Sending out an SOS

by Harmony Hensley

While we realize that summer is still about six months away, it’s never too early to think about what programs you’ll participate in with your students. Here is one team of people doing tremendous mission work in their own community every summer.

Next year marks the 21st anniversary of Summer of Service. SOS is an annual youth conference that attracts upwards of 1,000 junior and senior high students from all across the country to converge on the campus of Vineyard Cincinnati for four and a half days of worship, teaching and outreach.

Though there are hundreds of summer “camp” retreat options out there for students, SOS is unique in that it mobilizes youth to make a major impact on the world around them through a tier of targeted outreach opportunities including acts of kindness, service, mercy and hearing from God.

Another thing that makes the SOS experience unique is that it is an inclusive conference. In 2009, we added SOS Special Ops to make room for students impacted by disability to attend with their age-appropriate peers. Special Ops students are assisted by a volunteer who accompanies them throughout the entire SOS experience. Students are given the option to tailor their experience based on what would set them up to be most successful (i.e., they can do the same kind of outreach each day if they prefer, or can follow the same daily transitions as their peers). We felt the addition of this layer of ministry helped us to not only fully reflect the body of Christ; but it allows us to model inclusion for the other SOS students attending the conference. At SOS, everyone plays and everyone has a mission.

A great part of the SOS experience is the group dynamic that plays out among students. Students are divided into groups of approximately 10 and assigned a volunteer youth leader who will be their guide throughout the week. These groups do life together, praying, serving, and growing deeper as they reach out through a range of outreach projects.

By the end of the week, students will have collectively hosted the following outreaches:

  • Block Parties – Students will be mobilized to serve eight low-income neighborhoods by hosting FREE block parties complete with DJ, moon bounce, hot dogs, popcorn, snow cones, balloons, games, and prizes for all who attend. Each block party serves approximately 500 guests meaning they reach approximately 4,000 people by the end of the week!
  • Car Washes – Each day, students will host 14 different FREE car washes at locations throughout the city. The car washes are either ABSOLUTELY FREE or $1. There’s a catch with the $1 car washes, though! Students will PAY guests $1 for the honor of getting to wash their car. Talk about a head tilt moment! Guests are completely astounded that someone would want to pay them to wash their cars and the students love it!
  • Drink Giveaways – Students will be deployed to 28 different intersections per day giving away THOUSANDS of FREE bottles of water throughout the week to drivers waiting at stoplights. (Don’t worry; we keep it safe, and insure nobody is playing in traffic!)
  • Partner Projects – Students will be deployed to serve a number of other non-profits in the Greater Cincinnati area by coming alongside them in their mission. These projects serve marginalized people groups such as those living in poverty, and individuals impacted by disability.
  • E2 – This is where we really think outside the box! E2 stands for the “Evangelism Experiment.” Students are taken through a prayer training that helps them to learn to hear from God. Each group is then given $100 to go and serve someone based on what they hear during the exercise. This outreach helps us to teach students that God can use us every day in every circumstance if we just take the time to stop and listen. The stories that come back from this are incredible!
  • Be the Difference and the ID Project – We realize that social justice starts with each of us having a better understanding of who we are, how we relate to the world, and connecting how God can use that to advance the kingdom. “Be the Difference” and “The ID Project” are programs developed by Change Point. For more information on their programs visit www.TheChangePoint.com

SOS creates an incredible environment for students to come learn, worship, and then immediately apply the biblical principles they’re hearing about from the speakers and presenters. They are then charged to take what they’ve learned at SOS to their home churches. We’ve heard amazing stories of students who have done just that. SOS stirred in them a holy discontent that lingered long after the summer ended. SOS alum Abby Hamilton of Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was so moved by a Luau outreach that served adults with special needs that was hosted at SOS that she is now mobilizing her home church to host a luau at their facility this summer. Abby is just 14 years old and completely ready to take over the world! That’s our goal at SOS—to foster mission in students across the country.

So, as you think forward and plan your summer programming for students, consider taking it to the next level by mobilizing them in your metropolitan area. For more information visit www.SummerOfService.com or contact Harmony Hensley at hhensley@vineyardcincinnati.com.

Harmony Hensley is the pastor and director of Outreach and Inclusion Ministry at the Vineyard Cincinnati Church in Ohio. She has a dual degree in biblical studies and ministry leadership from Cincinnati Christian University and has a background in design and marketing. In addition to her role at VCC, she is also a consultant for the Key Ministry Foundation. Harmony’s passion for inclusion ministry stems from her high school years where she was a special education student. She has developed ministry models for respite and prom outreaches that have been reproduced in churches across the United States and in Ireland.