Planning local service projects for your ministry? These tips will help you get started.
Local service projects for your teenagers can be a chance to embrace the “mission” without the “trip”. It’s using your own backyard as the setting for an intersection of discipleship and service, in a way that can build long-term relationships between neighbors and community organizations who share your vision.
But the logistics can be hard to pull off without some initial direction. That’s where we wanted to help.
Our YouthWorks team has a vision for helping churches to mobilize every teenager to serve. For some, it’s on a mission trip into a new community or country. For others, it’s serving their own community in a new way. With 26 years of experience mobilizing teenagers, we’ve curated a few helpful tips in this post for anyone who shares this passion and wants to know how to find and plan their local service projects.
Local service opportunities are all around you. Local service projects are a powerful way to connect your mission
But before we get into it, here’s a list of resources in case you’re ready to jump right into action:
- Free Curriculum Download
- Free Days of Service Planning Guide
- How to Find Service Guide
- Kitchen Guide and Sample Meal Plan
- Serve at Home Mission – $149 per person (limited availability)
Ready to read on? Let’s get to it.
6 Tips for Finding and Planning Local Service Projects
1: Start looking within arm’s reach.
Local service projects are all around you if you know where to look. Start with the relationships you already have, the members of your congregation, the needs of your community, and any partnership established with other parts of your church or denomination.
Here are a few questions to ask that might help you find opportunities for local service projects:
- Are there small groups or Sunday school classes in your church who might have needs? (i.e. – elderly couples, widows, foster parents, etc.)
- What are the needs of the people living closest to your church? Could you ask members of the neighborhood association, canvas the community, or contact city/county offices to ask?
- Where do your teenagers already have relationships or spend most of their time? (i.e. – school, city park, coffee shop, etc.) Are there contacts for those places who might know about service project opportunities?
- Does your church or denomination already have established local partnerships? Can your local service project help expand that relationship to support them even more?
There are 2 big benefits to starting within arm’s reach:
1) Your local service project will be a better fit for your ministry’s (and church’s) broader vision of discipleship and service.
2) Your local service project becomes an opportunity to spark long-term relationships for your teenagers.
Both of those are strong advantages you’ll have when you plan local service projects from relationships within arm’s reach.
(P.S. – If you do get stuck and can’t find local service project options within your current relationships, here are a few really helpful websites:
2: Organize a team of stakeholders.
Like all things in youth ministry, your local service project is an opportunity to invite others into leadership positions. Use it as a chance to include key people who you have already invested in or that you’d like to see take more responsibility in your ministry. Be sure to include student leaders (from any age group), regular volunteers, those volunteers you wish were regulars, parents, and even other ministry leaders in your church.
Beyond just sharing the load of the logistics, building a team of stakeholders can be your chance to…
- Invite future student leaders to step up.
- Let regular volunteers take the lead.
- Give future potential volunteers a chance to hang out with your awesome teenagers.
- Help your teenagers build relationships outside of the youth ministry.
You also have to intentionally include a mix of people on your team of stakeholders. That will help give your local service project the type of support it needs to be a success, regardless of how you describe “success” for this experience.
Here are a few helpful questions you can use when thinking about who needs to be on your team:
- What elements do I want to include on the day of the service project? Who already has a skill and a passion for those things?
- Who can I trust to handle executing details without me being present? Who is capable of being agile, adjusting on the fly when necessary?
- What logistics do I need someone else to handle so I can focus on other stuff? Who is skilled at those things?
- Who will be an “includer”, making sure every teenager feels connected with and cared for?
- Who is someone outside of the youth ministry that I want my teenagers to get to know?
3: Plan for more than just the service project.
Local service projects are about more than just the service. It’s an opportunity for your teenagers to connect with each other and with God. They need space before, during and after your service project to have those connection points and process them together. When you’re planning the schedule for the week, it’s helpful to make sure each day includes at least one of each element below:
- Meaningful service where teenagers understand the immediate and long-term impact
- Connecting experiences that are fun or inspiring
- Programming with worship and/or small group times
- Food (No joke. Food can bring people together.)
Need some help with the programming or the logistics? Download the FREE Curriculum and Planning Guides HERE >>
4: Set the expectations for your teenagers, volunteers and parents.
The success of your local service project (and most things in youth ministry) hinges on expectations. The good news is your local service partner will be a huge help with understanding what your group should expect while they serve. But we’ve found it really beneficial to take those details and turn them into a “Service Orientation” guide that can be used to answer questions that your teenagers, volunteers and parents might have.
The questions range from big picture stuff to the basic details. Here are a few:
- Who will you be serving and what makes the organization important to the community?
- What is the schedule for the day?
- What will our role be?
- Is there anything that might be challenging?
- What information will be helpful to know ahead of time?
- What do we wear? Should we bring anything with us?
If you need help creating a Service Orientation, you can download it from the bundle of resources in the Day(s) of Service Planning Guide HERE >>
5: Use the momentum from your local service project.
Even with the best team of stakeholders, it can take a lot of energy to plan your local service project. But don’t get so focused in on the events of the day that you forget to start imagining how it can connect back into your ministry for the weeks and months to come. Working toward that future vision will be what keeps your local service project from being just a one-off event that you never do again.
Here are a few quick ideas that can help get you thinking about the possibilities.
- Celebrate the experience in the next week. There could be a celebration service with teenagers sharing their stories and you can include a representative from your service partner to help communicate the long-term impact they were a part of.
- Prepare a short devotional series for teenagers to do the few days after. This could be a great way to give them space to sit with the experience and process it in a way they are comfortable. The practice of writing out their thoughts and new understandings will also help them stick.
- Cast the vision for how local service projects are a part of the ongoing ministry. This is an incredible time to use the momentum in a way that points your teenagers back to the broader goal of your ministry. Recast your vision for service, discipleship, and the invitation God has for them to join the movement of God in their own community.
6: Don’t be overwhelmed by the details. We can help.
Our goal is to remove barriers that keep teenagers from serving. Sometimes that looks like us giving out free resources. Other times it looks like our team facilitating a week of service while you focus on building relationships for your kids. No matter what it is, we want to help.
Here are 2 easy ways we can support you:
- Free Curriculum and Resources to Serve Locally >>
We created a free 4-week curriculum that fosters a passion for service and culminates into a day of service for your teenagers. It also comes with resources that help you plan all the logistics of your day of service including, how to find service, a schedule, kitchen/meal guide, and more.
- Serve at Home Mission Weeks – Starting at $149 per person >>
Availability is limited but we do have staff in 20+ locations where groups can serve in their own community. With no travel, you can sleep in your own bed, shower at home, and even lead your own evening programming at your church. We’ll handle all the details and logistics for the service day, so your group can just show up and serve. Contact our YouthWorks team about availability and any other resources that you might need >>
Jacob Eckeberger is the VP of Marketing and Customer Engagement for YouthWorks. He’s been a volunteer youth worker for 15 years and is serving in Minneapolis, MN with his wife, 5-year-old son/dinosaur, and full-of-life 2-year-old daughter. Find out more about the ministry of YouthWorks at https://youthworks.com.