Mentors, coaches, prayer partners.

Tip #2

Find mentors, coaches and prayer partners for yourself. Not only do you need a community, you also need people you can call that will be honest with you. You want these people to be those who know you well. They may not necessarily be ministry folks but they can offer wisdom from a wealth of life experience. 

This one is going to be a recurring theme throughout this blog and book. Surrounding yourself with others who can support you and speak truth to you is a necessity. Just this week I had a conversation with my coach Mark Oestreicher, founding partner of The Youth Cartel. Marko understands the ups and downs of ministry and life. He’s a great listener, encourager, truth-teller, and accountability holder. He does this because someone else is doing the same for him.

Serving in ministry can be the most rewarding and the most difficult vocation all in the same day.

Having a group of people who can pray for you, listen to you, speak to you and into you will help you see the bigger picture of where God is leading and calling you to be. These people don’t have to serve in ministry to be on this team, they just have to know you and be committed to praying, loving, and pushing you towards what God has planned for you.

There are some great organizations like Ministry Architects and The Youth Cartel who can provide ministry coaching if you desire a more focused experience. Ministry Architects  is a highly-skilled team of pastors, teachers, executives, youth workers, children’s pastors, writers and professors. MA is fanatical about success helping your church find clear direction and sustained momentum backed up by properly aligned resources. Ministry Architects has recently partnered with The Youth Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program. 

The Youth Ministry Coaching Program is a year-long whole-life coaching program rooted in leadership development, personal and professional growth, and wholeness. The training sessions are filled with rich discussions, youth ministry and leadership training, customized problem solving, personal sharing, one-on-one coaching, spiritual direction, and other components. I was a part of the 2013 Nashville YMCP Cohort. Here’s a pic of my clan:


We continue to talk with and learn from each other even though our last cohort retreat was quite some time ago.

So build your tribe. Seek out others to share life with, coffee with, tears with, joy with, fun with, and most importantly prayer.


Over the next several weeks, we’ll expand each of the 50 Quick Tips found in Chapter 8 of Small(er) Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem. Let us know your thoughts.

Tip #1:

Be YOU! You are the only version of you in the world. Be authentic. The young people in your ministry want to know you rather than of a copy of someone else. There’s a famous quote attributed to actress Judy Garland – “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.” (1)

This can be challenging in ministry when there are so many resources that claim to be the answer to building the best ministry ever. Even the best developed curriculum, model, or small group will only be as effective as the relationships in the ministry. At the core of ministry, relationships matter more than curriculum and models. 

Another misnomer to dispute is that youth ministry leaders have to be young, hip, tech-savvy, guitar-playing, outgoing, and athletic. While I have met some really great youth ministers with some of those characteristics, it wasn’t those things that made them good at sharing who Jesus Christ is for each young person. Their effectiveness is a result of something deeper. They have discovered that relationships matter.

The Growing Young study by Fuller Youth Institute found this to be true over and over again. They discovered that relationships even outweigh budgets. They heard this statement many times: “It’s like family here. I can be myself with these people—they accept me for who I am.”(2)

Relationships matter. You being YOU is the most effective ministry tool you have. 

So if you being YOU is the most effective tool you have, you’ll want to be prepared. So what does that look like? Consider these ideas:

  • Spend time studying God’s word. This includes reading your Bible but also includes time spent with others discussing it.
  • Build a circle of support. Pull some folks together to form a covenant group. Share your heart, be vulnerable, be accountable.
  • Know who you are. Spend some intentional time discovering who you are, what motivates you, and what breaks your heart.
  • Know your God story. Have you ever really spent time thinking about your faith story? Do it. It’s difficult to connect others to God if we are uncertain about our connection to God. Write it down. Share it with others. There’s a great book that talks about the importance of articulating our faith story. It’s by Amanda Hontz Drury – Saying Is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Spiritual Development – and while it might focus on adolescent spiritual development, it applies to you also.
  • Seek out a mentor or a coach. Who do you know that is loving, learning, leading, living and serving the way that you hope to? Ask them if they’ll spend some time with you each month to talk about life and ministry.

What else would you suggest?

Take a moment to read and reflect on this passage from Luke. Jesus reminds us and each of his disciples: You being YOU is the most effective ministry tool you have.

Luke 9:3-5 The Message (MSG) 

Keep It Simple

1-5 Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He said, “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on.”

Commissioned, they left. They traveled from town to town telling the latest news of God, the Message, and curing people everywhere they went. (3)

(1) As quoted in Business Etiquette for the Nineties : Your Ticket to Career Success (1992) by Lou Kennedy, p. 8



Changing mentalities.


Increasing capacity through change

Over the past five years we have intentionally focused on helping smaller membership churches build teams with systems, structures, and vision around forming ministry with young people that is relationally cohesive and foundationally sustainable. We believe that by building these components correctly, the church will increase its capacity to build disciples. Through the Smaller Church Youth Ministry Initiative [LEARN MORE], many churches moved from a feeling of limitation fueled by a belief that they didn’t have enough to a feeling of hope fueled through the lens of a unique calling and a realization that God has already provided everything they need. Transformation takes time, and each church changes differently and with different results. While some have progressed more slowly, others have seen powerful change as they implemented the principles learned through the Smaller Church Youth Ministry Initiative.

