image description

The Famine Blog

Changing For the Better


By Katie Swift

Change can be hard, but it can be so worth it. The 30 Hour Famine is going through a little change itself – moving onto a new team with some new folks working on it – and I think it’s going to be a change for the better for this program. The Famine has been on so many different teams, with so many wonderful people working on it over the years, but I think this shift is going to be really good.

I should probably introduce myself – I’m one of those lucky people who now gets to work on the 30 Hour Famine! I’m Katie Swift, and I’m so excited to serve as the new 30 Hour Famine National Director. I feel like this job has been decades in the making for me. I did the 30 Hour Famine for the first time as a student almost 20 years ago, and it was one of the first things in my life that opened my eyes to God’s call to care for the poor. I believe that my 30 Hour Famine experience strongly influenced my decision to study development aid in college, to study abroad in Ghana (a little less popular than a semester in Europe!), and to eventually go on to work for World Vision and the 30 Hour Famine. In my seven years at World Vision, this is actually my third time to be on the Famine Team! In between those times, I’ve been working in other areas of the organization, learning a lot about the work we do, both in the field with the children we serve, and in the US with the churches and families that we partner with to do God’s work in this world.

As a teenager doing the Famine, God broke my heart for the poor and called me to do what I could to care for the most vulnerable in our world. I know from experience that the 30 Hour Famine can be a transformational experience for youth – one that will inspire them, challenge them, bring them closer to God, and possibly even influence the trajectory of their lives like it did for me. I am so excited to be working in a role where I can help steward that experience for your youth.

I know it might seem like we’re always changing things up with this team. We are constantly working to improve our organizational efficacy, and sometimes that involves moving teams around to different places in the organization. This time, the 30 Hour Famine team is moving to where it has belonged all along – the Church Team (seems like a no-brainer, right?)! I am so excited about how this change will improve the program. We’ll have more people working on Famine than we have in the last few years, which means more creative ideas, more out-of-the box thinking, and more support for you as a youth leader! This change will also allow us some much-needed synergy with our other church programs, which will hopefully help your whole church be more engaged with what God is doing through your youth group and World Vision.

Even though we’re only a few weeks into this transition, we’re already working hard on getting the 2018 kit out the door to you and starting to brainstorm about 2019 and beyond! If you have ideas you want to share or feedback you think would be helpful as we work through this, please reach out. I would love to hear how the 30 Hour Famine has been transformational in your youth group, what you love, what we can do better, and whatever else you want to tell us!

Your dedication to your youth and to their spiritual transformation is so inspiring to me and our team. As I take on this role, my prayer is that we can equip you to disciple your youth, that the 30 Hour Famine will help your students grow closer to God and His heart for the poor, and that together we can bring hope (and food!) to the one in nine people in our world who are hungry.

I Don’t Love the Famine, But I Love the Famine


By Erin Betlej

The first time I ever participated in the 30 Hour Famine I was a 22 year old youth volunteer. It was beautifully awful. Four churches came together for this huge event – games, worship, cardboard city, and of course, no eating. As most of us youth ministers like to do, there was also tolerable torture. Saturday before we broke the fast we baked what felt like 50 dozen cookies for a prison ministry on an empty stomach. I remember feeling listless, unable to make decisions or focus on anything for any length of time, irritable, and weak from hunger. As a newly graduated Master of Social Work student, a close-to-home realization hit me: this is how many of my clients feel. It was no wonder my homeless day shelter folks couldn’t stay away, fill out a job application, or even motivate themselves to move. They were hungry, exhausted from sleeping outside, and focusing on simply surviving. It wasn’t the intended learning of the Famine event, yet it was one I’ve continued to remember almost ten years later.

After that Famine experience I wasn’t looking to repeat it. Ever. So when I found out that the youth ministry at my current church does a 30 Hour Famine, I was less than thrilled (just being honest with you!). But we did it. And here are the two main reasons I will continue to do it: student leadership opportunities and modeling.

