One of the things Baptists do when we take our own pulse is to count. We count attendance, giving, groups, and most of all, we count baptisms. Lately, like the last 7 or 8 years, baptisms in Southern Baptist life have been down. So, there’s a lot of second-guessing about why we are larger than ever as a denomination, but baptize fewer and fewer each year. Of course, explanations for the decline in baptisms cluster around lack of commitment, lack of bible preaching, and lack of other stuff. But, I think that’s the wrong approach.
Here’s what I think — maybe we’re counting the wrong things. Maybe we should be counting the people we help each week. Or the people who don’t attend church, but count those of us who do as their friends. Or the families of the kids who come to our after-school programs, or take music lessons at our church, or shoot basketball in our parking lot. Maybe we should count real life moments when we are most fully-Christlike in our dealings with others.
Okay, I know. You can’t count stuff like that because it’s too general, not specific enough, not concrete enough. Some folks said something like that to Jesus one day, and his response was, “In as much as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.” Maybe we should have a new category to count — the “unto me’s.” That might change our whole perspective on this business we call church. What do you think?
Our youth ministry took another blow this week. Word trickled back to me that one of our families with young teens has found another church “where there are more kids.” I’ve been here 4 years this month, and this is at least the fourth time this has happened. We have never had more than a half-dozen kids at any one time, and they didn’t all come at the same time, so we’re struggling with how a small church creates a youth ministry.
I don’t blame parents with teens for wanting their kids to be in a dynamic youth group. Debbie and I met at our church youth group when we were young teens. We didn’t attend a huge church, but our youth group had about 20-25 regulars. Several high school were represented in the group, so church was a place where we saw kids we didn’t see at school. Out of our youth group several of us made commitments to full-time vocational ministry. So, I understand the importance and impact of youth ministry on the lives of kids.
One of the realities of small church is you can’t be all things to all people. There are some needs we can’t meet. Right now, youth ministry is one of those. But, we don’t quit trying. This Sunday we honor our high school graduates — both of them. But, for the two kids graduating, this is a big deal to them, and we’re delighted to share in this significant milestone.
While we can’t compete with larger churches, we can still care for the families and kids we have. That’s our role right now, as we dream of ways to reach families with teens in the future. How about your youth ministry? Do you face the same challenges, and if so, how are you addressing them? I’m sure many small-church pastors and leaders would like to hear your story.