What if we could reach more students in our towns…

  • by asking them to participate, not just observe?
  • by asking them to be a part, not just asking them to be quiet and listen?
  • by telling them we need their help, not just telling them to come back next week?

Instead of merely hoping that more students will hear about the love of God, what if we summoned more of them to experience God’s love in action? What if we invited students to be a part of the incredible experience that Jesus spoke about: “Doing for one of the least of these” (Matthew 25:31-46)? Now you’re casting a wider net!

Two ideas:

#1. Offer Local Mission Trips. There’s no denying that global mission trips are great. Life changing. If you can get an unchurched student to attend one, do it! It’s not always easy, however, for students to raise $2,000, get shots and a passport, and tell their parents they’re leaving the country. It is easy for them to raise $10 and tell their folks they’re going 45 minutes away. Local trips and outings allow you to widen the range of students that can attend. Think about the difference between these two conversations:

  • “Dude, you gotta come to my student ministry. You’ll love it. It’s awesome.”
  • “Dude, you gotta meet some of these homeless people I’m hanging out with! Their stories are incredible! It’s so much fun!”
  • “We’re starting this new series at my church on courage. I think it would be super-helpful for you based on what you’re going through right now.”
  • “We’re helping this elderly lady whose husband just passed away. I know you’re great at organizing stuff. We could really use your help!”
  • “I think you’d love my youth group. There are a lot of cool people there.”
  • “I’d love for you to serve with us. There are a lot of incredible things for you to do. A lot of needs are being fulfilled. And there are a lot of cool people there!”

As human beings, we are created to serve. Something in us comes to life when we help others in Jesus’ name. And for some students, when that chord is struck inside of them, it creates a spark. They begin to see that church isn’t just “designed to make people feel guilty,” or, “full of hypocrites that sit around and judge others.” They see a much more attractive picture of Jesus, church, and Christians.

This is a great time for you to empower your small groups to identify projects they can practically execute or organizations they can partner with. At least once a year, designate small group time as a chance for groups to brainstorm ideas they can carry out locally. And encourage them to see these outings as opportunities to invite friends.

#2. Mobilize The Middle. In between core insiders and new outsiders, there’s a whole group of students who are coasting. They’re good people, but you’re not sure which way they’ll go (either in their faith or in your student environment). Serving decreases the chance they’ll leave. When they serve, they’re bound to connect with someone they’ve never hung out with before. And connection is what keeps students coming back. Serving makes you better suited to grow, because fewer students will be falling through the cracks unnoticed.

You shouldn’t prioritize serving just because it helps your environment grow (although that’s great). You should prioritize it because it strengthens students’ faith. There’s something different about students that serve. It’s an intangible factor—they’re deeper, healthier, and more connected. The more you can move students into this intangible arena, the stronger your foundation will be.

Opportunities to serve look different in every church and town. Be resourceful. Ask around. In some cases, you may need to create opportunities (and systems for them). Be motivated by the fact that some students aren’t attracted to people and programs—they’re attracted to movements and causes. In fact, most sociologists would tell you that the generation we serve, the millennials, are the most cause-driven generation in history. Isn’t it great that our movement is so big: putting the love of Jesus Christ in action? And isn’t it great that everyone is invited to be a part of the action?

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