I had a real problem when I was in school. I struggled to complete my homework. It is not that I didn’t like working hard or learning. I just wanted to work on everything except for the task that was right in front of me. In college, it got worse. This is really nerdy but instead of reading the textbook, I would read all the suggested reading at the bottom. Why? Those books just seemed more flashy and exciting. But the work Ii was supposed to be doing would once again get neglected and I would struggle and have to scramble when the test came.
We can have a similar problem in the church. We too can neglect our home work(two words instead of one). We can fall into the temptation of solely focusing on national and international mission trips because they are more flashy and forget to do the work right around us at home the rest of the year. This can cause a few problems.
- Our students learn that God only uses them in other places instead of realizing he can use them every day right where he has placed them.
- We miss out on an opportunity not only to make a daily impact but also to change the perception of our churches in the local community.
- When tests and trials come we have to scramble to be ready to meet the challenge.
I will give you an example that taught me this lesson. We have done national and international trips for years. They have been great and made an impact on our students and on the partners we travel to. We will also continue to do these. But recently we realized there were great needs around us. So through a series of events we we were able to form partnerships with local schools through athletic and mentorship programs to come in, speak to kids, and meet needs. We also began transporting kids to our mid-week service and feeding them there and expanded our back to school school supply drive. Not only have we seen growth in our ministry but many students now know they are loved that did not feel that way before and many families have been impacted. Then, when the Covid-19 pandemic came and lockdowns were put in place there was an increase in the need to provide food to families. The schools actually reached out to us for help because thankfully we finally had committed to do the work at home and were ready when the test came.
Many of you have similar stories, or even better ones, of how you are working in your local communities and I would love to hear those in the comments, and hope this story encourages you to continue that work. But if you are not I hope you will begin to think about what needs are right around you that you and your students could be meeting. Regardless of which category you fall into I want to share 3 local mission project ideas to help you in expanding the impact your youth ministry has on your local community.
I mentioned this in my story. but there are many opportunities in local schools for churches to make an impact. School supply drives, while seasonal, are a good idea we have had great success with. Also, feeding students. Many students only get the free breakfast and lunch they receive at school. Schools also are often short on volunteers. Other ideas could be after school tutoring or filling the gap in areas the school cannot afford to provide like music, coding, robotics, career preparation, etc. Because whatever the program is, it is still an opportunity to build relationships with students and their families.
A great starting point would be to talk to your students about what needs they see. I also would reach out to adults in your church who work in the local schools because they probably have a great idea of what the needs are and might have a point of contact to get your foot in the door.
I will say, if you did get a meeting with a school official, make sure you dress and act professionally in the meeting. They may not appreciate your Chacos as much as your students do.
2. Foster Families
As a foster parent myself I can tell you this is a great opportunity for local missions. It can be hard to find baby sitters because they have to be of a certain age and meet certain requirements. It changes from agency to agency and state to state, but for us they have to be at least 16 and CPR certified. What if you had a pool of students who met those requirements and publicized being willing and qualified babysitters for foster families. You could even offer a foster parent night out. We also never know when a kid may come, what they will have, or exactly what age they will be. It is almost like bringing a new kid home from the hospital over and over again. What if you had a bunch of survival kits and every time a foster family got a new placement you delivered it to them the next day.
How would you start a ministry like this? First, I would try to find out if there are foster families in your church, ask what their needs are, and learn from them about what they need. Then I would also identify a faith-based foster care agency in your area and see if there are ways you can support and partner with them. It is not that I am against the other agencies. I just know you may have an easier time getting your foot in the door as a youth pastor in a faith-based agency.
This might be different from community to community, but in our city there is an elementary school in almost every neighborhood with a park attached to it. While making sure those parks are clean is an obvious opportunity, it may not be necessary depending on your local parks department. But there is an opportunity to impact kids. I know during the weekends and summer our is always full with kids, and every time I take my kids I spend half the time pushing all the other kids on the swings. Anytime, we play baseball in the park every other kid wants to join in. What if you and a group of students took equipment and started pickup games to build relationships? What if you brought water and snacks? What if groups of families went out to the park to play and included the other kids? There are plenty of opportunities to get you, your students, and their families involved in making a real impact, literally right where you live.
4. Nursing Homes
I had a great aunt and a great grandmother in a nursing home. Not only did it mean the world to them when I visited, but frankly it did when anyone visited. Not to mention how others in the halls would light up if you said hi and had a conversation with them. If you have a local nursing home and they are willing to let you and your students in, it will not only have an incredible impact on your students but also make the day of many people who are often lonely because their family placed them there and either cannot visit or have actively chosen not too. You could offer things like game nights or doing manicures for the ladies, but honestly just spending time and having conversations may be best.
5. Serving the homeless
There may not be homeless people in your community but I bet there are in a nearby surrounding community, and spending time with them is a great way to make an impact. You could have your students volunteer at a local shelter but we have taken two different approaches. First, we have a partnership with a local church and once a month we make the day packs of food and help serve breakfast at their weekly service. The second thing we do is have groups of students make snack lunches and care packages of clean socks and seasonally items like gloves, blankets, or sunscreen and extra water. Then we actually walk around the city and spend time having conversations and handing out care packages. If you do not have experience with this and are uncertain about it feel free to reach out to me or reach out to an organization in your community who is doing this work to learn.
I would not jump out and do all 5 local mission projects, but if you are not serving your local community, or just need a way to get more students involved, I do encourage you to pick one, stick with it, get good at it, and then keep going.
We will be praying for you, your church, your community, and the work that is taking place.