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SERVE WEEK 2020
Like so many of us, Covid crushed our plans for the summer. No trips. No camps. No mission trips. If we were lucky, we were able to have limited or restricted gatherings with appropriate social distancing and safety precaution. And some of us, were left to online contact through Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or other social media platforms. It's been a tough summer.
This would have been my second summer, the end of my first year. I arrived in June 2019, and jumped into a handful of student meet and greets. We hosted a series of events that we quickly threw together. It was simple, but it worked. But summer 2020 was to include a number of summer activities (bonfires, pool parties and such), summer camp options, a middle school mission trip, and a high school mission trip. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't frustrated when everything got shutdown.
The shutdown forced a total redesign of our summer ministry schedule. In-person group events and activities were a no-go. Everything was online or 1-on-1. We spent a little more time on Zoom with meet ups and small gatherings. We increased our reach to students by asking our leaders to be a little more intentional with text messages, snail-mail notes, and social media engagement. It was ideal, but we did our best.
The only thing I kept coming back to, was our missing mission trip. I really wanted to begin the process of helping students see the importance of serving others. How could we get our students to serve, while staying within the boundaries of the covid guidelines and restrictions? Enter the virtual mission trip.
Early in the summer, ideas for virtual mission trips started popping up around social media. At first glance I was skeptical. Students serving independently? On their own? Hmm. Then I started seeing pictures and reading the stories. Youth groups from all over were attempting these virtual mission trips, and reporting some fun moments shared by their students. Could it really work?
I wasn't sure that our group was ready for something like a virtual mission trip. Again, I was just wrapping up my first year with our students. Of this first year, I had only been with students for about 8 or 9 months. We were still getting to know each other, building trust, and shaping our new ministry.could we drum up enough interest? Would students sign up? Would they actually participate in something like this? I had my doubts.
Then came the question...What would the students do? How would we construct a weeks worth of activities that we really couldn't physically be there to lead? And, how would we know if the students actually did anything? After about a month of thinking and praying about it, I decided to give it a try.
I was sure how it would all come together, but one of the Core Values at our church is, Bold Failure Paves Bright Futures. Our church supports new things, even if everything crashes down on it. So with the confidence of knowing it would be okay, I sat down and created SERVE WEEK 2020.
Serve Week 2020, was created to give my students an easy way of serving the people around them, while helping them discover that they were made to serve. I combined a short video devotion with a prompt that led them to a daily serve challenge. There was a devotion and aa challenge for each day of the week, Monday through Friday. We then encouraged the students to take a few pictures of themselves accomplishing the challenge, that we would share on our social media.
We asked the students to sign up for Serve Week, hoping that by signing up, they would see and keep their commitment. We had about 10 students sign up. For a group our size, in the circumstances that we're in, that's not bad. I built a couple pages on our student website as our "home base" of information. Each morning, a few social media prompts reminded students to visit the website for the daily devotion and challenge. Halfway through the day, another reminder went out asking for photos to be sent in. We then shared the pictures on the following day.
The week wrapped up with the students gathering at our church's community garden to harvest and weed. We worked, had pizza, and spent some time hanging out together.
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Here's what I learned...
1. Simple is Okay - I know I am one who can go "over the top" when it comes to planning events and activities. But bigger isn't always better. I chose to keep Serve Week simple, focusing on little things that the students could do on their own, or with just a little help from their parents. With the variety of restrictions, guidelines, and opinions differing from state to state and person to person, I wanted to make sure students were able to participate at a comfortable place. Plus, this was our first attempt on something like this, so simple was the best way to go.
2. Keep Expectations Low - Usually I am on the other side of this one. I generally keep higher expectations for my students. But knowing that not everyone would feel comfortable or ready to participate in our Serve Week, I decided to have real, but slightly lower expectations. I think this helped me see Serve Week as more of an experiment that we were trying, and less of an event where we expected some huge response. In the end, I was super delighted with the response from our students and our parents.
3. Make it Doable - With each daily challenge, I came up with something that I thoughts students could actually accomplish. The challenge was based on a concept or idea, with a number of possible options for completely the challenge. This gave freedom for the students to be creative and carry out the challenge the way they thought, using the gifts and talents they had. They were free to use our ideas and suggestions, or come up with their own. They key, however, was to make it something that the students could actually do one their own.
4. Have Fun with It - When doing the daily challenge, make sure it's something that is fun. Include family, friends, and leaders. Make it something that appeals to the students, something that they might want to do, or are already doing. Take pictures of and with the students. Strike a pose. Be silly or goofy. Have fun.
5. This is Going to be and Annual Event - The biggest thing I learned from our Serve Week is that it's something I want to see become part of our summer calendar. The thought of being able to schedule a week for students to serve the local community is a great thing. Not only does it provide students with an entry point to serving, but it allows for a week of focused missions and service within your community. I am already thinking about Serve Week 2021, and how we might use this week as a way for our students, families, and leaders to leave an impact on our community.
So, what did our Serve Week 2020 look like? Well, I'm happy to share it with you!
You can click on the links below to watch the daily devotion with the serve challenge and to see the webpages I created with additional ideas. You're free to borrow any ideas that you find helpful. (I know I borrowed ideas from other youth workers and organizations.)
Did you host a virtual mission trip? How did it go? What did you do? Would you be willing to share your week, ideas, resources with others? Let us know!
Jay Higham is a veteran youth worker of over 28 years; having worked with students in the local church and Christian camping settings. Jay is currently serving as the director of family ministry at a church, located in West Virginia. Jay has been married to Amy for over 23 years. Together, they are raising 5 kids, (4 boys and 1 girl). Jay is an aspiring author, blogger, speaker, vlogger, and social media junkie. He is passionate about student ministry, family ministry, and training youth workers to love and serve their students with passion and excellence.