Project Based Ministry (Part 3)

August 23rd, 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.

Our last post dealt with communicating purpose and procedure, forming a team and finding the actual project vehicle for a PROJECT-BASED YOUTH MINISTRY!  This post will deal with tips on how to get the job done and ways you can begin getting your students to serve their community with it. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.

Once your jalopy is pulled off the trailer it’s time to get it legal and roadworthy. Today we have insurance companies specifically designed to cover antique vehicles (“antique” generally means 25+ years old). I recommend youth group vehicles being registered as antiques (therefore not requiring inspection) AND insured as such (we pay $80 a year for our insurance!)

Once it’s legal, it’s time to get the car driving. 

If your car has not been driven for more than a few years expect to replace just about everything made of rubber.  Tires, hoses, seals, gaskets and weather-stripping will all need replacing (even if the old tires have plenty of tread on them). You will need a battery.  You will need to replace points, spark plugs and wires. You will most likely need to drop the fuel tank and either replace it or clean and seal it. Blow the fuel lines out with compressed air. Place an inline fuel filter before and after the fuel pump and turn the key! If the car runs fine after that, awesome!  Otherwise get one of your old guys in your church to put a kit on the carburetor.  The carburetor will account for about 90% of your engine issues as it is where fuel and air are managed.

The age and amount of damage to your car will directly determine the time and expense it will take to get it where you want it to be. Grab some of your most plugged-in students and some of your assisting adults and write out all the work needed (check out this example). Classify areas to focus on between EXTERIOR, INTERIOR, ENGINE, SUSPENSION/STEERING and BRAKES. List specific needs beneath each field and include purchases and materials needed for each and the cost of parts. This spreadsheet will help guide you when you plan specific work days so you will know how many people to have there.  (Too many workers: not enough work for everybody so kids get bored and start chasing each other with drills. Not enough people there and the work will go too slow thus discouraging those who showed up.)

One example of an important phase we worked through was painting our truck which included 5 work days of disassembling the truck, soda-blasting parts, sanding tough rust spots, taping off glass and seals and turning a garage into a make shift paint booth.  The paint cost $400 but we saved over $5,000 by doing all the work ourselves!

There are tons of fun decisions that need to be made throughout the process, from color of the exterior to accessories in the interior to ride height to wheels and how you’ll integrate your youth group name and logo on the vehicle. I would make it a point to include your students in every decision in order to keep them invested and feeling a sense of ownership of the project. Some great resources for you can be found online when it comes to needing to replace model-specific parts. Let’s say you need to replace the front bumper for a 1967 Ford F-100. One of the greatest resources for old trucks is a parts house called LMC Truck (lmctruck.com) and they will carry the exact bumper you need. However, they also carry the steering gear for your truck but the same steering gear can be found at Auto Zone for much less. The moral of the story is to only purchase the hard-to-find and model specific parts at the specialty stores and buy everything else at regular auto part stores! And while we’re talking about bumpers and chrome bits: before you throw out rusty chrome parts or contemplate the expensive route of re-chroming, run some 0000 steel wool dipped in kerosene over all your rusty chrome. Often it will make it look new again.

Once you are ready to place your graphics on the vehicle you’ll want to decide on an overall look and appropriate budget.

These days many companies have their vehicles wrapped in vinyl graphics which looks great but is the most expensive option. I have always preferred large die-cut stickers as they are fairly inexpensive and they weather nicely. Old die-cut stickers seem to peel off easier once it’s time to replace them and they leave less sticky residue than printed vinyl stickers.

The activities in your community can go a long way in determining the use of your youth group vehicle.

In my case I enjoyed the most exposure and service opportunity by tailgating in the parking lot of our home football games. Several students would meet me to set up a canopy and chairs about an hour before kick-off and because we reserved a parking spot right in front of the gate, I was able to see all of our parents and many church members as they entered the stadium. Sometimes we would grill and give away free hotdogs. Sometimes we would set up a small generator and give away free snow cones. This was a great way to meet new people in our community and there have been countless times I was able to share about our church and youth group when a dad would walk over to the truck and peek his head inside to marvel at the work on the interior!

Other successful touches on the community included driving our youth group vehicle in city parades and featuring the vehicle in our local downtown concert nights and car shows. Many people loved the idea of students having the opportunity to build a classic car together! There were also several times that we needed to use our van and our truck as just a van and a truck. That meant helping a neighbor move furniture or hauling stuff to the dump. It’s a good idea to have those ministry opportunities in mind even before choosing a vehicle in order to maximize your ministry potential. Also, contact local media and have them feature your students in an article or news story as they work on the vehicle!

I can’t stress enough…

It has been a blessing for me to experience the benefits of project-based ministry within traditional youth group settings over the past 8 years.

It has been a great source of excitement for many of our students and adults and I have made some great friends with people in my church and community that I would not have connected with otherwise. There have been wonderful teachable moments all along the way that have translated into the Gospel being shared, deep one-on-one conversations with students and excitement added to our weekly lessons.

If I can be of any service to you or your youth group in order to help get a project of any size up and running please don’t hesitate to contact me.

John Barnard




John 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.



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.