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The advantages of raising your children in a small church

Over the years I’ve worked for large churches with lots of programs and small church plants that start other churches instead of becoming one large church. During that time I’ve seen a trend in the way families “shop” for a church. Often families will leave a small church and go to a large church with lots of programs for their children. Often the larger church has the budget to put on a children’s ministry or youth ministry that has all the buttons and whistles. I’m not saying a family should never leave a small church and head to a larger one. Some churches are small because they do a terrible job. But some churches are small because they start other churches or their community is very small, and yet they are strong, healthy churches that are seeing lives changed. My goal is to encourage you to weigh some other factors before you make that decision. My goal is to help you see some of the advantages of that small but healthy church that you might not be able to get anywhere else.

Your child has a better chance of getting to know multiple generations at a deep level

This is a factor that is often overlooked in the process of deciding on a church. In a large church with lots of children’s programs, children often are only around other children and the volunteers who teach them. While those relationships with their teachers can be very powerful, children often struggle to have a wide range of relationships throughout the church. In a smaller church, children often know many senior adults really well. They know adults who aren’t teaching in their classes. This gives them a better sense of being a part of the church and not just a part of the children’s ministry or youth ministry. When children feel like church only consists of programs designed for them (I’m all for programs designed for them by the way), they often feel as if church is no longer for them when they turn 18. 

Your child has a better chance of getting involved at a deep level

One of the ways that children get to know other generations and feel like they are a true part of the church is through serving alongside adults in the church. Often a small church is easier for children to get involved in at a deep level. When you go to a small church you will often see a child or teen handing out the bulletins, serving with their mom in the nursery, or running the screen slides. They are doing those responsibilities alongside adult church members who will get to know them. I’m so passionate about kids starting to serve and use their faith right away that I wrote a parenting book called “Use it or Lose it.” Kids don’t just need to be taught and entertained for 18 years, they need to start leading and serving, or all the information they are hearing will feel irrelevant. Often when you walk into a large church, you will not see a middle schooler in the sound booth or serving beside an adult in children’s ministry. Obviously, I’m generalizing. I’m sure there are large churches that are doing that, but for the most part, the larger an organization gets the harder it is to factor in putting older children and teens into serving positions.

Your child has a better chance of having someone shepherd and disciple him/her

One thing I learned in managing a ton of small groups at a large church is that the things that happen organically when something is small take a lot of organization and accountability to happen when it becomes very large. That’s especially true of building relationships, making deep connections, and initiating personal disciple-making conversations. The larger something grows the more levels of organization and accountability it will take to make sure people aren’t falling through the cracks. When there are 30 elementary kids in a room, it will be hard for anyone to get individual attention. It will be hard for anyone to really know where every child is spiritually. The teaching may be incredible, but it will be the personal shepherding that will make the most difference in their lives spiritually. In a smaller context, it is much easier for a children’s ministry volunteer or youth pastor to know your child personally and have crucial discussions with them about important life issues. Again, I’ve seen larger churches that do an amazing job of this, but very few have the plans and accountability in place to make that happen.

Your child has a better chance of seeing you make a difference

One of the saddest things I see in ministry is parents who move their families to churches that have more/better children’s programming instead of helping make the children’s ministry where they are better. Too many parents have the idea that their children just need a better children’s ministry or youth ministry, without realizing what their kids really need to see is parents who are all-in on the mission. One of the things that I have seen in church planting is that when families commit to helping start a church and do whatever it takes to get it off the ground and reach their friends, their kids end up being spiritual leaders. I remember sitting with a friend who was looking for a church when we were starting one of the churches, and he said, “We love what we see you doing, but we think we might need to find a place that already has strong ministries for our kids.” They ended up giving the church plant a try anyway. They got very involved and became leaders. And guess what? Their kids grew up to love Jesus and be leaders as well. They would tell you it was the best decision they ever made. It may be that you have offered to help make things better and your church just has no vision for making things better, but I desire that you would first and foremost think more about how you can get involved to make a difference instead of how you can find a church that already has it all together. It seems counterintuitive, but your child will be more impacted by seeing you make a difference than by the best children’s and youth ministries in the world. 

In the end, you may still decide to move to a larger church with stronger programs, but I hope you will process these underrated factors before you make that decision. Some of these things that happen organically in a smaller church are rare in larger churches. You are the primary discipler of your kids. Sometimes it’s easy to look to a church to do the heavy lifting. But if that is your focus, I can almost guarantee you won’t like the outcome. Your kids need constant spiritual conversations with you. They need to see you committed to making a difference for Jesus. They need to see you committed to the body of Christ. They need multiple voices in their lives saying the same things. They need opportunities to use their faith and serve other people. Those are the things that will make their faith stick for the long haul.

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