Tips for Picking a Mission Trip

Serving in student ministry often includes leading a mission trip at some point during your tenure. And if you are like me your education probably didn’t prepare you for it. I never took a class on preparing a budget for a mission trip nor did I receive any help in building a student fundraiser (check out a previous post on fundraising for some ideas). I also was never given any thoughts on how to pick a destination and what to look for.

Today’s post is designed to help you critically think through how to pick a destination that will have the desired impact and outcome with your group of students. These ideas aren’t meant to be all encompassing, but to give you a springboard from which you can build out a trip that meets the desired aspects you have for your team.

Scout the location.

This is honestly one of the best things you can do as a trip leader. Wherever you are going–whether domestic or international–the ability to scout where you will be and what you are doing will allow you to be a better leader for your group. It will also help establish confidence and insight for students, parents, and leaders. You can answer questions, help quell fears or doubts, share stories, and bring a personal touch to the trip, which will help build the team and shape the heart of the trip.

Look for ongoing partnerships.

Ongoing partnerships can help aid buy-in from your students. If you choose a place you can continue to engage with, it affords your students opportunities to build connections and relationships with that community. This then generates a desire to continuing being a part of what is happening, as well as excitement to continue serving in that area. This mentality also helps to align your students with the understanding that mission trips aren’t designed to be a one-and-done experience, but instead are about building relationships, serving others, and growing the kingdom of heaven. It builds an intentional relationship and partnership that will ultimately benefit that community and your ministry.

Find a trip that can connect with your students.

This is something I always try to think critically about as I look for a missions partner, but it doesn’t ultimately drive where we go. I do believe it’s important to consider the connection between students and where they serve as it will help shape their hearts and challenge them to think outside of their normal spheres. If students connect with a location, they will create momentum and desire that will overflow to other students and hopefully generate a stronger response and desire to be part of the mission. With that said, a connection isn’t the ultimate driver of where we go because students may see greater change and spiritual impact at a location with which they don’t initially connect. If they do connect with a location it’s an added bonus.

Consider local and global options.

Sometimes our propensity can be to look for more exotic locations or ones that are outside of the continental US. But that isn’t always an option for every group and there are amazing domestic opportunities in which groups can participate. I encourage every youth leader to consider looking at both local and domestic options, as well as global opportunities, and try to find a balance between them.

Look for discipleship pathways.

Discipleship is the foundation of our ministry, so we always look for mission trips which further that focus. We don’t want to just take our students to a location to work hard, we want them to be formed and stretched as followers of Jesus. We value discussions and small group time, engagement with the people we’re serving, challenging students to think about how they can grow and change, and thinking long term about what changes they will implement in their lives.

Understand how students will serve and contribute.

Mission trips are fantastic opportunities for students to serve in real and tangible ways. However, some mission sites require skilled laborers or people trained in skill sets that students may not have. If you are going to a location that has been struck by a tragedy, they may desire contractors or counselors and often students do not fit these needs. However, they may be able to general maintenance, VBS programs, certain aspects of construction, outreach programs, and a variety of other tasks. If students can fully contribute and be a part of the mission, they will continue to serve and have a desire to be a part of future mission expeditions.

Have training options and resources planned ahead of time.

This is a big part of choosing a location. Make sure that you can equip and prepare you team for wherever they are going and for whatever tasks they will be doing. Whether it’s walking through When Helping Hurts, doing evangelism training, having mission reps share, bringing in someone from the site, engaging in skills training, or just team building, these aspects will all help to not only strengthen your team but inform and equip them as well.

Build out what you want students to come away with.

If you build out a plan for your students prior to choosing where you will go, you can make sure that each location will match your desired outcome. By building a plan and making sure the mission matches the plan you will have higher success when it comes to providing your students with what you desire.

What aspects dictate how you choose a mission trip location?

Packing for Trips: Leaders

Last week we took some time to think through helping students pack for trips. But what about packing information for leaders? Are there things we should tell our volunteer leaders to bring? Are there specific items the ministry or trip leader should be bringing? What are some essentials that we should always pack?

Today, I want to explore some of these questions by sharing essential items I think every leader should have with them. Having taken a variety of trips with students, both domestic and international, I have learned there are items we should always have in order to be prepared. There are some items that only the trip leader and/or a small group of leaders should have for a litany of reasons and I will mark those with an asterisk.

A first aid kit.

First aid kits are extremely important no matter the kind of trip. I recommend purchasing a small first aid kit for each of your leaders that could fit in their backpacks and making sure it has all the essentials (bandages, alcohol wipes, Advil, antihistamines, etc.), and to also take a least one larger kit. I would actually recommend taking two larger kits that have more items in them to treat a large variety of injuries and needs.