Making Change Happen

One of the first challenges that churches in the Smaller Church Youth Ministry Initiative had to overcome is the notion that small churches are abnormal. The 2010 Religious Congregations Membership Study found that the median church in the United States has seventy-five regular participants [SOURCE]. The average worship attendance of a United Methodist Church in the United States is eighty-seven persons [SOURCE]. In our training cohorts, we discovered church after church limited by its belief in what we call the Small Church versus Small(er) Church Mentality. Phrases such as “We’re a small church so we can’t…” and “We’re a small church so we don’t…” were spoken as kind of a statement of faith. The often used statement “We don’t have enough…” is usually completed with youth, volunteers, money, space, parent involvement, and so forth. The list, as daunting as it may seem,  can be overcome by a change in perspective, processes, and vision. While attendance and participation do affect how ministry can be done, they don’t change the call to make disciples.

Churches stuck in a Small Church Mentality are most concerned with saving their church and are often unable to see the opportunity their situation presents to breathe new life into it. Programs are often promoted as the magic bullet. In these cases, young people are often viewed in one of two ways: machinery or scenery.

Alicja Iwanska, a Polish anthropologist, points out that we tend to divide our world into three categories: scenery, machinery, and people. Iwanska found, however, that not all human beings are seen as “people [SOURCE].” Iwanska defined machinery as “tools people use in their lives to get their work done.” Church people are guilty of viewing young people as machinery when they believe that adding youth ministry programs will perform the task of saving their congregations from death.

Churches can also be guilty of viewing young people as scenery, which Iwanska says is enjoyed “in a disinterested sort of  way.” This perspective values people as decorations or objects to be displayed. Well-intended church leaders demonstrate Iwanska’s theory when there is an expectation that young people be seen (being present on Sundays, performing token roles such as holiday programs, or doing manual labor that someone in the church thinks would be a good job for teens) but are not a voice or place in the life and ministry of the church. Young people, just like their adult counterparts, have much to offer the world in both worship and service.

There are other ways in which smaller churches have become stuck. As the number of smaller churches increases, their health may be worsening. They often appear resilient, weathering the storms of cultural changes, population movements, and denominational neglect and/or efforts to close them, but the onslaught of these challenges take their toll. Often inexperienced pastors in their first jobs will envision a new reality for their church. It isn’t long before both these challenges, limited finances and the unending mountain of resources and seminars promising solutions overwhelm them and they leave. The church rallies to make it until the next pastor arrives. However weathering the storm only leaves churches to assess the damage: families who have left, a long list of former pastors and little hope for a future. The way out of this way of thinking requires a change in perspective, processes, and vision.

William T. McConnell in his book on congregational renewal subtitled Healing the Sick, Raising the Dead shares, “To get to where you want to go, you must first know where you are.” Transformation in the smaller membership church is greatly impacted by leaders seeing the potential for what can be and inspiring confidence that a new future is possible. This foundational principle motivated us to create a new model with contextually oriented training and coaching based on the hunch that smaller churches could begin to step into their new futures.

Churches in the Smaller Church Youth Ministry Initiative are able to learn and utilize a new framework that helps them shift from the Small Church Mentality to the Smaller Church Mentality. With this new mentality, churches celebrate their size instead of being limited by it. Smaller Church Mentality churches dream God-sized dreams, they are ready for new possibilities, they easily adapt to changes and challenges, and they realize the advantages of being smaller. A smaller church living in the Smaller Church Mentality sees young people for who they are instead of as the machinery to save their church or scenery to make it look hip. Rather, they are viewed as persons with the ability to change the world through their relationship with Jesus Christ. Churches who think Smaller rather than Small understand that numbers matter not because they are comparing themselves to those with more but because each number is a real person who needs to know God’s love. The Smaller Church way of thinking fosters the call for the church to build relationships with the people God has blessed them with so that they can send them out to bless the world.

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Power of Smaller – Small(er) Church Youth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem, pp 21-24. [AVAILABLE HERE]


Welcome to Small(er) Church Ministry! This site is a result of the new book Small(er) Church SmallerChurchcoverYouth Ministry: No Staff, No Money, No Problem by Brad Fiscus and Stephanie Caro. The book was published by Youth Ministry Partners a division of Abingdon Press by the United Methodist Publishing House.  Available Here.

Across the United States, researchers have determined that 59% of churches have a worship attendance of between 7-99 people. The study further revealed that 35% of churches in the US have between 100-499 worshippers, 4% of churches see 500-999 in worship, 2% have 1000-1999 present, churches with 2,000-9,999 in attendance make up 0.4%, and the final 0.01% or 40 congregations in the United States have 10,000 or more in worship. Stat Source.

With our society’s obsession on the “bigger is better” mantra, small congregations get lost in the mix. We don’t hear the stories of the amazing ways that small congregations are living as Jesus Christ incarnate in the world, until now! 

Each week we will release new tips, ideas, and content that will help you build sustainable ministry with all ages.

We hope you will share your stories of the ways your small(er) church ministry is building disciples. We also know that sometimes there are challenges that need a team to solve, we want to be a part of your team and we hope you’ll be a part of ours.

We hope you’ll add this site to your favorite list and we’ll add you to ours!