I think one of the most important lessons we can teach our students is that the Kingdom of God is larger than the four walls of our church building. When students graduate from our ministry, I hope that they find a place to worship, to serve, to grow, and to connect with other Christians. Whether they end up worshiping at Hazelwood with us or somewhere else, the goal is that they stick to their faith, no matter where God may lead them. Showing them God’s work around the world, in my opinion, helps prepare them to serve God in any location.
As a ministry, there are some deliberate steps we take to help students see the global God at work. I’d love to share some of these steps with you, and hear some feedback on what YOU do to prepare your students for the global Kingdom. As we collaborate, perhaps we can better prepare students for life after youth group.
1. Connection with Other Youth Ministries
For whatever reason, it seems that youth groups have become more autonomous in the past decade. It seems like less youth groups are participating in collaborative efforts like area-wide youth rallies, statewide conferences, and so forth. I still believe these hold value for our students, particularly when it comes to showing them the Kingdom outside their own church. Our Youth Ministry still participates in statewide conferences, where we can be encouraged and connect with other youth groups from our state. For our last conference, we took a local church with us and partnered with them. We also stay connected with other ministries in our area through Youth Minister monthly gatherings.
2. Local Service Opportunities
Students love to serve, and giving students opportunities to serve locally opens their eyes to the world around them. When students see the needs around them, they begin to understand how their gifts might help meet the needs of the world around them. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has receive to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Our church offers many different opportunities for young and old alike to serve in the community. Though we could always do more, I’m thankful for a church that has an outward focus in this area.
3. Mission Trips for All Age Groups
Acts 1:8 says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” We model our Youth Missions Program after this verse, offering trips for each age group in our ministry to challenge and encourage them to see God at work in various cultures and subcultures. Middle Schoolers participate in “Jerusalem,” or local mission trips through Mission Indy, an organization with an amazing purpose (you can check them out at www.missionindy.com). High School students travel via bus somewhere on the continent (Samaria, to continue the analogy). Throughout my twelve years at HCC, we’ve taken High Schoolers to Tennessee, South Dakota, Mexico, New Hampshire, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Tampa, Washington, D.C., and more. Some trips are work-related, some are relational, and some are prayer-focused. Finally, an area we are growing in is with our College Age students, who travel abroad (the ends of the earth). This past summer, we took a group of 12 to Honduras, and we are making plans for another trip in a couple years. By offering trips for all ages, students see the global God at work.
4. Purposeful Guest Speakers
Sometimes, we can get very protective of our youth groups, and not allow them to hear from people with other viewpoints or doctrines. By having relationships with other Youth Ministers in our area, I am comfortable asking some of them to come share with my group from time to time. While I choose carefully, this can be a great way for students to wrestle with doctrinal issues while they are still under your tutelage. This past summer, our guest speaker for our huge High School Adventure Trip was a great Youth Minister friend named Tyson from a local church. He did a great job, and I think my students were blessed by His messages. I challenge you to invite some purposeful guest speakers into your Youth Ministry.
5. Continuous Challenges to Change the World Around Them
I know we all do this, but it’s worth mentioning that our students should constantly be challenged to be the “light of the world” and the “salt of the earth.” By continually challenging our students to change the world, it reminds them that God has a purpose and a mission for them, even now! I believe this encouragement goes a long way in making mission-minded, lifelong disciples.
I’m eager to hear from you – what do you do to help students experience God outside the walls of your church building?