It may be helpful to build your own kit or ask a healthcare worker or first responder to help you build one. Think about items like splints, triangular bandages, gauze, medical tape, Advil and Tylenol, electrolyte tabs, antacids, feminine products, smelling salts, blood pressure cuffs, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, braces, a tourniquet, a flashlight, tweezers, cough drops, laxatives, and whatever else would be helpful.

Bright flashlights.

If you’ve been on a trip with students you know there will inevitably be times when you will be out at night and a flashlight is necessary. However, an inexpensive store brand flashlight might not be helpful. Look to find flashlights that utilize LEDs and have a higher level of lumens. These will ensure that you have longer lasting lights with brighter beams that will help you navigate evening games, uneven terrain, finding students, or even working to repair a vehicle.

A power strip.

Have you ever gotten to your shared cabin or room and realized there are only one or two power outlets? If you have ever done a trip during the summer in a room without air conditioning and brought your own fans, you know how important outlets are. Or if you need to charge multiple devices, having enough plugs is paramount. So pack enough power strips that each room can have their own if needed.

A multi-tool.*

A multi-tool is something I would only encourage the group leader to take. Whenever we take trips, including mission trips, we don’t allow students to bring knives of any type for safety reasons. However, it’s a great resource for the team leader to have a tool for emergencies and day-to-day activities on trips. Having a multi-tool has helped my teams splice wires connecting our trailer to our van, fix broken items in cabins, and pull staples out of carpets on mission trips. Having one of these is absolutely necessary on trips.

Advil and Advil PM.

As I have gotten older I have realized the necessity of both of these medications. Advil for the aches and pains of a long busy day, and Advil PM to help you fall asleep at night on uncomfortable bedding.

Earplugs and a sleep mask.

Sharing a room with someone isn’t usually a bad thing, unless they snore. And what about noisy students? Or perhaps the AC unit that is anything but silent? Or there is light streaming in from the window. These things plus being in a different environment can make sleep elusive. That’s where earplugs and an eye mask can help immensely. They help you to remove some of the external stimuli and hopefully find much-needed sleep to be ready to continue leading your group.

Extra pens.

Whether it’s for students, leaders, or both, I’ve found having extra pens is important because someone or multiple people will need one. So bring along an extra handful in your backpack and be ready to hand them out as needed.

Instant coffee.

I tend to be a coffee snob, so recommending instant coffee is hard. But I’ve been to multiple camps and retreat centers that make coffee for leaders that just isn’t good. In fact I would argue some of the camps served us muddy water instead of coffee. That’s when having something that is passable is better than nothing. So grab some Starbucks Via or other instant coffee packets and bring enough for your leaders too so they can have some joy in their early mornings.

Propel or Gatorade packets.

During summer trips especially, these instant packets are key. But even during trips in the fall or winter time, they’ll go a long way especially if you have someone who gets dehydrated. It’s a quick way to get fluids and electrolytes into the body and allows people to recover faster.

Battery packs.

Have you ever found your phone to be dying midway through a day at camp but you don’t have an outlet nearby? For me it happens often because I’m using my phone to document what is happening throughout the day. So having spare battery packs is a must when you go on trips. Consider purchasing a couple really good ones that have multiple ports and can charge multiple devices on a single charge because your leaders will also most likely need to recharge their devices as well.

A good pillow.

Even if the place you are going to provides bedding, make sure to bring a comfortable pillow. Nothing ruins a good night’s rest like a waking up with a sore neck or shoulders as a result of a bad pillow. Having a good pillow will help you sleep well.

A water bottle.

Having a water bottle is a must. It allows you to stay hydrated and can help remind your students to do so as well. Make sure to have one that is double lined to help keep your cold drinks cold and your hot drinks hot.

Games or special items for small group time.

If it ends up being rainy one day on your trip, having games to use with your small group or cabin is a must. It helps to occupy the time and give your students something fun to do. Or you could bring fun snacks or special little gifts for your small group like glow sticks or personalized snacks you know they love. Also think about games you can play on the trip out, especially if it is a long drive.

Extra personal care items.*

This is something that as the main leader you should think about bringing. There are always moments when students and/or leaders forget some kind of personal care item, so take a few moments and hit up the travel item section in Target or your local dollar store for toiletries. They don’t need to be full sized items but having a handful of things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant for guys and girls, body soap, shampoo, and lotion are great items to have on hand.

What are some non-negotiable items you take on trips?

Packing for Trips: Students

Last week we talked about how to pick a location for student retreats and trips. But have you struggled with what you should tell students to pack for these trips? Have you received a frantic text or email the day of departure from a student or parent asking what they should bring?

As we continue the conversation, this week I want to share some ideas for helping students pack appropriately for trips. Next week I’ll share some insight as to what youth leaders should be packing for trips. Over my time in student ministry, I have come to realize a simplified packing list is much better to share than an overly detailed one. It ensures that students pack the essentials and helps them seek clarity when they have questions.

