Skip to main content

I’ve only been in this industry for a mere three years. But those of us who work here can quickly understand how much will change in three years. In fact, I often share with people that the turn over of my high school program is four years: a statistic not often considered by those who aren’t encompassed in the work.

In these short three years, I’ve discovered something youth love to do: work. Maybe it’s the town I serve in, but I’m continually humbled by a generation that seeks "hands on" work. For years, students have been provided with hand outs and information. Since elementary, students were sent with homework to complete on their own clocks, and return with a product of right and wrong.

But homework, though complimentary to education and formation of students, doesn’t always translate to "hands on" for students. I remember despising geometry class, wondering “How does this translate to real life?” And hidden behind that very question is a yearning in which I believe all students are seeking to answer or understand: tangible applications for life. I believe that this generation is craving "hands on" work, aching with a desire to serve.

Our youth program spends two weeks a month out in the community, giving back through service projects, community projects, visiting elderly homes, or inviting others into our space. And through these tangible mission projects, students are growing, asking questions, wrestling with the meaning and purpose of faith in action.

We are grateful enough to have a God who’s grace covers our sin, a God who did all the work for us. But that same God also calls us to action, to respond to his grace, to make believers of shapes, sizes, and races. That same God is still at work, filling our ministries with innovative ways of shaping our students, preparing them with the tools of a future generation. This is just one of those ways.

  • How do you feel about an action based youth ministry?
  • Do you feel that students are hungry for action?
  • Do you have other innovating ways which your students have responded well to? 



I'll never forget the first service project I led to inner-city Chicago in 1985.  As the students went behind three locked doors and had to sleep on tables to stay away from the cockroaches, they started asking serious questions like   "how come I have a clean bed and a safe home and these people don't?"   As we painted and cleaned that weekend, I talked alot about grace, sin, and the mercy of God.    We all came back changed and humbled.  Doesn't that happen everytime we serve from the heart?

-Pete Byma


Wholeheartedly agree with the "hands on" gospel.  The leaders of our tudent ministry watched a webinar by Greg Steir from Dare2Share which emphasized getting out there.  How to keep the "mission trip high" for Christ has always been an issue that we've dealt with.  So, we've decided that both our middle and high school student ministries will take one meeting a month to go out and be Christ's hands, feet, ears, etc. to the world - mini mission trips.  It's been proven that students draw closer to Christ through prayer and studying His word when on mission trips, so we're praying that these mini-trips will help draw them to a better and stronger relationship with Christ.  The students can't wait until the service meetings when they get to leave the building and be Christ's church in action.

Ken VanderLugt

Pete! That's an amazing story! And I totally agree that we are changed by every humble action we do for Christ!

Ken, I'd love to hear more about your mini mission trips! Being that this is a new venture for me personally, I'd love to hear from you more about a) what it is you are doing and b) how you think it's helping your youth. You can post it here (helpful to all of us), or if you prefer email: [email protected]

Thought I'd give you an update on our monthly service projects.  Our first project for our high school students fell through as it was a bad weekend for illness and students being out of town.  Instead, my family and one other student and her family went out for dinner - which was a great way to get a better insight into the life of this student.

Our middle school group hosted a Trunk or Treat event on halloween night.  They were joined by some of the high school students and all of them did a good job setting up, making the neighborhood guests feel welcome, guiding them through the church (moved it inside because of the weather), and helped clean up.  Not sure if students were that impacted by this event but it was a fun, non-threatening way to get them started on the idea.

Last Sunday evening, I bought some Little Caesar's $5 gift cards, made up a note stating why were doing this and identifying our church, and took the high school students to a strip mall to hand them out to whomever was leaving one of the stores.  All the students were required to go up to person and say something like "Hi, I'm Ken from Southern Heights and I just want to give you this Little Caersar's gift card.  Merry Christmas."  Even the super shy student managed to do this and enjoyed it!  Afterward, we went to Steak N Shake and discussed the night.  They were surprised that about 1/3 of the people turned them down.  We also had a great discussion about how just about everyone who took the card couldn't believe they were getting something with no strings attached or that we refused any type of donation.  They're now looking forward to our next service projects.

Last night, I bought about 180 candy canes at the dollar store, attached a note that said "Merry Christmas from Southern Heights", and brought our middle school group to the same strip mall.  We divided into teams of 2 or 3 and went to various stores where the students greeted people with a simple "Hi, I'm Ken from Southern Heights. Merry Christmas!" as they handed them a candy cane.  We had talked in advance that some people might not take one, and that helped the students as about 1/4 of the people turned them down.  Once they got into the groove, they were so excited to see the smiles on people's faces and hear their surprised "Thank You".  Some people immediately reached into their pocket for a donation, but the kids were quick to let them know that this was their gift to them and they expected nothing in return.  One clerk from the bookstore we were standing at apparently had made a quick errand to another store and was heading back into the store when one of our young men approached her and said his piece and gave her the candy cane.  The look of pure joy on her face was priceless - and then she gave him a big hug while she thanked him.  I was interested in what his reaction would be to that and when he came back to the group his reaction was "She smells nice!"  Just as we were finishing handing out our candy canes, this clerk came back out with a cup of hot chocolate for this student and told him she was so touched because that was the first time in her life a non-family member had wished her a "Merry Christmas" just because - wanting nothing in return.  Other groups had stories of people who were so touched they also gave them hugs (all hugs were appropriate and leaders were right there for protection).  When we got back to church and shared our stories, I could tell the kids really got the concept of giving of themselves without expecting nothing in return.  We talked about how this student gave 5 seconds of his time and a gift that cost less than a dime, and how that impacted this person's life.  This group is now pumped to do more service projects.

I was amazed at how God used these simple ideas in such a great way.  He is so amazing in what He can do!

Our next project will be joint projects as our youth groups join our community in a community food drive.  We will drag boxes on carts around an "assembly line" where others will pack the boxes.  After we make a few rounds on the assembly line, we will then take several names and bring the food to families.  Seeing a community work together impacts the students, as well as the gratitude of the recipients. 

I'll keep you posted on how our events go.

Let's Discuss

We love your comments! Thank you for helping us uphold the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

Login or Register to Comment

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post