I have attended church regularly ever since my mom first took me when I was 2 years old. By the time I was a high school student, I was fully involved in our student ministry and I loved my church. There were so many key relationships, experiences, and learnings in my journey of faith during those years. However, the experiences that grew my faith the most all revolved around serving.
Why Serving Matters for Students
Reggie Joiner says it best when he says “students will not feel significant until we give them something significant to do.” Without serving, a student could grow up and never have to truly live out what they believe. Or worse, they may never even have to really decide what they believe.
I think students should be given opportunities to serve outside the church (in the community, mission trips, etc.) and within the church on ministry teams. The amount of students serving in ministry in our church is over half of the average student attendance. We have always valued students serving, but we put a big emphasis on it the past couple years and we've seen that percentage grow from around 33% to over 50%.
5 Steps to Help Students Serve
Does your church encourage students to serve? If so, comment and let me know what's working. If not, here are 5 steps that can help your students serve in ministry.
Remove the competition
The first thing churches can do to help students serve is to remove any competition. The biggest competition is typically when there is a student environment that takes place during services. There are many areas where students can serve, but if they can't serve during services in children's ministry, guest services, and worship arts, a lot of options are off the table. Consider moving your primary student environment to a different time, such as Sunday night or mid-week.
Cast vision to parents
Most students need their parent's help if they're going to serve regularly. In our church, we ask people to serve one and attend one (a service) for most roles. Students who can't drive themselves (the vast majority) need their parents to either bring them early, stay late, or commit to also serving so they are all there together. I find it more difficult to convince parents to commit than students. For that reason, we find opportunities to specifically cast vision to parents and explain how this might be the thing that grows their faith the most during this season of their life.
Ask them individually
I'm not against asking students to serve in some type of large group setting. We do that regularly, casting a vision for serving and making a push at our regular student gatherings. However, we must ask students individually as well. I don't think we challenge students enough. My pastor, who led an amazing student ministry for 13 years, always notes that any time he challenged a student to take a step, they always did. Talk with students individually about stepping up to serve.
Lead them similarly
I think there are some specific ways we can lead students that are different than how we lead adults, but, for the most part, I believe the best approach is to lead them the same way. Set the same expectations. Look for their participation in training events. Allow them to do almost everything an adult can do. Don't put limits on their leadership potential. I can't wait for the day when we have a student who serves as a Coach, leading a group of adult/student leaders.
Have everyone champion the cause
In order to create a culture where students serving is normal, we have to help everyone champion the cause. You may run into some opposition from adult volunteers who are concerned that students who serve may be more trouble than helpful. For that reason, it's important to make sure every volunteer knows how much you value students serving and how they can help.
Yes, there will be some students who shouldn't be able to serve because they are too much trouble, just like some adults! It's okay to make it clear that nobody, including students, has a free pass to do whatever. Ultimately, you want your leaders to understand why it's important for students to serve and how they can set students up to succeed.