By Cheryl Paden
Maybe your youth director just resigned. Or maybe your church never had one in the first place. Perhaps the missions committee in charge has fallen apart.
Or you might simply not have enough sponsors, time, money or ______ (fill in the blank) to send mission your students on a mission trip this year.
Well I say, “Yes you do!
A few years ago, our church found out one of the best mission trips could take place in our own backyard. There are people in your very community—perhaps in your own congregation—who have needs that can simply be met by gathering your students and mobilizing them to serve.
Many of these needs are material and physical—and there are members of your congregation and community who literally could use hands and feet to meet them. There are people who aren’t able to do for themselves in a way they once were. Perhaps there’s a great number who have no one to assist them.
For our church, a student servant team was not only one of the best, simplest, and fastest work teams to organize; there were surprise benefits as well.
Here are five steps that made our local student missions successful.
1. Assemble the most vital component—people
Hold an organizational meeting and start gathering information about your church’s youth. This can be scheduled at any regular meeting you hold. Be sure to drop a letter, postcard—and definitely use social media—to invite those who don’t attend regularly.
Create a roster of your students based on the information you’ve gathered. How many are interested? What are their ages, skills, and abilities of those interested? Be sure and ask who has painted, shingled, done yard work or any other service-oriented tasks.
Help your students take ownership of the project by creating a motto—that considers an applicable Scripture—and make T-shirts.
2. Understanding of congregational needs
We dug a little deeper within our church’s senior ministry program, searching criteria such as: who had no family nearby, economic considerations, and physical disabilities, when selecting which persons to assist.
It was important to know this information when matching up the skills or abilities of our students that were necessary to do the work that would best serve those in need.
A lot of these needs included painting, replacing gutters or torn screens, pulling weeds, hauling trash, and yard cleanup. We even hung curtains.
Are there business owners in your congregation who can come alongside the students in these local missions? You never know: Someone sitting in your very pews could have the expertise to help get these service projects organized.
This is also a great way to engage others in your church’s student ministry.
Our church got some help from a man in the congregation who did construction work for a living. For each a job, we created a work order. This document contained the name of the person being served and address of where the work was to be done.
It also listed supplies the project needed. Supplies were broken down into two categories. Some items—like tools and ladders—we could borrow and return. Other materials—like paint and nails—needed a cost estimate.
We estimated the number of kids and time necessary to complete the job. We were very careful with this step, as it was key to a successful mission.
4. Engage the rest of the congregation
The students couldn’t do this alone. Not only did they need organization from knowledgeable people within the congregation, they had physical needs, like food and shelter.
We lined up volunteers responsible for serving meals to our young servants. One person made breakfasts, another took lunches out to the work crews, another prepared supper, and one even donated coupons for pizza.
One family in our congregation donated the use of their lake cabin for a picnic on the last evening of the service week. Students brought their own water jugs, sleeping bags, work clothes and personal items, like bug spray and sunblock.
Since we weren’t leaving the community, we still wanted the kids to have the camaraderie they would have had they left town on a mission. We called local church camps and got cots for our fellowship hall in the church basement.
Now the youth would all be together. We developed a daily schedule for time to get up, mealtimes, devotions and when to be on the jobs and breaks. Schedules went out to everyone involved, including the volunteers preparing meals, crew supervisors, pastors and of course, the students.
This was probably one of the main reasons why everything went so smoothly.
5. Have a special discipleship emphasis
This is the most important part of the planning. We wanted the students to get a strong sense of why they were serving people in their congregation and community.
We had a time of devotion after breakfast each morning. We dedicated our workday to the Lord and prayed for the people we were helping. We ended the day with the pastor leading us in a reflection on how Christ works in our life and if we are ready to hear the call to serve.
There were some surprise benefits as well, like the big smiles on the faces of the people we helped. Then there was the great fellowship and close camaraderie the students created. In a world where peer pressure seems to have a negative influence, here was a group of kids dependent on each other to produce positive results.
The great spiritual focus it gave our youth was wonderful. The best and most surprising blessing was the intergenerational sense of community our congregation experienced. The older members now knew and recognized the students by name, and vice versa. They began to greet each other at church and converse cheerfully.
It doesn’t matter how small your church is, or how limited you think your resources are. Mobilizing your students to serve the community this way can actually be transformational to your entire congregation.
CHERYL PADEN is a speaker and freelance writer who enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. You can read more from Cheryl at her website.