Before you even start to think about what students need to pack, you should be thinking about how you will communicate it to them. There are three main avenues of communication that typically can work with students: verbal communication, physical mediums, and electronic mediums.

Verbal communication.

Many ministries still utilize verbal announcements during their services and programs. These moments are critical for communicating important information in small, sound byte-style clips that peak your students’ interest. Two important things to remember with these moments is there needs to be simplicity, and direction toward a medium they can use for follow up (i.e. social media, emails, handouts, etc.).

Physical mediums.

One of the best ways to get things into the hands of students is to do just that. Get them physical sign ups, postcard reminders, or flyers. This will give them something to physically take, but the reality is these items don’t always make it home or to their parents. So be thoughtful about how much time and effort you put into these mediums as the reward may be minimal.

Electronic mediums.

Over the last decade, the importance of electronic communication has become undeniable. Students have phones and other devices in their hands constantly, and the more you can leverage these mediums the better your results. Use social media platforms, create QR Codes that can be scanned during gatherings, send emails, utilize story features on social media, and send out group texts with information. When it comes to creating online content, you may find yourself in the same predicament I often find myself: I’m not creative in this area. That’s where Canva comes in handy. It has graphics, images, and pre-made designs you can edit and utilize to best reach your audience. So lean into Canva or another design app to not simply list information but make it visually appealing as well.

So what should students actually take on trips? If you use a venue that supplies a leader packet, you may find a packing list there, but you may need to edit it to match your program’s guidelines. When I think about what students should pack, I think in categories: clothing, accessories, toiletries, camp-specific gear, and what not to bring.

Each of these are extremely focused and allow our team to highlight the essentials needed, and what is not allowed at camp. The camp-specific category helps highlight relevant items like winter gear, bathing suits, work clothes, or whatever else is needed. The accessories category allows you to remind students about things like bedding and pillows, a notebook, money, bug spray, and medicine. The “what not to bring” category lets you focus on things that aren’t allowed at the camp and what you ask students to leave at home. We always highlight leaving electronics at home, and things like energy drinks and illegal substances.

Whatever your trip looks like, remember to communicate clearly, consistently, and frequently through multiple mediums in concise ways. When you focus on those aspects you are setting yourself and your students up for success on your trips. Below is a graphic that we built in Canva for our student ministry’s last winter camp. This can serve as a springboard for your creativity, or we are happy to share how we created this to help you further. Feel free to reach out if you need help with creating your own graphic.

How to Pick a Retreat Destination

With the fall semester just beginning for many of us, you may not be thinking about trips just yet. Or perhaps you have a fall retreat coming up and you’re starting to prepare all the information and building out schedules and details. Regardless of where you are in the planning stages, it is important to think critically about where you are going and why you are going there.

Those of us who serve in student ministry know how important trips and retreats are in the lives of students. These moments help our students grow and mature in their faith as they are able to hyper-focus on spiritual disciplines, rhythms, formation, and transformation in a condensed but intentional time. Because of that reality, we must be intentional in choosing the locations for these trips so as to best care for and minister to our students. Today I’m sharing some practical things to look for in the places you plan to take your students so they can have the best possible experience.

Find a place that matches and supports your vision.

Whenever our ministry is assessing where we will be taking our students we look to see if it supports our vision of disciple-making. That means we want a place that has longer small group times, opportunities for service, challenging and deep messages, as well as fun and engaging activities. What you want for your group may not be what we look for, but what matters is that your values and vision are complimented and supported through the elements offered by the camp or retreat center.

Choose a location that is cost-effective.

We all serve in areas that can vary widely from a socioeconomic perspective. This means what some students can afford in one area is not necessarily the same in another. That doesn’t mean we need to sacrifice on the quality or benefits of the retreat site, but instead look for one that is affordable and cost-effective.

The truth is students don’t need all the bells and whistles to make camp enjoyable and memorable. They instead need one they can attend, where they can build meaningful relationships, have fun doing a variety of things, and make lasting memories. So think about where you are going, if it is financially accessible for your students, and how you may be able to assist those who cannot afford to go.

Pick a place that has good activities.

Activities perhaps aren’t always the focus when we choose a retreat destination, but should receive more attention. I am not saying they should be the determining factor in where you take your group, but they should play a role in your decision.

I have been to many beautiful and cost-effective camps that had very few on-site activities. This was always a little disappointing to our groups; they hoped camps would offer different aspects than normal youth group gatherings. It is also important to make sure that the activities are age appropriate. It is possible to have an amazing camp and facilities but the activities may be designed more for elementary day camps and not youth groups. So consider where you are going, and what activities they offer in which your group will enjoy participating.

Find an experience your students will remember.

