It is August and we are switching from our recent Top 10 entries, to focus on a new subject. Community. It is a word we through around a lot in churches, and as youth ministers it is sometimes hard to help youth grasp the idea.  Our first question in our community month is……

“How do you help your youth connect to the community surrounding them?”

alice cates

Rev. Alice Cates serves as the Minister to Youth at Chester Baptist Church in Chester, VA (just south of Richmond). She earned her Master of Divinity degree from the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, her Master’s in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University, her undergraduate degree in Theatre Arts from Campbell University, and was ordained to Christian Ministry at Biltmore Baptist Church in Glen Allen, VA. Alice greatly enjoys laughing out loud, preaching, spending time with her super rad niece and nephew, sunny days in the park, wrangling her bloodthirsty housecat Henrietta, and Netflixing.

Second Sundays of Service are my favorite way to keep my students connected to their community. Once each month, the youth and deacons come together to complete mission projects in and around the church and the surrounding community. Projects range in type from visitation with shut-ins, to food bank sorting and cleaning, to yard work for seniors and everything in between. The results have been incredible! Not only are the youth doing regular missions, they are learning that they can have a real and tangible impact on their community, they’re developing relationships with the deacon leaders, and bonding with their youth group through hard work and loving service.

It may seem like an overwhelming concept, but I promise, it’s totally do-able and it gets easier once you get into it.

I initially brought up the idea with the youth team and once I had their support, I moved on to the deacons of the church. I felt like it would be imperative to have the deacons on board with this ongoing mission opportunity for several reasons. First, I needed the deacons to be my ears and eyes in the community. I expressed to them that I needed them to let me know who among their deacon families might need a special visit, some yard work done, freezer meals packed, or odd jobs done. I asked them to not only tell me when they saw a need, but to consider then leading a team of youth to fulfill that need.

The deacons have been overwhelmingly supportive and have become an integral part of the program. Between the youth team and the deacons I often have just as many adult volunteers as I do youth! What a blessing!

So, how does it work?  All month long I listen and look for ideas for different mission opportunities in the community.  People are generally very good about giving ideas and offering to help. By the Thursday before our 2nd Sunday event each month I have several projects ready to go (the number of projects varies month to month depending they types of project and number of youth needed to complete them), supplies split up into reusable grocery bags (supplies are generally things like work gloves, tarps, tools, etc), and folders in each bag with a face sheet of info about the project (address and phone numbers for the work site, detailed breakdown of what they are to do, adult leaders, who is driving, and blank space to write in which youth will be on each team) and a stack of evaluation forms for everyone on the team to fill out after the project is compete.

The morning of the 2nd Sunday the youth, deacons, and all other volunteers attend Sunday school and worship wearing our youth group t-shirt, emblazoned with the word “SERVE” across the front. After worship the entire group piles into the church bus and heads over to Cici’s for a quick and cheap lunch. I generally eat very quickly and then head back to the church to put the kids onto their teams for the day. When the bus gets back to the church the youth wait with anticipation to find out which team they’ll be on and what type of service they’ll be doing. I love this part of the day!!

Once they’re all in their teams, each team gathers together, goes over a synopsis of what they’ll be doing, and prays together for the people they’ll be serving that day. Then it’s time for them to gather their supplies and hit the road!

Just a few of the mission projects we’ve enjoyed in our community:

  • visitation with our shut-ins (some of the older ladies just LOVE having our young people come and do their nails so I’ve bought a supply of different polish colors and remover wipes to send with these groups)
  • Yard work for folks who are unable to do it on their own
  • Sorting and cleaning our local high school’s food pantry
  • Projects in and around the church (washing the bus and van; checking emergency lights; prepping for VBS, etc)
  • Shopping for Christmas gifts for our “adopted” families

While the youth are on their work sites I hop in the car and make a visit to each project to take pictures, deliver bottled water, and just generally check in on progress.

When everyone arrives back at the church we complete evaluation forms, put away supplies, and share where we experienced God in our community that day.

I cannot overemphasize how much our church has gotten on board to show support for this program!

So, what is your community’s greatest need and how can your youth be a part of the solution?

Tim Schindler

Tim Schindler serves as the Associate Pastor of Youth and Ministry Development at Georgetown Baptist Church in Georgetown, Kentucky where he lives with his wife and four awesome kids.  He studied at the University of Kentucky and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY and has been in youth ministry for 17 years, with the last eight at GBC.  In addition to student ministry, Tim also leads the church’s contemporary worship music.  Follow him on Twitter @timschindler.

When I think about connecting youth to the community surrounding them, I think of a couple different things—how I can help them navigate their world and how I can help them impact their world.

For many of our teenagers, their “world” is whatever they surround themselves with… it’s most often a combination of their family, classmates, teammates, neighbors, and other kids in the youth group. It’s sometimes startling how small their world can be. This is where it becomes important to begin to expose them to a broader world, starting with their own backyards.

In our youth ministry setting, we spend considerable time connecting with our surrounding community through missions and service. I believe deeply that one of the first steps of serving another person is taking the posture of learning—eye to eye, knee to knee—trying to understand who they are, their unique personhood, and their particular situations. So for example, our students are exposed to the community of adults with mental and developmental delays who live and work at Quest Farm; they know their names and form friendships with some of the farmers. They have seen firsthand the town’s homeless shelters and feeding ministries, know the organizations’ leaders, and have shared meals with some of the men and women who have benefited from their services. Our students have ongoing interactions with the college students, surrounding neighbors, and elementary school kids who are next door to our church building, as well as many of those who live at one of the large trailer parks in the area. And to be honest, we really have benefited by taking advantage of our partnership with the local Baptist association to help introduce us to underserved populations in the area that we have sometimes been unaware of.

However, more than just helping students to learn about our community and opening their eyes to it, I also try to provide opportunities for them to make an impact locally. Acts of service, both big and small, help connect them to those in their community that they are serving. It helps them see their role in bringing hope and life in places that are broken and hurting, or sometimes just overlooked and ignored. The paintbrush, mop bucket, bingo card, or hedge trimmer can become important symbols of their connection to what God wants to do through them. And beyond these immediate needs, I often try to challenge them to think more carefully about the deeper issues of justice in our community; concerns such as poverty, racial and ethnicity issues, predatory lending, use of resources, and what can be done to make a difference right here.

I realize that if I can help our youth to feel deeply connected to our community, they will have a greater capacity to care about the people God wants them to love and serve.