Are You a Small Church One-Eared Mickey Mouse?

When I first heard that term, I had no clue what this guy (Jeff Dunn Rankin, VP of Youth Ministry Architects) was talking about. The phrase sounded both creepy and sad. He even had a picture to go w/ it of the outline of Mickey with an ear missing. Here’s how he ‘splained it to me: “You see, many youth ministries look like this picture. The youth ministry is off doing its own thing while the rest of the church moves together.”


Some call it a ministry silo; the youth ministry pretty much keeps to itself and rarely mixes with the rest of the church body. Whatever you might call it, it’s usually summed up in this one phrase,“We have no idea what’s happening in the youth program.”

Take this short survey to decide if your youth group just might qualify as a “one-eared Mickey Mouse ministry”:

1) Does your youth ministry calendar include (with gusto!) all the church-wide events, like the annual talent show and the monthly spaghetti suppers?
2) Does your youth ministry mission and purpose uphold and match the DNA of your church? Like missions or small groups or jello-eating contests – whatever the total church is about?
3) Are there a lot of students the general membership never sees? Uh-oh.
4) How well informed is the church about what’s happening in the youth ministry? Can the little old ladies accurately discuss the youth ministry at their monthly morning meeting?
5) Is everything the youth ministry does publicized in the bulletin, newsletter and other forms of communication that, although the youth might not read those publications, other key church members do?


I could tell you to score yourself from the questions above, but since this isn’t a Cosmo magazine article, I’m betting you can figure out what you should and shouldn’t be doing. When a youth ministry in a small church separates itself from the rest of what’s happening in the church, several negative results happen:

1) Missed critical mass moments (a desperate need for small youth groups).

2) Missed positive branding: When others don’t know the great things happening in your youth ministry, they can’t spread a positive story about what you’re doing. But they will talk…so isn’t it better they know what they’re talking about?

3) Missed broad-based buy-in: When a youth ministry doesn’t let its total church know what it’s about, everyone develops their own opinion. Next? Lots of ideas get thrown around for what the youth ministry should look like and somehow when the ministry doesn’t measure up, it’s the youth worker’s fault.

I see this dynamic a lot first hand. One of the hats I wear as a youth pastor to youth pastors is that I’m a lead consultant for Mark DeVries’ Youth Ministry Architects. We’ve launched a new division, Small Church Ministry Architects, designed for smaller church youth ministries…which just happens to be my YM specialty niche. So I get inside a lot of church youth ministries. Rarely is the segregation intentional, though occasionally it is. (Know any youth leaders with unhealthy boundaries and a strong motivation of meeting their own personal needs? Yep – a silo is probably present). When I come across this dynamic in a small church, I always include a recommendation in our report for putting an intentional game plan into place for integration of the youth ministry into the life of the church.

Rather than me talk about the game plan for integration, why don’t I just show you one? Yeah, I thought it was a good idea, too. This was created for a YMA church:

(From an actual Assessment Timeline):

Integration/Worship: Write a strategic plan for integrating the youth ministry more fully into the fabric of the entire church.   

“It is the desire of the church and the youth ministry that the youth of the church be fully integrated into the life of the church, rather than isolated from the church’s non-youth programs. The following four areas possible list ways to integrate youth into the whole church:

I.               Worship

  1. Leadership and Liturgists: Special music, acolytes, and 5th Sunday youth ushers
  2. Mission Trip Commissioning: All youth and adults participating on youth mission trips are commissioned in worship.
  3. Worship Promotion: Participation in worship is encouraged for youth and their families attending youth programs, events & activities.
  4. Youth Sunday: Youth are responsible for the entire worship service for one Sunday.
  5. Confirmation Sunday: Youth are confirmed in worship each year there is a confirmation class.
  6. Youth Choir: The youth choir serves as the lead choir at least 2 times a year.

II.             Service

  1. Youth Committee Representatives: 2 Youth Elders and 10 other youth serving on committees.
  2. Youth are encouraged to participate in all-church service days, like Trinity Service Day.

III.           Intergenerational Programming

  1. Parent/Youth Events: At least twice a year, the youth ministry sponsors programs for parents and youth together.
  2. Confirmation Parents Class: A class designed for parents of confirmation youth is provided each year, with several sessions designed for youth and parents together.
  3. Engaging Additional Adults: Non-Youth-leader adults are invited to serve as leaders and chaperones for special events and trips.
  4. All pastors of the church are invited to serve in the youth program in some way.

IV.    Visibility:

  1. Twice a year, a bulletin board of pictures (or some sort of display) from the youth ministry is located where the majority of church members linger or walk by.
  2. The Director of Ministry to Youth and Their Families gives a mission trip presentation to the church’s men’s breakfast every year.
  3. Graduating seniors’ names are in the bulletin each year in the spring.”

OK, my small church friends, you’ve got some tools to improve the integration of your youth ministry into the broader scheme of things in your church. Go tear that ear off, so to speak!







Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry to youth and youth workers in the local church since…well, a long time – 30+ years.  Her humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting and coaching at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. Her latest books are, “Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches” and “99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker,” published by Group/Simply Youth Ministry. Stephanie is a contributing author to several youth ministry resources in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine.  Stephanie is a lead consultant for Mark DeVries’ Youth Ministry Architects and the Director for their new division, Small Church Ministry Architects. Check out her Simply Youth Ministry Network blog at  She and her hubby, Steve, live in Houston, TX. All 7 kids are grown and out – praise God!






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