What makes camps and retreats memorable? The camp we take our students to in the winter isn’t the most beautiful or top of the line. But for our group, it doesn’t need to be. They offer all the things we are looking for: quality speakers, intentional small group times, fantastic activities, and really good meals. What makes this retreat so memorable for our students are the sessions, small group time, the activities like tubing runs (including one onto a lake and nighttime), the camp director who engages with each student, and the team-building competitions.

Whatever makes a trip memorable for your students, find a place that will compliment those things. But always use discernment with this as well. Just because a student remembers a joke the speaker told, or the pranks they pulled, or a random camp romance, doesn’t mean you should choose that location again. Find memories that are valuable, meaningful, formational, and contribute ultimately toward your vision for your students.

Choose a place that will best help your students grow.

What is the purpose of going to a retreat or camp for your group? Whenever I take students on a trip, I don’t want them to just go on a vacation. I truly want it to be spiritually formational for them and to see them wrestle and grow in their relationships with Jesus. I know there are many camps that host amazing experiences students love but ultimately are summer hangouts with Jesus sprinkled in. I have nothing against those camps, but when I think about what my position entails and what I am called to do, I need to make sure these trips are helping me meet my goal and objectives.

My position states I am to help students grow and mature in their relationship with Jesus and anything we do in our ministry should be focused on that purpose. So when I am considering where to take students, I must be thinking in that way in order to achieve what I was hired to do. Whenever I look at camps or retreat centers, I look for places that will help students grow in their relationship with Jesus, and still have fun and creative aspects they will enjoy.

Find a site that enables you and your leaders to engage with students.

Sometimes you may find a retreat center that requires you and your team to handle all the details. You need to be the speaker or you need to book one. Your team has to handle the worship leading, meal prep, activity coordination, and all the other details. While that isn’t inherently a bad thing–especially if you are equipped to do it–it may not be the most ideal situation for you and your team to engage with the students.

So consider the requirements that extend to you and your team, and ask if they are the best way for you to minister to and care for your students. If not, you may want to look for a camp that takes care of the details and enables you to spend the trip simply being present with your students.

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 2]

Last week we kicked off this two-part series by thinking through a few ways to make leader training more than just informative. Information is helpful and beneficial but it’s important to do more than simply focus on giving information. If all people do is receive information there can’t really be any transformation because there’s no care, practical application, or really any reason for your people to keep coming.

My hope with these two posts is to encourage you to think about how and why you do leader training. The ideas we are presenting are meant to help you think outside the box. And perhaps incorporate new aspects that will not only generate better leaders, but will help develop leaders who develop leaders, all while valuing and caring for them holistically.

Pray together.

Prayer is something I cannot overemphasize enough. I think every ministry has this intention and every ministry leader, hopefully, prays often for their ministry. But when was the last time you prayed together with your volunteers? Is it consistent? Is it allowing the Spirit to guide and direct you, your team, and ministry?

When you gather for training this presents the perfect opportunity to pray with and for your team. This is an exciting opportunity to engage in prayer in new and different ways. You can pray all together for the ministry, or you can pray in smaller groups for one another. You can go on a prayer walk around the building praying for where your students gather and for the entire church, or you can even spend some time in silence praying. Trust me when I tell you that if you consistently pray with your team, be prepared to see God move in powerful and bold ways.

Practice spiritual rhythms and formation.

This runs hand-in-hand with prayer while moving past just one rhythm, and seeks to engage your team holistically from a spiritual perspective. Often training sessions can focus on how to lead small groups, caring for students, safety requirements, and other areas that are very important. But when was the last time you stopped and intentionally trained on spiritual rhythms?

Training your leaders on prayer, spiritual gifts, fasting, journaling, time with Jesus, and various other aspects is hugely important. I think it is easy to assume our leaders know all of these things and further still we may assume they are practicing them. But if they were never taught them, how can we expect them to teach and lead our students through these rhythms? Let me encourage you to take time to actually walk through spiritual rhythms and help your leaders grow in formational ways so they can lead your students deeper in their walk with Jesus.

Change locations.

This is an easy idea but not often one we think about. It is easy to default to trainings at church or in the youth room. But what if you moved it to someone’s home? Better yet, a home with a pool, or a fire pit, or a backyard where you could play games together. Being able to take training offsite or outside of where you meet normally allows you to be creative in your training, it gives your leaders freedom to think and process in a new environment, and it provides a change of scenery which can often lead to new thought processes and perspectives.

If you can’t meet offsite, consider changing the environment you train in. Move things around, bring in comfortable seating, change the lighting, make it comfortable and inviting with decorations. These little touches help you to show intentionality and change a space that perhaps we have become used to.

Provide resources.

