a larger ministry your responsibility does have a lot more to do with equipping leaders because the only way you can ever hope to reach those larger numbers it to multiply yourself in others. I don’t think it is totally an either or thing though. When you’re in a larger ministry, you have to be much more intentional with your time if you’re going to get to do the relational/hang out ministry with students but you can certainly still do it. I’ve had great times in small groups that I’ve lead, on trips hanging out with kids, meeting with kids one-on-one and with our student leadership teams. It isn’t the same as when I was in college and I was only responsible for 25 middle school students at my home church. With a larger church there are a lot of other responsibilities on my plate. But it is definitely still possible to have the relational impact that you get in smaller ministries.
  • In the end, going into youth ministry is all about wanting to change the lives of students. The big church/small church debate really comes down to understanding your gift mix and your fit with the church you’re serving at. If you are great at pouring into a smaller group of students on a personal level then the best way for you to change the lives of students is to get into a ministry that will allow you to work to those strengths at a church that will empower you to do that. If you like to hang out with kids (because every youth ministry should like that…if you don’t then do something else) but you know that you are also good at working with adults and doing some of the more administrative things that are needed in a larger ministry then the best way you can change kids lives is by filling that role at a larger church that will empower you to play to those strengths. 
  • The big church/small church debate comes up because we are fallen people. It can be tempting to turn the size of the ministry you’re in into a pride issue. As soon as we stop looking at each different role in youth ministry as simply different parts of the body (but all equally needed) and begin seeing it as a hierarchy we’ve separated ourselves from the real issue. The thing that we need to constantly be asking ourselves is “what is the best place for me to use the gifts and resources that God has blessed me with to change the lives of students for Christ?” If we’re truly seeking to understand ourselves and answer that question, I think the size of the church becomes irrelevant.
  • For me, West Side has been a great fit. I have a number of organizational and administrative gifts that I get to use here because I am a part of a great team. At the same time, I still get to pour into the lives of Jr. High students and spend time with them which is something that always energizes me. It can be tempting to start thinking about numbers but every time I do, I am reminded of something I heard at a conference a few months ago. They were the words of a senior ministry talking about the youth minister at his church. “He is never going to knock the doors off the place but there is no one I’d rather my kids be like.” That is my goal. I’ve tried to stop worrying as much about the numbers. If the numbers come then great. But my goal is to be the man that reflects Christ to the point that every parent wants their kids to be like the example I set.




  1. okay, granted, I haven’t read the link yet… but I like all the thoughts you have… good thoughts… I don’t have thoughts about being on staff at a big church… duh… but my thoughts on being a volunteer at a big church:
    1. There are a lot of opportunities to serve and find the place where you best fit…
    2. The resources available are a-MA-zing…
    3. Because the various ministries are bigger, there is more opportunity to get to serve with a wide-variety of people… and that’s always fun

    Yep, those are my thoughts right now… might have more later, but I’m really only checking blogs on my break, so my thoughts are on a time constrant 🙂

  2. […] Is Bigger Really Better? An interview with some youth pastors from very large churches who left for smaller churches. They discuss the difference between large and small ministries. Here’s one youth worker’s response. […]

  3. I had exactly this problem several years ago. I moved from a moderate sized ministry to a large ministry. All of my skills were stretched and I found out that I didn’t like who I was as a large group pastor. I now lead a group of about 15 and love it.

    One though to add though about influence and size. The more people you try to influence the less effective you will probably be. The impact you can have on 500 is significantly less than that of 50 or 5. Jesus could have had many disciples, but he chose 11 to continue his mission instead of 500. I think that is fairly significant. I still talk to the guys I have discipled even from ten years ago. But I don’t have a lot of personal contact with those from the large ministry. Just a thought.

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