Looking for new ideas to get your youth ministry students involved in service this year? We’re all called to be the hands and feet of Christ, and we believe that one of the greatest opportunities a youth ministry can provide is practice serving for their students!
So here is a list of some of favorite ideas from our friends in student ministry. Do you have a good idea we missed? Please leave it in the comments!
Note: As we publish this, our nation is currently dealing with the COVID-19 epidemic. Many of the ideas on this list are not appropriate during this time. Please use wisdom and continue to follow the recommendations of our public health officials.
The goal in our ministry is to be involved in some kind of outreach or service event every month in order to move students in the direction to which Jesus called us. We have established a rhythm that includes (among other things) working at a food bank, a two-day work trip at a camp we are involved in, Christmas caroling to the lonely, and a leaf raking day. – Paul Gearhart, Youth Pastor, Southport Presbyterian Church
1. Pick up liter.
It’s easy. It’s everywhere. It’s needed. You don’t need to make it official by adopting a highway, just find a stretch of road, a local playground or park, a natural area, etc. Garbage bags and latex gloves are all you need for most settings, although if you’ll be by a road you’ll want orange vests too. Maybe spring for some trash picker tongs for the adult chaperones. 😉
2. Volunteer at a local school.
Most public school principals will jump at the chance to put some volunteers to work. Call the local elementary school and ask how your group can help.
3. Collect change for a cause.
Choose a local ministry or social service and ask the students to round up change. There are lots of ways to theme the collection receptacles and time frames. A popular option is local crisis pregnancy centers.
We used to hand out cheap, plastic baby bottles every spring and give the our students a month to collect change for the local crisis pregnancy center. Once it was all turned in, we used the money to buy whatever they most needed (usually larger sized diapers), and took it over the Friday before Mother’s Day. – Alexis Wisniewski
Up the ante by getting students involved in the ministry as well. Bring a couple of them shopping when it’s time to turn the change into items for donation. Or bring a small group to serve at the center (or shelter, or whatever) when you drop off the donation.
4. Organize a free car wash.
Church and community members are used to seeing carwash fundraisers, but why not just bless the people in your area with a free wash instead? If your church has ever done a carwash as a fundraiser, you already have the necessary supplies!
5. Organize a work day at someone’s home.
Get your students together to help out a widow, elderly couple, or disabled individual in the community. You can start by asking members of the congregation if they, their parents, or their neighbors could use help.
If you know adults who are contractors, this can be a great opportunity for some mentorship and learning for the students as well. Projects like replacing drywall or doing minor repairs are chores that a willing professional can teach interested teenagers.
But if not, you don’t have to do anything complicated. Cleaning, painting, and/or yard work are all a great blessing and don’t require special skills.
My favorite kinds of serving projects are ones where my our students are interacting with the people they are serving. To be able to talk with people who run a ministry, for example, really allows the students to see they are participating in the impact of that ministry. – CJ Maderia, Student Ministry, Fox Valley Church
6. Wrap gifts.
You’ll have to wait until December, of course, but set up a table in the church lobby or a local shopping center to help people through the holiday shuffle.
7. Pack meals.
There are a few organizations across the country, like Feed My Starving Children and Meals of Hope, that have very efficient systems for packing healthy meals that get shipped all over the world. There may be a permanent facility in your area, or you may be able to set up a mobile packing event at your church.
8. Provide childcare.
Plan an evening when your students can provide free childcare at the church, and parents can get a date night. The teenagers can plan a themed pajama party, movie night, arts and crafts night, etc., for the kids.
9. Visit a hospital.
Long-term hospital patients need all the hope and cheer they can get. Let students dress up like super heroes or popular characters, and visit a pediatric unit. Or go as yourselves and bring treats or small gifts. Stuffed animals, fun pillow cases, games, craft kits, and toys are great for kids.
Or plan to visit adult units to serve the patients in other ways. Bring manicure sets and let the girls spend some time serving women patients, etc.
You’ll have to call ahead to organize a good day and time to come, of course, and when you do, ask what you can bring. The staff will best know what kinds of treats and toys the patients can have, as well as what they would probably appreciate the most.
(Speaking of the staff: Surprise them too and bring a basket of treats for the nurses as well!)
10. Adopt a homeless shelter.
Many local homeless shelters can’t have volunteers under the age of 18, and many don’t have capacity for a group of teenagers. If you call, though, directors are more than happy to tell you what they could use.
Some shelters close to residents during the day, so you may be able to come in and clean.
If not, they almost definitely have supply needs. This could be a loose change collection opportunity, or a donation drive that your students organize.
For example, most shelters will tell you that socks are often needed. Have the students organize a sock drive at church, in their schools, and at local businesses.
11. Feed the homeless.
Your community may already have a program that provides meals to local people, but they probably need volunteers. Take your group of teenagers to help with cooking, serving, and/or cleaning up.
12. Volunteer at an animal shelter.
Call your local animal shelter and see how your group can help. They frequently need volunteers to walk and play with the animals, and they probably wouldn’t turn down some help with cleaning up.
13. Visit a senior center.
Senior centers love it when young people come to visit. Any excuse to visit is a good one: bring Valentine’s, honor veterans on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, bring flowers in spring, bring small Easter baskets, bring Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards or treats, etc.
Before you make big plans, call and ask the event coordinator what would be best for the residents. There may be a community time when they’re all together. It might be nice to sit down and eat lunch together. They will know how best to accommodate your group. They will also know what kinds of treats the residents can and cannot have.
14. Make blankets.
No knitting skills are required for no-sew fleece blankets, and Project Linus will put them to good use. You will need to invest in some material, but then just pick a date and ask everyone to bring a good pair of scissors. Put on a movie and make blankets!
15. Host a Sole Hope shoe party.
Sole Hope supports the people of Uganda by providing shoes to prevent jiggers from embedding in their feet. (Jiggers cause crippling pain, keeping kids out of school and people out of work. They can also lead to worsening illness and social ostracizing.)
A Sole Hope shoe party gets your students together, with a pile of old denim, to prep the material for the shoes. You need to order a kit, and Sole Hope asks for a donation per each pair you prep (so they can finish the shoes), but it’s a very hands-on and unique way to serve!
16. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity has special youth programs that your students can be involved with. Get them involved in an opportunity to serve that can also be instructive for them.
17. Volunteer with Love Packages!
This is our favorite option, of course! Your group can join us in the warehouse for a day, a weekend, or a whole week. Our Butler, Illinois, location has beds and showers for groups up to about 30, and a communal kitchen you’re welcome to use.
Your group can also organize a bible drive to collect literature for us. We have tips and resources you can use!
What’s Your Next Youth Group Service Project?
In addition to cultivating a generous spirit in your students, most of these service project ideas have the added benefit of helping your group form stronger ties. Serving together—like worshipping together—has a way of bringing people together.
Did we forget something? Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite youth group service project.