5 Steps to Planning Your Day of Service

Jacob Eckeberger
March 2nd, 2021

Planning a day of service this spring? This 5-step guide will help get you started.

Mission trips have a huge impact on your teenagers. But this year, more than ever, you might be thinking about scaling back your mission trip. I get it. Every youth worker I know has been holding the tension between the desire to mobilize students to serve and the reality that they need to reimagine both how and where they serve.

Not everyone is ready to jump back into a week-long mission trip in another community. Don’t rush your ministry or yourself into it.

But don’t let the impact of COVID keep you from mobilizing students to serve.

Mobilizing teenagers through Christ-centered mission trips has been the heartbeat of YouthWorks for 26 years. So, we pulled out some lessons we’ve learned over the years and reimagined them into tips that can help any youth worker create a meaningful day of service in their own community.

If you want to jump straight to the resources, here are some quick links to help you navigate there quickly:

Are you ready to dig in? Let’s go!

5 Steps to Planning a Day of Service

Step 1: Create the Vision

A day of service doesn’t replace a mission trip, but it can still have an incredible impact. Take the time to imagine what it’s for, how it might compliment but differ from a normal mission trip, and what role you want it to play in the lives of your students. Here are some helpful questions to get you started:

  • How does a day of service connect students to your church’s broader vision of discipleship and service?
  • How could a day of service build momentum for your group this spring?
  • What kinds of service partners can you connect with that can help foster a long-term relationship?
  • What does “success” look like with this event?
  • When the day of service is over, what do you want students to have experienced, and how do you want students to have been challenged?

Step 2: Build the Team

No good idea should be pursued alone.

When it comes to your day of service, think about the two types of stakeholders that need to be included in your planning—the ones who sign off on it and the ones who help make it happen.

The stakeholders who might need to sign-off on your planning, especially in a year with so many safety considerations, could include:

  • Lead or Executive Pastor
  • A safety panel or team (if your church has one)
  • Parents
  • Key volunteers with knowledge of CDC and local health authority guidelines for group events
  • Your potential service partners (Please don’t just assume they want you to come. Ask for permission and what guidelines they are asking volunteers to follow.)

The stakeholders who you might want to help with the logistics of the day could include:

  • Student leaders
  • Key parents or volunteers
  • Representatives from your local service partner who might help with programming or planning details

Bring each of the stakeholders along in the process. Keep them in the loop with what you’re planning, what you’d like their role to be, and what you expect of them throughout it all.

Step 3: Plan the Schedule

The best day of service will include a balance of hands-on or relationship service in the community and time for your students to connect with each other occasionally during the day.

I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s a template you can follow or tweak however you’d like:

  • 8:00-8:20 AM Adult Leader Meeting: Briefly meet with adult volunteers to go over logistics and talk through any hopes or concerns they may have for the day. It may also be helpful to create an information packet for each adult, including Service Partner contacts, directions to the service site, and emergency phone numbers. 

  • 8:20-8:30 AM Check-In: Greet teenagers at a check-in table as they arrive. During this time, you’ll let teenagers know where they’ll be serving during the day. Make sure everyone fills out a nametag as well so that partners know who you are. 

  • 8:30-9:30 AM Morning Programming: Before heading out for service, take some time to set teenagers and adults up well for the day. Vision cast the importance of your group respectfully serving the community and how teenagers can be looking to see God in others. You may want to include a brief devotion or worship to set a Christ-centered tone as well.

    Additionally, lead a brief orientation for the group to go over any safety and Service Partner expectations. 

  • 9:30 AM-3:30 PM Service Day: Serve in your community! Connect with Service Partners ahead of time to see what time and location works best for your group to take a break for lunch. The lunch break is also a great time in the day for adults to connect with teenagers about how they’re seeing God at work while serving. 

  • 3:30-4:30 PM Afternoon Processing Time: Following the service day, gather back together to debrief the experience. This time can be led in a large group or small groups. Give students the opportunity to share how God was at work within the community and each other. Wrap up the day by thanking your volunteers and celebrating or worshipping God together. 

Also, we have a couple of really great resources you should take a look at:

Step 4: Try to Take Your Day of Service to the Next Level

While I love to swing for the fences and go big, sometimes taking something to the next level can happen with small additions. I call those small things the “+” that tend to make all the difference.  

What can you do to help “+” the day of service experience for your students?

How can you add a little extra support for your volunteers or parents?

What’s a small thing you can add that just might help the day of service build into something bigger for your students or for your church as a whole?

Here are a few ways you can “+” the day of service experience:

  • A pre-service or post-service devotional processing guide
  • A message and worship time
  • Simple meals outside of a bag lunch from home
  • Family Devo that helps students process their experience with their parents or guardians
  • A community speaker who can lead a fun or educational activity in the evening
  • A community cookout where you can invite folks you served

Step 5: Build on the Momentum

You had a vision from the start. Even if it doesn’t turn out as you planned, there is going to be a momentum that you can build into the next thing.

So, what is your next thing?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Turn your day of service into a quarterly event. Go back to the same service partners as often as possible to help your students see the compounded impact of the work they’ve been a part of.
  • Build into a week-long mission trip into a new community. Now that you’ve had a service-focused event and were (hopefully) following all the COVID safety guidelines, you might have more interest in a mission trip to a new community. Gauge interest with parents, volunteers, and students to see if they are ready. (And we’d LOVE to help with all of those details:https://youthworks.com)
  • Expand your student day of service into an all-church event. A local day of service is a great opportunity to invite multiple generations to come together and make an impact. The best part is, you can position your students in leadership roles for this because they’ve already been through it once. They can help other generations know what to expect and how to make it an incredible experience.
Jacob Eckeberger

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 newborn daughter. Find out more about the ministry of YouthWorks at https://youthworks.com.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.