Anyone who has ever tried to teach a child to do pretty much anything knows that it’s just easier to do it yourself. When my daughter, Lucy, was young, she always wanted to “help” me cook. And I really wanted to be the Pioneer Woman who thought of her kitchen as the heart of the home and invited everyone to “gather ’round.” But honestly, I wanted her out of the way so I could get in and get it done. Fortunately for me, I kept those feelings to myself, sucked it up and allowed her to “help.” You can imagine my great fortune when that same little girl, as a fourth-grader, could cook complete meals by herself and SHE didn’t want MY help. I unwittingly trained a little chef and have been reaping the benefits for the last six years!
The same thing happened within our family ministries when we began a program called Student SERVE. Our youth director was looking for a way to keep from raising up a bunch of “consumer Christians,” and pretty much like all children’s ministries, we definitely could use some extra helping hands. The only problem was, throwing a bunch of teenagers into the mix didn’t feel like much of a help at first. But we stuck with it because, fortunately for me, Lucy was part of the program and she LOVED it! My introverted, shy little girl was paired with the most wonderful young lady who allowed her to be a part of something bigger than herself. I watched her grow in confidence and maturity. Today, she is one of the best small group leaders we have! When students start serving, everybody wins!
Student Ministry wins when students begin to BE the church, not just GO to church. In Kara Powell’s research for her book Sticky Faith, she cites one of the most influencing factors of young adult
s leaving the church is their lack of connectedness to the church. When we segregate the youth from the rest of the church, they tend to drift when they graduate from high school. For that reason alone, we should be doing everything in our power to make the on-ramp for students to serve as easy as possible! And if that isn’t reason enough, I have seen kids who were not involved in youth ministry become involved because of the connections made through serving. They are also making crucial connections with adults that are an integral part of making their faith “stick.” I believe that the Student SERVE program is the most important thing we do for our students.
Children’s ministry wins when students serve because, let’s face it, teenagers are just cooler than adults. They are kid magnets! The first couple years of our ministry, students could only serve second service because youth was offered during first. At that time, our second service kid numbers were almost half of first service. Over the course of two years, we saw our second service numbers outgrow first. We believe it was because of the relationships the students were making with the kids. They are also some of the most consistent leaders we have.
The Student SERVE program at Woodland Hills is now in its sixth year, and I don’t know what we would do without them. We are no longer desperate for leaders, there is a life and energy within children’s ministry and people want to be part of it.
Family ministry wins when students serve because it bridges the gap between children and youth ministry. Youth leaders and children’s leaders should be working together. No one wants silo ministry to happen in their church, but it happens, and student SERVE is a natural safeguard against it.
We are leaders. We are supposed to be raising leaders. If your church has a youth ministry, there is a gold mine just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes it will be hard and you might wonder if it’s worth it. I promise you, it will be worth it.