Parables and Projects: How to Build a Hands-on Approach to Youth Ministry (Part 1)

Youth Specialties
August 9th, 2016

John’s post below is an example of what some youth workers are doing to create new elements of youth ministry. This year’s National Youth Workers Convention is all about how we rise to new challenges and imagine new ways to lead students to find and follow Jesus. Join us this fall in Cincinnati, OH to connect with and learn from the full family of youth workers.

10 years ago I began to sense a stirring in my group and community. The curriculum we used was good and the trips we went on were good and our teenagers, their parents and our youth workers were happy but I had a nagging sense that there could be more to our ministry than what existed at the time. I wondered if we might have more to accomplish as a group and if we were wasting opportunities and burying talents in the area of local ministry. So I began a time of questioning my surroundings as if I was looking at them for the first time.  The city I lived in. The church I belonged to. The group I led. The team I worked with.

The two big goals coming out of this time were to develop a ministry that would require investment leading to connectivity among our students and adults in our church AND a venture that would allow us to plug ourselves into the city where we live in order to have presence for outreach and missions. (DISCLAIMER: I applied these goals to an interest I personally had for old cars but I would encourage anyone to take this same approach to any form of project you feel drawn to.)  The concepts and ideas I present in this series are not specific to automobiles even if some of the practical applications I include are. You may see a need in your community for new chicken coops, refurbished accordions, a community garden or skee ball machines. I hope you’ll feel inspired by the needs of your community, the DNA of your church and youth group and the interests you or your youth leaders have and then combine them all to create a powerful Christ-centric ministry!

So why does my youth group build cars? It made sense with our specific WHERE and WHO.


I live in small town Texas (population under 15,000) that has a historic downtown and a popular Friday night high school football program. This means we have regular scheduled car shows, main street parades and tailgating opportunities throughout the calendar year. A vehicle that looks cool, has our youth ministry logo plastered all over it and could haul gear or people would be a natural tie in to the way our community operates and would give us a sense of belonging wherever we went. Our first official youth group vehicle was a box van called the “Bread Sled” that had 240 cubic feet of storage space so it was easy to pull up at the stadium parking lot with grill, canopy, chairs and ice chests!


A unique characteristic of my church was that I had some hot-rodders as members. Some were old retired guys that still worked on project vehicles and we even had 3 guys that owned their own garages in town! These guys are pure gold when it comes to providing free labor, work space, tools or problem solving when the project hits a speed bump. Besides these men I had several guys and girls in my youth group who were either always willing to tackle a hands-on job or showed an interest in my personal vehicles.  What started out as my inviting them over for a day of working on my old jalopy would later turn into them taking an important role as workers on the youth group’s official vehicle.

Finally, it was my own interest in pre-1973 American vehicles that motivated me to begin a project-based ministry in our group. I had learned enough about purchasing vehicles, putting time and money into what areas would yield value and how and when to sell them when the time was right. Once I began buying, selling and trading vehicles I found more vehicles and sources of vehicles than I had space, time and funds for so I began to keep my eyes open for what would be a perfect youth group project!

So where to begin when considering a youth group project of some kind? I highly recommend you begin asking the same questions I did about WHERE you serve and WHO you serve with. Here are other good questions to ask:

What does your city value?

How do they communicate?

What cultural events, traditions and locations make your town unique?

Who are the builders/artists/craftsmen in your church?

Who are the students in your group who would respond positively to a group project?

How will your church respond to a visible project ministry on your church property?

Who on staff and in leadership will support your project-based ministry?

Who on staff and in leadership will challenge and maybe criticize it?

Through the projects my students and I worked on together, I discovered that Biblical truths like restoration and redemption took on deeper meaning and that made for some great conversations in the garage and lessons in the youth room. Whether you plant a community garden, refinish furniture to give away, or build hot rods, they may learn more about God (and themselves) when they pick up a hoe, drill, paintbrush, or sand paper.

My next post on project-based ministry will cover the topics of creating a plan and forming a team for the ministry!

John BarnardJohn Barnard is a veteran youth pastor of 20+ years. He heads up a mentor development outreach ministry called Middleman Skateboard Ministries (middlemanskateboards.com) and lives in TX with his beautiful wife Mandi, loud kids Dylin, Levi and Evie, and fat bulldog Oscar. He likes to turn a wrench while listening to Junior Brown and has never turned down a taco.

Youth Specialties

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