By Joran Braughton | Student Pastor, Highland Baptist Church
In 2014 I transitioned from a high school ministry in Georgia of 500 to a student ministry in Ohio of 10-15. I had longed for a smaller church community and desired to serve where I could know others on a deeper level. I believed my plan for ministry was formed in the perfect way to see immediate growth within this group. However, after 6 months numbers within our group remained unchanged. During our Wednesday nights we averaged a ‘whopping’ 6-10 students. My excitement quickly turned into exasperation. I focused on trying to increase our numbers by using many of the ministry strategies I had learned in the large group setting in Georgia, but I soon realized something which changed my direction in church leadership. Attendance had become an idol and I was the number one worshipper. My mindset needed to shift. We couldn’t treat a small number the way we would treat a large number. That summer, our ministry had only 10 students and leaders come with us to camp, but I realized I wasn’t called to grow our group in numbers - I was called to intentionally disciple the few God had placed under my leadership.
After nearly a year I made a list of areas where I wanted our ministry to succeed. This is where I would focus the majority of my time and energy:
1. Teaching students the gospel so often they could easily articulate it.
2. Praying for adults to join in and pour into students.
The gospel part was somewhat easy. Whether it was Sunday school curriculum, teaching at youth group, camps/events, or random gatherings; we would only gather as a group for one purpose - to teach Christ’s death in our place and his resurrection so that we too can have life (2 Timothy 2:11.) Did all 10-15 students get this? Absolutely not. Did we get to watch many students lives change because of what Jesus had done for them? YES! In 8 years, I have seen students devote their lives to pastoral ministry, serve full-time with the IMB, take a gap year to serve in Southeast Asia (soon to be full-time), give summers to church planting, and pursue studying abroad in Africa - all for the sake of the gospel! I can’t take any credit for what the Lord has done and continues to do in student’s lives. It’s been incredible to watch the Gospel impact hearts.
Secondly, I needed more help. I alone couldn’t connect with all of our students. I couldn’t give them the attention and support they needed all the time. So I prayed and prayed (and cried) and then prayed more for God to send leaders. I wish I could say this happened immediately - it certainly did not. I prayed for more help yet we remained with the small group of faithful leaders who continued to serve faithfully.
Though I was praying for adult leaders, it wasn’t long before two of our 10th grade girls stepped up and began discipling incoming 7th graders. This is something I didn’t pray for, but it has changed our group ever since. The small number in our youth ministry from the beginning included these two 10th graders. We poured into them and they went on to disciple 4-5 girls each. Our God delights in using small things for the glory of His son, Jesus! Because of God using these two girls, our group began to grow as students were pouring into students. This brought parents and former students around because of the excitement and community within our growing group. We also saw students reaching out to one another and holding each other accountable. We have now seen growth in our ministry for 5 years straight. (Even through a pandemic!)
This year we are excited for more than 50 students and leaders from our church to join together for a week of camp. It has been so exciting to watch our student ministry grow and see how God answers prayers faithfully. As we have grown in student numbers we have also grown in wonderful and faithful student leaders. We continue in striving for gospel-centrality in our ministry and we remind our leaders often how incredible they are. God is faithful. (Isaiah 25:1)