Serving Together is a Win for All
In the church world, we often hire age-specific pastors – Children’s Pastors, Youth Pastors, College and Career Pastors. These leaders can care for and cater to their people well since they have a target audience that have similar needs. At the same time, we know that when the various age-groups within our church intersect, they learn from one another and are challenged to grow in ways that are unique to cross-generational relationships.
As Community Outreach Director of our small church, my job is to look beyond our church walls and learn about the needs of our city, especially those who are on the margins. Since, loving the marginalized is not an age-specific calling, I’m always looking for creative ways to help all of our church from young to old, engage, serve, and love our city.
As we serve together, various age-groups side-by-side, our whole church becomes better for it. It’s my hope that all churches will find ways for their youth to be included in the mission of the church. So how do we do this?
First, think about the ministries that are already present in your congregation. What ministries to your city or world could youth participate in? Do you have a food pantry or clothing closet? Do you run a school-supplies collection or Christmas gift drives that they could get involved with? While youth-focused trips and events are beneficial, what would it look like to incorporate your youth into a trip or event that adults participate in as well?
In our context, we run a weekly Sunday morning Breakfast Club. We serve food and build relationships with the homeless community in our city. Many of the adults in our congregation are part of this ministry, and it is an ongoing, easy opportunity for our youth to connect with.
Once you have found an area of ministry that seems to make sense, it’s important to invite youth to participate in creative ways. We have found two basic approaches that work well.
One of our favorite approaches at our church is to invite our youth to serve all together on specific days, especially when it can be tied into another youth-centered event.
The Annual Youth Lock-In is a perfect opportunity to capitalize on the excitement of a youth event, while connecting the youth back into what’s happening in the rest of the church. They spend the night doing lock-in activities and finish the experience by serving breakfast the next morning together. The lock-in has always been a fun, well-attended event and thus, this becomes a well-attended serving opportunity. The youth have fun serving together and also get a chance to meet adults who are part of the ongoing ministry to our city.
We have seen that once youth have participated in this ongoing ministry, they’ll want to come back for more. They often end up inviting their parents to serve alongside them, or they may just come back on their own. We’ve even had some of our older volunteers pick-up our younger youth, so that they can participate on mornings when their parents aren’t available to come with them.
Another approach we have used is designating a specific day for families to serve together. Many families have good intentions of finding ways to “give-back” as a family, but with busy schedules, it often just doesn’t happen. This is where we utilize the Family Serve Day.
You know that feeling of wanting to go to a new class at the gym but feeling like you’ll be the only new person there? On our Family Serve Day, families know there will be others there who haven’t served before, and they can find comfort in learning the ropes with others. Choosing a designated day also helps make it a time-specific ask to participate, which gives the opportunity more urgency and higher priority in family schedules. It’s more compelling to see an announcement that says, “Come serve at Breakfast Club next weekend on our Family Serve Sunday” than, “Come any week at 6:45 and serve breakfast! All are welcome.”
Families find great joy in serving together. They are now participating in something as a unit which provides shared purpose and meaning, even if just for an hour or two. These experiences unite them, giving them new topics for conversation and new ways to interact with one another. We have found that youth often lead the way in wanting to return, asking their parents to make it a part of their regular schedules.
When church leaders create opportunities for youth and adults to connect through serving together, natural relationships form. Youth become woven into the fabric of another ministry of their church which gives them more ownership, responsibility, and buy-in to the church as a whole. They feel included, valued, and loved, not just by their youth leaders, but by other adults within the church. Serving together is a “win” for everyone.
Christina is the Community Outreach Director at Imago Dei Church in Peoria, Illinois. She and her husband, Dustin, are in the final stages of adopting their two precious daughters. Christina is passionate about foster care and those on the margins of society, aiming to show hospitality to all and creating a home and life that reflect those values. You can connect with Christina on Facebook and Instagram or follow her blog.