Resourcing our leaders is a great way to both help them grow personally and get something into their hands that will be beneficial going forward. This could be handouts and studies from Barna Group, devotional guides for them to use with their small groups, a podcast, helpful tools and resources from Fuller Youth Institute, various assessments like DISC or spiritual gifts, books to read as a team, or even resources specific to your own ministry. These resources aren’t meant to just be things you get into their hands but resources that will help them grow and continue to excel as the leaders God has designed them to be.

What aspects do you make sure to include in your leader trainings?

Making Leader Training More than Just Informational [Part 1]

We just finished hosting annual fall training for all our student leaders and it made me reflect on how our structure of leader training has changed throughout the years. We have gotten into the rhythm of hosting quarterly trainings and while they all differ in focus, the heart and vision remains the same. Each session will focus on some sort of training or equipping, but will also incorporate other elements to make them more engaging, fun, relational, and formational.

Today I want to share a few easy ways to make your leader training more than just informational. I am not arguing for the elimination of information and equipping, but instead would argue that we need to make our training more holistic in its approach. We should think about the information but also the relationships, the spiritual formation of our leaders, and the element of fun.

Provide food.

One of the best ways to make leader training inviting, relational, and community-focused is to have food. Food is attractive to people and also helps to break down barriers. There is reason that Jesus taught around a meal or used imagery of food to help people understand what he was talking about. Food just makes gatherings warmer and more inviting.

So have snacks, share a meal, provide coffee and donuts. Be intentional with the food, don’t just throw out leftovers from youth group, but show your leaders you care in a very tangible way. You don’t need to blow your entire budget on the food, but be thoughtful with what you get.

Have fun.

I think fun is drastically underrated when training happens. Often when we are training we focus on information, policies, and making sure everyone is on the same page. Perhaps you have noticed like I have, how those types of meetings cause people’s eyes to glaze over or they start nodding off. But what if you threw in some fun activities as well?

Try incorporating some type of group game like charades or Scattegories. Set up a volleyball net or 9 Square and just play together at different points. Or set up a church-wide scavenger hunt for your leaders with prizes. These moments help take a mundane, typical training and make it more inviting and fun, which encourages your leaders to continue to come and participate.

Incorporate team building.

Team building can get a bad rap at times. I know I have definitely been at trainings, conferences, and gatherings where the team building was actually more traumatizing than informative and unifying. If you have ever done team building with mouse traps, you know what I am talking about. But there are so many more options to make team building actually focused on building a healthy team.

There are classics like the human knot. There are some newer options like doing a Shark Tank-themed game. You could present challenges to the team that they need to accomplish with certain limitations placed on them. There is the activity that has a teammate leading another teammate who has a blindfold on. A quick Google search lists many different options including ones that focus more on unity, ones designed to make you think and problem solve, and even ones that require little preparation and are easy to run. These are all great ideas and can lead to healthy interactions, debriefs, and unification of your team.

Bring in someone new.

Sometimes a change of the speaker or leader helps in great ways. We have a cool opportunity to work with a local school that is focused on providing education free of charge to families in financial need. We have many students from that school attend our program, so we brought someone in from the staff to share about how we can best minister to and care for those students. It was awesome and so much fun, and frankly better than anything I would have said about what we could do.

So who could you bring in? Maybe it is a volunteer to talk about how to lead small groups, perhaps it is a parent or another youth pastor, or maybe you could bring in a school employee or a local counselor. These new faces will allow your leaders to see the benefit of hearing from others and hopefully help them grow and become better leaders.

What sets your trainings apart? How can you encourage your leaders to attend them?

How Student Ministers can Engage Their Community

It can be easy for ministries to focus on what is happening within their environment only, or within the church. But our mission isn’t simply to focus on what is happening within our walls but instead to look outside of them as we seek to reach the world with the Good News.

We may train our students and volunteers to reach others, but unintentionally focus on just the ministry we lead. If we are seeking to lead by example and want to model what we teach, we must step out in faith and engage with our community in proactive ways. But how do we do that? Today I want to share a few ways–some more simplistic and others more encompassing–we can actively engage and reach our communities.

Be a part of the community.

For some leaders this is easier said than done because they live in their community. For others this will be more difficult because they don’t necessarily live in the town where their church is located. That is the case for us. We live about fifteen minutes outside of our church’s community, but that reality shouldn’t stop us from being a part of the community. Instead we have to be more intentional in being a part of it.

Make it a priority to go grocery shopping in your town, go to the local parks, visit the schools, go to National Night Out, go to Christmas tree lightings, visit local corn mazes, and whatever else may happen in your community. The key isn’t to do all of things, but instead to be intentional in engaging with your community at points and venues that matter most. This not only engenders you to the community but allows you to become a part of it. In so doing you have now become a vital and needed part of your community.

Utilize local businesses.

