Love sacrificially serves. And if you are reading this, you most likely agree. Jesus essentially delivers that statement to the disciples, but they have no idea what they are in for.
“Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command,” (John 15:12-14, NIRV).
Thousands of years later, we have the honor, privilege and choice to serve through sacrifice as well. In most situations, it will not require sacrifice of our actual lives. But we will get to sacrifice our time and energies to serve others. Leading with that heartbeat allows us to make service days easy to coordinate and easier still to accomplish.
I will be honest with you. The first community service day will take the most preparation, but it is all downhill from there. With four steps (Discover • Plan • Meet • Build), we can institute and preserve a thriving culture of service within our ministries and communities.
To begin, the most important tools we will need are our ears. If you have already heard of pressing needs within the community, create a service day around it. If not, we can use our ears to listen more intently to what our community is sharing.
One of the worst things we can do is to assume a need and try to fix it. Instead, we can get out into the community and connect with local business, neighborhoods, and even other NGOs. The local libraries, schools, and city hall may already have opportunities to join. If by chance we have done all of that and come up empty-handed, go old-school.
Start knocking on doors, introducing yourself, and sharing your desire to serve the community. At the very least, we may end up completing a few home improvement projects. And that is okay. It does not have to be a grand gesture. But over time, it will become a massive impact.
So we have discovered a need or maybe even several. Now what? Now we need a plan. Plans almost always ensure a more peaceful and pleasant experience for everyone involved. Planning is the most critical and time-consuming task, but we will be so glad we did it.
From the needs we have discovered, let’s decide what we will focus on. Let’s begin by thinking about what a three- to four-hour service day looks like. While we are talking about coordinating a service day, we do not have to hold the event the entire day. Three to four hours is a suggestion, but do what works best for your context.
These three to four hours are from arrival to departure and everyone does not have to be there the entire time. The bigger the event, the longer the day. But the length of the day could also depend on the number of volunteers we have. We will get to that soon.
To keep from feeling hurried, plan an hour on each end of the event. Arrive an hour before to setup and prepare for the arrival of guests and volunteers. Use the final hour for breakdown and clean up.
EXAMPLE: Event Duration • 8-12 PM; Leadership Arrival • 8 AM; Volunteer Arrival • 9 AM; Breakdown/Projects End • 11 AM; Departure • 12 PM
Now, we need help. Without helping hands, there would not be much service during the service day. Create a way for people to sign up several weeks before the event. This can include flyers, online signups, etc. Ensure that they know the event information—when, where, and a general idea of what to expect.
Determine how many projects are involved in the day and assign leaders to those projects. These leaders will oversee these projects, allowing you (the coordinator) to float and manage the event as a whole. Before the day of the event, ensure the leaders know exactly what is expected of them and about how many people they will lead.
Make arrangements to obtain, distribute and retrieve all of the resources needed for the service day. Making directional and informational signage is optional, but highly recommended. Remember planning can be the most challenging part of the process. There are so many details to think about and execute, but it is all worth it.
Once we have planned, we now have the opportunity to meet the needs within our communities. You and your leaders will arrive about an hour before the official start of the event, to setup and prepare to welcome volunteers. When the event begins, rally the team and give vision, clarity, and direction to the day. Inform them to keep their eyes and ears open throughout the day. Then, release everyone to get started—tackling major projects first.
Throughout the event, check in with the leaders to assess any needs. About an hour before departure, remind everyone to wrap up their projects. Do not worry, unfinished projects will be completed next time. Yes! If we do this right, we will be back.
“Service is a lifestyle, not an event.” – Terence and Cecilia Lester
After breakdown and before departure, take about 15 minutes to debrief. This is essential. We asked everyone to keep their eyes and ear open for this reason. Listen to stories shared by the leaders and volunteers, and capture as much as you can.
Whether it is our brain or our muscles, we get stronger the more we use them. The same is true with service. The more often we lead our ministries to serve, the more apt they will be to serve more consistently. Let’s not allow the community service day to be a “one and done” event. Consistency is the key. What does that look like in your context? Can you lead a service day monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly?
Take those stories and build on them. There is no shortage of needs in our communities. The harvest is plentiful. Plan the next service day soon!
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