I was recently asked a question on quora that dealt with the differences between trying to minister to students in a small town compared to a large city, and since I know that not many people are on quora yet, I figured I would share my answer on here as well.
And though there are a number of differences, this one seemed the most relevant for me today. And maybe it’s because it forced me to realize something that maybe I hadn’t really thought about much before, but I know that this is one of the major differences.
I poke fun at this one because on the one hand, its stupid and I am obnoxiously sarcastic some times, but it also holds quite a bit of weight. It’s the idea of a congregational place.
Now when you mention a word like “congregation” to people in a church, they think you are referring to a church building, which small towns have plenty of.
But I am talking about places where teens or adults can congregate together. Some examples would be the mall, a starbucks, a panera, the movie theatre. Some place where you can congregate together.
I remember my first year in youth ministry in a suburb of Chicago. I was just 18, and still very naive (which isn’t to say I’m not still today). I was attending college and working as a Jr. High Youth Pastor about a half hour away, and I remember how easy it would be to send out a mass text (this was when only college students could get on facebook still, in fact, my college had JUST gotten facebook, which kind of shows how young I am). But I could send out a mass text to my students simply saying “I’ll be at the movie theatre at 7, first 5 there get a free ticket to see ***** with me.” And I’d have a group of students there.
At another position, I could do this as well, say “Uno at Panera 7 o’clock tonight!” and a group would be there.
But here, in a small town that has no congregational places, this is next to impossible.
And so I got kind of bothered as I thought about this. Because you read posts on sites like youth ministry 360 or Youth Workers Journal where they have a guy write about Small Town Student Ministry, and when I read them, I don’t see someone who actually works in a small town, but more a guy just trying to somewhat give us comfort, especially the posts about how small youth groups are what the big churches want to do, so we got it right. Really? We got it right? It’s like they are trying to make us feel better because we serve in some lowly small town church, but if we were in a big church, we would be trying to get it smaller. It gets me frustrated, but I won’t get into all of that.
But the point they are usually trying to make is that small youth groups are more relational than large youth groups, and its evident because the large groups are always trying to find ways to get smaller.
And so I would somewhat agree, Small Church Youth Groups are a bit more relational, everyone knows everyone. But that isn’t always necessarily better, because sometimes the kids know too much about each other and fight about it, as well as the fact that just because the kids are more relational in the fact that they know more about each other, it doesn’t mean they have great community and they really know each other.
But the main point of difference is that sure, the smaller youth groups are better prepared to be more relational because they are already small. But, the Youth Pastors of smaller youth groups in small towns have to work harder than those in larger churches to get true community, because we can’t rely on congregational spaces, and we have to overcome what the kids already “know” about each other and get them to really know each other.