I love to do this because it helps our church reach people, and it also allows us to give back to the community. This can be done in a variety of ways including using a local printer for your bigger projects, having local restaurants or dessert shops cater your events, utilizing local promotional product vendors instead of national agencies, and by engaging with community centers to rent them out. There are other ways you can utilize businesses but the important part is that you are connecting with them and building relational and spiritual bridges that provide opportunities for your church to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Connect with schools.

Schools are a natural place for youth workers to get connected. For some youth workers this is easier to accomplish because they may only have a single school district that is connected to their church. For others, this is pretty difficult because they may draw from multiple school districts. Our church draws from five major districts and that doesn’t include the private schools, Christian schools, and homeschool students. If that is where you find yourself, you may be scratching your head at how to reach out to all of your schools. Let me encourage you to not look at this as something only you can tackle. Work with your team and leaders and share the load.

Regardless of where you find yourself as a youth worker, we all can connect with schools in really simple and meaningful ways. Email the administration to encourage them and let them know you want to be a resource, and drop off donuts for the front office or the teachers. Reach out to the Christian clubs and ask how you can help them out, drop off fresh baked cookies with notes from your church staff team, connect with the athletic director and see if they need a chaplain for their games. Ask your students how you can help them make an impact, and make sure to swing by for See You at the Pole. Even seemingly small things can have a huge impact when it comes to connecting with schools.

Collaborate with parachurch ministries.

If I am being honest, this is not something I am very good at. I often forget to reach out to these ministries in partnership and that is a big misstep. Recently, I was able to connect with our local Young Life chapter, and it was an awesome opportunity to share life with one another and consider how we can work together for the Gospel. As we chatted, I realized just how many of my students were participating in this parachurch ministry and it dawned on me that still other students were probably participating in others. If that is the case, why not come together to have a greater impact and reach?

Many parachurch ministries will reach students we may not have the opportunity or ability to reach, and their desire is to connect students with a local church. It is a perfect discipleship track, and one that churches and ministries can collaborate with and assist. Working with parachurch ministries gives both of the ministries an opportunity to not only reach more students but to have a more profound impact on the community.

Serve in the community.

This is one that probably feels the most burdensome because it adds a lot more onto our shoulders. But the truth of the matter is that it is only burdensome because we view it that way. Service for the kingdom of God is never meant to weigh us down or to feel overwhelming, but instead is a wonderful opportunity to help the Gospel go forth.

Often we may view service as another aspect of our job, and while that may be true to a certain extent, I believe we can leverage it so as to make service outside of our job feel taxing and unfair. But service is a gift and an opportunity. It is a way to put our gifts from God to use and to bless others. It is allowing the Spirit to work in and through us as we seek to love and care for others. So my encouragement first and foremost is to not let service become just another task, but instead let it flow from a heart that has been transformed as you love others. The more that you embody this mentality the more it will be replicated in students as they serve.

With that said, it is important for us to find ways to engage with our community through serving within it. It could be as a coach for one of the sports teams (and it doesn’t need to just be for students). It could be by volunteering in afterschool programs. Perhaps it is by hosting a lunch for the teachers in the school. Maybe you serve at the local foodbank. Or you could do neighborhood cleanups. The key with serving in the community is doing so of your own accord to help people see Jesus. It allows you to engage with people and to begin building relationships with the ultimate goal of helping them know Jesus.

3 Quick Tips for Volunteer Recruitment

As we enter into summer programming you may not be actively thinking about recruiting new leaders for the fall. Perhaps this seems early for some of you. I know that isn’t how I have typically operated, which usually leads to a mad dash and panicked few weeks in August as we try to find quality volunteers right before we start programming. This isn’t a healthy way to start programming for us or our volunteers as we both end up feeling rushed and not fully prepared for the school year.

As I have begun to take some hard looks at volunteer recruitment, I have realized that things need to change in order to better equip our leaders and ministries to serve our students. If recruiting sounds difficult or exasperating, I get it. I have often felt the same way. But if we approach recruitment differently, we can help alleviate the tension. So here are three easy ways to save yourself a lot of stress and hardship, and help yourself find quality leaders.

1. Start early.

For the first time ever, our team started recruiting this past week. We began to reach out to potential leaders, we added volunteer opportunities to our monthly newsletter, and we asked our leaders to identify potential additional leaders. Perhaps this is something you always do, but for our team it isn’t. The earliest that we have started would be the end of July, and it often led to a rushed and angst-filled month before programming kicked off.

Planning ahead and building up your volunteer group early allows you to make sure your leaders are equipped and prepared for the school year. And as you begin to plan ahead, you can scale it each year and begin to recruit even earlier. Next year we are already planning to begin recruiting as the current school year ends. So think about when you will start recruiting and how you can begin to do so earlier to help best prepare your ministry for the fall.

2. Think outside the box.

When it comes to who you recruit, how you recruit, and where you recruit from, try to think creatively and in ways you haven’t before. I have found that when I recruit I can fall into doing the same thing over and over again. Bulletin announcements, cold calls, asking leaders to talk to their friends, and asking people who used to volunteer. But this year I decided to try something different: I reached out directly to parents.

