Whenever I talk to young people, one of their top concerns is figuring out where exactly they fit into their local congregation. Many feel a strong disconnect from the people with whom they attend church. Because many churches are reluctant to let young people serve in meaningful ways, they even begin to believe their church family has no need for them and won’t miss them if they disappear into the world.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Unfortunately as a parent, you may have to be the driving force behind encouraging your congregation to have young people serving the congregation in meaningful ways.
Part of the problem is that the average adult in leadership has no idea what young people are capable of doing well. As your child’s parent, you are well aware of your child’s strengths and gifts. (Just be careful not to oversell!)
If you struggle with thinking of possible ways for your kids to serve, here are some ways that many young people have found enable them to make a meaningful contribution to their church family.
- Organizing tasks. Have a child whose skill is organizational? Most churches have libraries or resource rooms that could always use a bit of organizing and straightening. Just ask the person in charge of that area and offer to stay with your child and supervise/help. If the person seems a little wary at first, ask them to give a list of how they want the task to be completed and volunteer to make sure the items on the list are done properly. Starting small with one shelf may be the best idea and as your child demonstrates the ability to complete the task, expand the scope of the project.
- Cleaning tasks. Often church janitors are unpaid or part time. They may welcome a little extra help for those jobs they never have the time to complete. Straightening song books, collecting items left behind, dusting and other chores are simple enough for even very young children to complete.
- Sending cards and notes. In this digital age, paper cards and notes are becoming rare and very special. What would mean more to a member who has been ill, suffered a loss or celebrating good news than a drawing, card or note from your child? The great thing is your children can do this from home and when they have the time. They may even ask visiting children for their addresses and send them a note encouraging them to visit again.
- Greeting children and/or teens as they come in the church door. As far as I know, there isn’t a rule that people can only be greeted by official greeters. Stand in the lobby with your child as they greet the children when they enter. If you really want to do something special, help your child put together little welcome packs for visiting children. (The Children’s Ministry may have items they would love for you to include.) Note: Introverted children will be miserable doing this, but if your child is extroverted, energetic and joyful…it’s a perfect fit!
- Sharing talents in the arts. Does your child have artistic talent? Can he sing well? Does she act like a pro? Your church may be excited to include them in the various needs churches often have for artists, singers and actors. Try to track down the person in charge of the program and avoid going to general leadership who is often unaware of needs. Individual teachers of children’s Bible classes may love to have young people help them with bulletin boards or come in and sing with the kids or play a role in a Bible drama from time to time.
- Student teaching. Many children’s Bible class teachers would also love an extra pair of hands from teens and even an older elementary child on special occasions. They would probably love even middle grades elementary kids help getting items for activities prepared. Some teachers are even willing to use teens as co-teachers and gradually train them to teach a class on their own. You will generally be more successful approaching individual teachers rather than leaders. Realize though that your church may have some age restrictions or requirements the teachers most follow. You may also have to be willing to agree to a trial period to prove your child is mature enough to handle the responsibility.
- Helping mission teams. Many churches now have family mission teams where young people are more likely to be given responsibilities. If your churches team isn’t a family team, they may still need help gathering, assembling or organizing items for their trip. Don’t forget there are also often multiple mission opportunities to serve people in your own town.
- Personal prayer ministry. More introverted, introspective children may enjoy having a personal prayer ministry. Find them a blank journal and a set of note cards. Encourage them to ask people at church for prayer needs or keep track of the ones announced at services. Let them decide how they will pray for these people and situations on a regular basis. Encourage them to record in their journals their prayers and God’s answers. (Remind them God can also say “no” and “wait” as answers.) Encourage them to send notes to people letting them know they are praying for them.
- Helping with service collections. Many churches collect food, clothing, school supplies and more to help others. Often these collections would love more publicity or help collecting and organizing items for distribution. Ask the leader of the collection if your child can create fliers and posters, hand out their materials or help with collection and organizational tasks. Many teens are capable of organizing and running their own collections. (Note: you may need leadership approval for your teen to conduct a collection of items primarily at church.)
- Social media, photography, web design and execution. Surprisingly, many older teens are more capable of handling social media and web tasks than the adults at churches. They may love to have a teen willing to tweet or instagram pre-approved messages before or during events. Please be realistic about your child’s abilities in this area. Many teens and adults believe they have more skill than they actually do. Make sure your child will do more good than harm if given the responsibility.
- Cooking, sewing, woodworking and other crafts. Ministries often have needs for items that can be cooked or crafted. Your child may find a cookie recipe they make for every fellowship or build props for Bible dramas. Make a list of what your kids can create well and think of ways those items can be used by your church.
Taking the time and effort to help your children find ways to serve their church will help them strengthen their faith foundations. It can even improve the chances they will become active, productive Christians as adults. Serving will also help them understand Christianity should be who they are – not just another extra-curricular activity.