One thing that I distinctly remember from my own time in youth group were the mission trips. My first trip was to Mexico. Actually, I’m fairly sure my first three mission trips were all in Mexico. We helped lead Bible studies with kids, helped spruce up some churches, and built houses. I’ve also served in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. These were all great experiences that have helped me see what God is doing around the world and gain more perspective. As with all mission trips, I’m sure I took more from it than what I was able to provide. But God also revealed to me that I don’t have to leave the country.

While in college, I went on three mission trips to help churches and ministries in New England, and I also helped lead a trip to a Spanish-speaking church in Georgia. These trips really helped shape my mind to mission work right in our own country. While living in New England, I got connected to an organization called workcampNE. If you listen to my podcast, I’m sure you have heard me talk about them quite a bit. Through those trips, we helped many people in our own country and community.

This year, we made a somewhat bold decision at LifeBridge to not do our international mission trip. Instead, we put together a very local trip where we served four of our partners right here in Colorado. The goal for this trip was two-fold: to help students see there are needs right in our backyard and to build more of a relationship with our local partners. Did it work? Well, while it would be fun to read a blog post about a gigantic failure, this is not one of those. Yes, it worked, and I’d highly recommend doing the same type of trip for your youth group and/or church.

Our theme verse for the week was quite simple. We focused on Acts 1:8, where Jesus says to go into all the world: your local communities, your region and neighboring regions, and around the world. As many of you know, far too often, we are unbalanced in our approach. Therefore, students often grow up thinking mission work is something that happens outside of our country. We need to help them understand there are needs right here in our country, right in our own communities.

Throughout the week, we served different types of organizations to help them see the variety of needs and work being done to see those needs. Students led devotional thoughts in the morning and evening, and we also had some fun, worship, and recap conversations each evening. But in order to help you understand the full nature of our trip, here is the basic outline of our week:

  • Sunday: Arrive at night and head to our host home for worship and devos.
  • Monday: Prayer walks around the local high schools and bowling with an elderly nursing home in the afternoon.
  • Tuesday: Served an at-risk children’s home by helping them with some landscaping and cleanup.
  • Wednesday: Served a homeless shelter and outreach by painting and cleaning up their offices.
  • Thursday: Served an alternative school by cleaning, painting, and other projects they needed done.
  • Friday: Fun day at a local amusement park before heading home.

As you can see, most of what we did was manual labor, but we did have some other things like prayer walks, bowling with the nursing home residents, and connecting with the administration at the rest of the facilities. Many of our students were not sure what to expect, but they were all gained appreciation for the trip throughout the week. They especially liked painting, as they were able to see the fruit of their labor, something that doesn’t always happen when you spend the week teaching kids at a VBS, for example.

Another byproduct of this trip was that I now have students asking how they can help these organizations on a regular basis. For trips outside the country, this is much more difficult, but for a local trip, I can easily see us doing service projects for them every once in a while. Perhaps, even one of their small groups could “adopt” one of our local partners and serve them once a month or quarter. There are so many possibilities.

Now, funny enough, I’ve created a bit of a problem for myself, as I have students who really want to do both types of trips in the future. They are already asking about our international trip next year AND about another local trip. But if this is the type of problems I have to deal with as a youth pastor, I am ready to take on the challenge. We have students begging to serve more. We’ll figure it out somehow.

While these next generations are still the work of much research by people that are way smarter than me, I am sure of one thing for them: they love to serve. Our current teenagers love to give back, and they love to be a part of something far greater than themselves. In fact, our middle school students just raised a ton of money for a local pregnancy center. They don’t even have jobs, but they gave. One even gave her savings, even after we told her numerous times that she didn’t have to do that. How incredible is that!?

So what are you doing in your youth group to cultivate more service opportunities? How are you helping students see the needs right in their own community, in addition to those around the world? Maybe you could do a local mission trip too, or maybe just start with a mission day. Maybe you could encourage your small groups to serve together. Maybe you could empower students to lead out in finding opportunities. Again, there are so many things we could be doing, but how many of them are we missing because our focus is on something else?

If you’ve done something that has worked well for youth student ministry, let me know in the comments. I love hearing what others are doing, and where I can learn and borrow ideas for my ministry as we continue to grow in this area.

[Photo credit: Ben White on Unsplash]

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