This may be something you already do, but for me it was my first time doing it in a new way. We send a newsletter out once a month and this month’s almost solely focused on volunteer needs with the hope that parents will see it and consider jumping in. My point with this is to encourage you to try something new and different. Shake up how you have done recruiting in the past. Ask other youth workers what they do. Try something new and see if it provides you with a new recruit or multiple volunteers.

3. Consider changing things up.

I think for many people it is easy to get stuck in habits and rhythms. These aren’t necessarily bad things but they can hamper us, especially if they aren’t providing the necessary volunteers that we need. What we need to do is the be creative as we think about recruitment. If we think of this as an opportunity to creatively try something new, it all of a sudden opens up brand new perspectives on how to recruit.

One of the things we have done out of necessity is think through whether our staff team needs to do all the things we have traditionally done, or if we can empower volunteers to take over those roles. That means creating new positions and leadership opportunities, offering additional training, and identifying new leaders. But the benefit of having leaders take ownership and allowing our staff team to flourish far outweighs those additional needs.

What are your best tips for recruiting new volunteers?

10 Low-Prep, Low-Cost Summer Activities

Does your summer programming look different than what happens during the school year? Has your budget been trimmed or are you approaching the end of a budget year? Many of us can relate to these issues and almost all of us are on the lookout for fresh ideas that can make summer more meaningful, fun, and Gospel-centered for our students.

Today’s post is designed to provide some ideas for the summer that will help you reach your students, look awesome while doing so, and hopefully add little to your workload.

1. Summer movie nights.

These are super easy and can be a ton of fun especially when you incorporate various elements. Having food for nights like these is a must and can range from having students bring their own movie snacks, to popcorn that’s provided, or even having a nacho bar where everyone brings a topping. It is also a lot of fun to allow your students to be involved in what movie is shown because then they have ownership and are more likely to invite their friends. Consider letting the students vote on which movie to show or doing polls at youth group. Also, remember to consider the legalities that are involved when it comes to showing movies. It may be necessary to have the proper licensing and to check the number of people you can show it to.

2. Nerf battles.

These are a ton of fun and super low-cost (even no-cost) to put on. Send out an invitation to all your students to bring their own Nerf guns and darts to a certain location to have a Nerf battle. If hosting this at your church, consider setting up various barriers and obstacles or even different venues for different styles of game play (everyone for themselves, team battles, king of the hill, etc.). If you have the finances available I would also suggest having some extra Nerf guns and darts as some people may show up without either and darts will inevitably get lost or broken.

3. Trivia nights.

These are a ton of fun and fairly easy to pull off. There are tons of websites that have trivia in just about every category and you can also utilize DYM or Trivial Pursuit to get trivia content as well. Consider having a student or a group of students host the night as that will generate ownership and a desire to invite their friends. Also, if finances allow, consider having some snacks for everyone and a prize for the winning team.

4. Grill out at the park.

Hosting a night at a local park is a great way to get students to an event outside of the church. Find a local park that has a grill or two, bring along food, grab some outdoor games and activities, and you have the makings of a great evening! A few quick tips: make sure to bring a variety of activities, a portable speaker for music, some board games for people who would rather chill, and consider grilling chicken drumsticks as a cost-saving option.

5. Worship nights.

These can be a little more involved when it comes to planning, especially if you are not musically inclined. But consider handing this off to some leaders and/or students who have the talent and passion for these moments. Allowing students to take ownership and plan out the event ensures that they will invite their friends. These are also great outreach opportunities where you could incorporate a student testimony.

6. Start a volleyball (or other sports) tournament.

Students love a good competition and an opportunity to challenge their friends. So think through what resources you have that you could utilize and leverage them to facilitate the tournament. It could be volleyball, kickball, Spikeball, 9 Square, ping pong, Foosball, or even ultimate Frisbee. If possible, have water or sports drinks and snacks available and maybe even a prize for the tournament winners.

7. Youth room redesign/makeover.

This is one that could be a lot of fun and truly give your youth group a unique identity. Many of us have very creative students and leaders in our programs and this will afford them a wonderful opportunity to put their creativity to use. I would encourage you to make sure that there are guide rails in place and that you provide a vision for those who are helping so as to provide cohesiveness and stability to what you are looking to have in your space. It may help to start with a planning meeting or two before getting started.

If you don’t have the freedom to completely redesign your space, think about some non-permanent options. Maybe your leaders and students can create removable decor, like paintings, modern sculptures, or cool lighting. Or you could put up butcher paper over a plain wall and let them create a mural to temporarily display. Or you can host a creative night where participants can take their creations home at the end of the night.

