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How to Help Teenagers Serve Others
Start a Teens Mission Group
Many churches already involve their students in local missions work and short term missions trips, but I'm not aware of many churches who have a dedicated weekly meeting for teenagers interested in developing knowledge, skills and leadership in missions. That is what Acteens is all about.
Having worked with youth from Junior High through college age since 1976, and having 5 children myself (two teens), I have found this program to be the best youth group activity I've ever seen. Acteens teaches teenage girls in Junior High through High School (7th to 12th grade) about the needs of people around the world and gives them opportunities to be a part of local and international mission work. Although Acteens is only for girls, you could easily make this a co-ed group for any teenagers who want to get ready for a missions trip, or want to develop leadership skills in local missions work.
While this organization is a part of the Women's Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist churches and is directed only at girls, I don't think that the ideas of this program should be limited by denomination. Involving teenagers in Christian Mission Work in local missions can be done by any church or Christian organization. Acteens does not replace worship or Bible study; instead, it allows teens to act out what they learn and to help others in their own community.
How to Start a Group
Develop a Leadership Team: One or more adults will need to lead the mission work group. We currently have 3 adults and 2 college students leading about 35 7th to 12th grade girls. Because an important part of helping teenagers learn to do missions work is giving them the opportunity to be leaders, we also have about 8 high school girls who form the student leadership team. These girls are responsible for many of the activities we do, as well as for encouraging the younger girls, praying with them, and being a good example and sister in Christ.
Set up a Weekly Meeting Time: We meet weekly on Sundays 5-7 p.m. during the school year. Our teenagers are also involved in Bible Study on Sunday mornings, discipleship groups later on Sunday nights, and worship/Bible study on Wednesdays. Because we have Bible Study at other times, our Acteens group does not include Bible Study but yours could do so if you want to include local missions work within your normal schedule.
Set Schedule for Missions Education, Team Building and Local Missions Work: Developing leadership means that you need all three of these components. Each week at Acteens we are focusing on one or two of the following:
- Learning about missions work.
- Learning about the needs of people around the world.
- Learning about the culture, language and missions work in other countries.
- Getting to know one another and our own talents, strengths, gifts and abilities.
- Building up our team and learning how to work together on a project.
- Making something for missionaries or people in need.
- Doing a missions project off-site.
- Going to a local mission in our area to learn and to help.
Develop Contacts: In order to involve teenagers in missions work, the leaders are going to need to have help. Luckily, many local missions organizations love to have a chance to teach teens about what they do. Most of the time, when we call up and ask if we can visit, have someone come share, or have a project to do, people are more than willing to talk with us. How to find contacts?
- Ask church leadership for organizations your church is already involved with.
- Ask youth group parents if they have any volunteering work they do they would be willing to talk about.
- Contact any missionaries associated with your church or organization and see if they will come talk or send you a video or other information.
- Check out the websites for large Christian organizations like Compassion, Wyclife or other missions organizations for information, lessons, videos or even speakers who might come to talk with your group.
- Contact the local Christian bookstore to see if they know of any organizations you can speak with.
- Look in the yellow pages of the phone book under "Christian organizations" to find out other contacts. You can also look up local branches of groups like Salvation Army, Goodwill or your local food pantry. When I started researching local non-profit charities in our area, I was absolutely astounded at how many there were. Moreover, almost all of them need volunteer help.
- Start asking people you know in your Sunday School class, Bible study or even at work if they know of any group who needs volunteer help.
- Look in the local newspaper and magazines for organizations or events your teens could help with. For example, our food pantry has a Thanksgiving feast each year. That sort of event often needs help and your teens could be an important part.
- Start looking for things that need doing around town. For example, I started noticing that our local playground is often full of trash. An easy and fun job for teens is a "trash and treasure" pick up which sets the teens up in pairs and gives them a short amount of time to pick up trash in an area. You can even have prizes for the most creative trash, the most smelly trash, the most "interesting" trash, the best treasure etc.
- Think about what jobs in your church teens could do. We have several events which are regularly staffed by our Acteens teen workers. They help with the Fall Festival, Vacation Bible School, our Back-to-School dinner, our Global Missions Celebration and many other events. In fact, because our teens are so well trained and responsible, we often even call them during the summer to come and help out.
- Ask other Churches if you can help. Our Acteens have been a vital part of helping our two church plants get their buildings ready. They have painted, cleaned and organized. We've also helped out with mission projects with other churches. This can be a great way for your teens to see that missions work is something the body of Christ does all together.
Develop Leadership Skills
Why You Should
What is best about involving your teens in missions work? They learn they can do it and that missions work is fun. My four daughters have all been a part of the program and I've enjoyed working along side of them as we serve others. My oldest daughter is now in college and has strong leadership skills that she developed while being a part of this program. In fact, she has used the skills she learned to work in a Chinese orphanage, travel overseas, and get a job working in a children's museum.
Do you have some missions work for teenagers that your group has done? I'd love to have you share your ideas with everyone in the comments!