How to Create a Culture of Service in your Youth Ministry

Recently I videoed a bunch of the teens in my youth program and asked the ambiguous question:  “Why do you come?”

The overwhelming answer was, “I love to come and serve.”

This answer shocked me a little… From the answers I was getting, you would think I have this awesome structure where each teen is that learning service is beyond a one day “event” or trip. Instead we have been working on this “idea” far more than it feels like we have “done” anything. The question I was asking was,

“How did we arrive at a place where our students love to serve?”

I bet you’re wondering too… Keep reading!

youth ministry rake and run

About 8 months ago I had this brilliant idea to “teach my students to lead.”  We have a special study time that focuses just on that.  I told my students anyone could be a part of it, the only prerequisite was they had to WANT to be there.  I researched and so far we have discussed topics like character, strengths, weaknesses and servant-hood.  We used curriculum from “Habitudes” by Tim Elmore and various assessments and training from Leadertreks.

Still I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until this impromptu “flip cam” questionnaire that I thought my students were getting anything out of these lessons.  I realized it wasn’t just about any ONE thing in learning service.   I realized a common theme I bring up often with my youth:

1. If we have a relationship with Jesus, we are compelled to serve. The Lord showed us the ultimate act in service in his choice to leave his throne, be born in a stable, spend his firs hours sleeping in a feeding trough, suffer and die as a common criminal all for our sake. When we know we belong to Him, our heart longs to be with Him.  His is a life of a servant, so going where He does inevitably leads to service.

2. Service starts far before we “do” anything. As I have both trained and talked with my students I am realizing something.  Service begins in our heart.   In contrast to “#1” without Christ, serving is all about us.  We give when we want because we might get something out of it.  The actions will follow, as our lives become more deeply His.

3. Many people don’t really have any idea what “service” is.  Notice I didn’t say “teens,” no many of us (yes me too) struggle with this one.  Many of us compartmentalize on days when we are slated to “give.”    We must be purposeful in teaching what service is.  Start with assigning small tasks, bring students a long with you in the “boring” stuff, and teach them what the word “proactive” means.

Service happens before we find our “sweet spot” or know our strengths.

It is learning always to stop and notice the needs of others, then be willing to meet them. In the past I asked students to serve, honestly, because I didn’t have enough “adult” help.   What I started to see was they had been hoping I would ask more of them all along.

In short I think my students like to serve, because I teach it, show it, expect it. My hope is they will understand service is in the mundane.  The way Christ changes the world is when we stop and help someone often when it’s inconvenient for us.   It’s about showing others what Jesus does anyway.

What success have you had in developing a culture of service in your youth ministry? 


photo credit: via