8. Small group neighborhood cleanup.

Another awesome summer activity is to utilize your small groups in a way that serves and engages with their communities. This may require finding opportunities where your small groups can serve, or you could hand that responsibility off to your small group leaders and/or students. I would also suggest hosting a gathering after the cleanup is done, using it as an opportunity to celebrate what was accomplished and to engage in community as a group.

9. Camp-out at church.

For some churches it is difficult to take trips during the summer, so an easy and relatively low-cost alternative could be a camp-out at the church. You could set up tents, fire pits, and activities for your students to engage in, and possibly turn this into a family activity. You could also host various night games, engage in camp fire worship, and even give the food for the activity a theme like “old west cooking.”

10. Beach/lake trip.

If you live near the beach or a nice lake, doing a trip to either could be a great low-cost activity. Essentially it would cost you gas money and some beach or lakeside activities (think footballs, Frisbees, etc.). You could even offset the cost of gas by asking families to pay for it. Depending on where you are going, you could even host a grill out and allow for a student to share their testimony.

5 Tips to Equip and Honor Graduates

Graduation season is upon us and we have the privilege of watching students we loved and discipled step into a new season of life. If you are like me this is both a celebratory time and also one that pulls at your heart strings as you prepare to send off a group of students to whom you have grown incredibly close.

Throughout my time in student ministry I have long wrestled with how I can show my graduates how much they mean to me, how I can best prepare them for this next phase of life, and how I can honor them well. I don’t think I have perfected it, but I have found a few ways to truly make this time meaningful and celebratory for our graduates and I want to share that with you today.

1. Commission them.

In our current church we have been able to bring our seniors on stage in front of our whole church body and to commission them as we send them out as disciple-makers into their next stage of life. We incorporate a brochure highlighting each student, deliver a brief word of encouragement, and have our elders pray over them. This is such a great time to not only celebrate but also honor our seniors as we send them out.

For some youth leaders doing this in front of the entire church may not be possible, so consider doing this within your youth program. Bring up small group leaders and involve them. See if parents will come out. Make their time in small group special with snacks and decorations. These moments will stick with your students and highlight the necessity of the Great Commission.

2. Make each card and note personal.

This is something that I have grown to love over the past few years. I was never much of a card writer but I have become convinced of how powerful a handwritten note or card can be. Just think about the last time you got a handwritten letter in the mail and then the last time you got a bill. Did they feel the same? Did they evoke similar reactions and feelings? Probably not.

The reason the handwritten notes mean more is because it took time and effort, it shows the intentionality of the relationship, and it’s more intimate and personal. When you write a card or note for each of your seniors, you are telling them they are seen and loved. So share memories, prayers for them, encourage and challenge them, and let them know how much they mean to you. This will be something that they will long remember rather than a generic card with a signature.

3. Be intentional with small group times.

This is something that I try to be aware of during their entire senior year, but seeing as graduation season is already upon us, it can also be something that is utilized from this moment until they depart for college. Consider having members and leaders of your college ministry come and share at a small group time. This also allows for relationships to be built and groundwork to be laid for the next few years.

Another way to be intentional with small group time is by creating a time for them to go out and do something special together before they depart. They could go out for dinner, play mini golf, go hiking or camping, come over to your home for a barbecue, or visit with the senior pastor for a dessert social where they are encouraged and celebrated. These moments not only allow for your seniors to grow closer with their small group, but also elevate their last year in student ministry by making it special and meaningful.

4. Connect them with college ministries.

As you prepare for your seniors to graduate, one of the best things you can do is connect them with a ministry they will be a part of going forward. They may not always attend your church’s college ministry, but it is their home church and as such can be a place of refuge, encouragement, and community. So find ways to incorporate and intermingle current college students and leaders with your seniors. Set up times for them to join your small groups. Create social opportunities to connect both groups. Challenge your senior small group leaders to intentionally encourage the students to participate in the college ministry. In fact, I would also encourage the leaders to go with them a few times as well to help with the transition into a new ministry. Lastly, I would encourage you to talk encouragingly about the college ministry and to challenge your students to attend it regularly and make it their new home. How you talk about the ministry and hold it up will encourage your students to become a part of it.

5. Attend important moments.

Senior year is full of special moments for your students. There are ceremonies with honors and awards, recognition for students’ engagement in civil programs and various clubs, senior nights for sports and activities, and graduation ceremonies and parties. If you are able to, especially when you are invited, I would highly encourage you to attend. You may not get much, if any, face-to-face time with your student(s) depending on the context and activity, but simply knowing or seeing you are there will radically impact and encourage your graduates.

Your presence shows them that you believe in them and care about them. It highlights the relationship and shows them how much you are invested. Let me also encourage you to involve their small group leaders in as many moments as possible. This helps your students to see the importance of multiple adults and spiritual mentors in their life, and it honors the work that your leaders have put into their students.