Project Based Ministry (Part 2)

Jacob Eckeberger
August 16th, 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.

This is a second submission within a series of posts relating to PROJECT-BASED YOUTH MINISTRY (See Part 1) that will present some ways you can lead your group to connect and shape a ministry using a hands-on approach that will highlight and reinforce Biblical concepts like redemption and restoration (and maybe you’ll have a sweet ride a few months down the road.) I want to encourage you on how to share a vision, communicate a direction and form a team of teenage builders who will enjoy the process from rust to high-gloss glory.

What I found most satisfying about our projects was the time with students in the garage and seeing them invest themselves in a communal project.

And unlike our X-Boxes and other youth budget capital expense items, a rolling project can easily turn into an investment worth more than what you paid for it (so there you go finance committee!)

One characteristic about our youth ministry I wanted to work against was the tendency for us as leaders to merely prepare a program for our students to consume each week as opposed to creating opportunities for them to experience worship, togetherness and purpose. I wanted to see how our group would respond if I gave them some guidance, some tools and a rust bucket.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I will be using the example of a restoration vehicle as the project but you may find a more appropriate project based on your context. So before you begin scanning craigslist and looking for rust buckets in farm pastures, I recommend you do these two things:

  1. Make a PLAN.

    Start with the ending. What will the ministry look like? What purpose will it serve? Who all will be involved? Craft a proposal that includes the Spiritual and practical components of a project-based ministry in your group. Include a vision statement, budget and timeline for the project. Be specific. What type of vehicle will work best for your context? Do kids in your group like 4x4s or muscle cars? Japanese drift cars or lowriders? Include ways you will reach out to students and adults for their involvement and the community events you will take part in. Share where the work will be done and where the vehicle will live.

    Include any known costs like insurance and find out what project vehicles are selling for online. Research what kinds of aftermarket parts are available for the type of vehicle you’ll be purchasing. (Rare vehicles are not always the best way to go for this reason)

    Communicate a policy for the ministry which states who will be allowed to drive the vehicle and what will happen when it’s time to sell it. Again, be as specific as possible and show yourself to be above reproach. This proposal will most definitely be what gets reviewed by your finance committee and will most likely be shared at a business meeting.

  1. Form a TEAM.

    Find the adults within your church who know and value your heart for this ministry and can communicate it well to others. Make sure first and foremost that your pastor has your full support and will go to bat for you if necessary. Your youth workers will most likely be automatically excited about the potential of such a ministry. Take it to your men’s ministry as well and see what kind of support and resources you have there. (The old gear heads in my church are solid gold. Watching one of our old guys show a 14-year-old girl how to check engine compression without a gauge and only her hand in a spark plug cylinder? Priceless.) Be prepared to receive a lot of brownies from some church ladies when you get their husbands involved in this ministry of spending time under a hood with teenagers!

    Your team will also be the people who will provide the needed resources for this ministry; from the needed tools to the garage space. They will be the ones to help you form a plan when you find more body damage than you thought was there.  They will be the ones to show you neat tricks that only seasoned mechanics know about. They will be the ones to convert their shop into a paint booth on a Saturday morning and spring for the paint!  Maybe there are mechanics in your town who can offer free advice or check out a vehicle you’re interested in before you purchase. A quick explanation of your project-based ministry with teenagers will go a long way in getting people even outside your church excited about your efforts.

Once the PLAN has been made and the TEAM formed you can begin thinking about ways to get your hands on something to work on. A great kick starter in procuring a project vehicle is to play a game of “Bigger and Better” with your youth group.  For two years in a row our D-Now groups were given a pack of gum and two hours to go out and bring something back that was bigger and better.  We received two go-carts, a 10 speed and a mini-bike.  All these toys were refurbished and sold at a profit which enabled us to put more resources toward other projects!

Of the two official youth group vehicles we have restored, both came off properties where they had been sitting for almost a decade.  Both our van and truck needed tires, batteries, cleaned carburetors, hoses and minor parts replaced immediately but they both were purchased for less than $1,500 as the owners were excited about them being used in youth ministry. And that my friends is what you have on your side in community projects: the ability to have students publicize the need with many sellers and donors who will jump at the chance to give for a worthy cause. (Some other examples of this generosity was when a local tire shop offered wheels at cost and one car owner donated a vehicle to our ministry only needing a donation receipt as payment).

Once you are ready to look for a vehicle simply let the need be known throughout the church. I also recommend scanning craigslist to see what types of project vehicles are being listed. This is a great opportunity to lean on any gear heads you have in your church so you don’t purchase a vehicle for more than it is worth. The goal should be to have less money invested in the vehicle than it can be sold for later. This will be made possible mostly through getting a good deal at the initial purchase and the free labor your students and adults will provide!

One word of warning when finding a project vehicle: AVOID RARE VEHICLES. 

Some sellers advertise “rare” as a positive in their listings however it will result in you having less access to replacement parts and a smaller aftermarket to work with. Before the purchase do a quick search online for parts for the vehicle. (I once bought a 1969 Cadillac I mistakenly thought was pretty common yet quickly found out that available aftermarket parts where much less abundant than those made for the 1968 Cadillac.)

You might be able to think of 10 quick reasons why a youth group project car is a terrible idea for your group including a lack of funds, space, interest or any working knowledge of anything mechanical. I would encourage you to look at your circumstances and see what potential there may be. Maybe start with a 10 speed bike, a motorcycle or even take it a different direction by restoring furniture or pawn shop guitars! The win will always be the same: casting vision, spending time with students and having them rally behind a common purpose.

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.

Jacob Eckeberger

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.