Our 30 Hour Famine event cannot and does not happen without involvement from a group of student leaders. They plan everything: fundraising, the schedule of the event, worship during the event, games, and the ‘fact’ focus. They work together to develop a “marketing” strategy to engage the congregation and the youth group in the event. In order to educate the congregation, they film videos, write announcements, and paint canvases with hunger information on them to help people understand why they are fasting. During the event itself, they lead different parts of the time together and lead during the worship services. Without student leaders, our 30 Hour Famine doesn’t get planned or even happen at all. It’s my favorite part of the 30 Hour Famine. Working with students and helping to develop leadership skills is one of the key reasons to host your own 30 Hour Famine.

It’s not easy to host any event like this, even more so when you’re fasting. I will continue to fast during the 30 Hour Famine because my youth are watching me. Often we share with our student’s struggles, challenges, and adversities we encounter throughout life. We use these as teaching moments. Fasting alongside your youth is in itself a teaching moment. Fasting is hard and youth need to know that you’re willing to do hard things with them. They will watch how you deal with being hungry, tired, short tempered, and irritable. It’s a beautiful time to model behavior and responses for your youth. It’s also an opportunity to call out when you’ve messed up because of the hunger. The conversations this shared experience creates is worth every hunger pain.

I’m sure some of you absolutely love every aspect of the 30 Hour Famine. Honestly, that’s not me. It may not be my favorite event coming up on our youth calendar in 2018, but it’s one I won’t remove or change, because I’ve seen the impact over and over again. I hope you’ll plan on a 2018 Famine with your group also!

Who Will Lead Us?


By Shawn Kiger

A few weeks ago while I was eating my cereal one morning, I turned on the TV, and the news was on. Usually in the morning I watch SportsCenter; but this morning I just left it on the news. In case you didn’t know, there seems to be a divide in our country, and more and more people are taking sides. If you scroll through social media, usually both sides are not very nice to each other. Lots of name calling and blame to go around, even by our political leaders. But the reporter on TV that morning had an interesting question that got me thinking. The question was, “Who is going to lead us to come together when there is so much distrust in our political leaders on both sides?” The country is so polarized politically no one trusts anyone from the other side. So if we are ever going to come together, who is going to lead us?

I think for us, as Christians, the answer should be easy. The church should be leading the way, and in some ways, I think we’re doing just that. Every Sunday during worship this is easy to see. My church (and probably most churches) has many people that would fall on each side of the political divide. But on Sunday morning, you would not be able to tell. We come together to worship God. We put our differences aside to sing, pray, give, and learn. When there are people in need in our community, we never ask who they voted for.  We only ask how we can help. God created the church to bring people together for one purpose: to love and serve our God and our neighbor. That is still the mission today and is so needed in our country. But for the church to lead the way in bringing our country together, we must model what we do on Sundays every day of the week. We must model what we do in worship when we are on social media, when we are talking to our friends about the other side, and in how we treat others who disagree with us. Because we, as Christians, are the church and we must teach others through our actions and words every day of the week.

The church is also poised to bring people together in times when people are suffering. Whether that is during a natural disaster, or with the ongoing suffering many in our world endure. The church has always rallied people together to respond to the most vulnerable among us by supporting organizations such has World Vision. I have seen many times people who disagree politically work together to help someone in need. This is so needed in our world today and the church needs to continue to lead the way.

Some say the church has become irrelevant, but I think we need the church as much today as we ever have. We need Sunday worship to teach us how we should live in community with others we disagree with. Then, we need to take what we learn and apply it to our everyday lives. Maybe this shift could start in your youth ministry.

I Hate Fall


By Dan Berggren, outgoing 30 Hour Famine program director

I hate Fall.

It’s nothing against Fall, it’s more about grieving the loss of summer. I live in Seattle. It rains in Seattle…a lot. If you live here, you know it’s a thing.

Change happens and Fall arrives no matter how much I want summer to last. However, it also brings renewal. New students, new programs, new parents, new volunteers. There is so much change in the Fall and it’s good.

This Fall also brings a change for me personally. God has called me to a new role at World Vision. I’m heartbroken and excited at the same time. Excited to grow with a new opportunity. Heartbroken for leaving the 30 Hour Famine, students and leaders that I’ve grown to love over the past 5 ½ years. You all are a crew of crazy, coffee-drinking, snarky t-shirt wearing, flip flop lovin’, pizza eating, late-night planners. You’re also the most generous, caring, risk-taking, thoughtful and loving people that I’ve ever known.

I’m ecstatic for you and the 30 Hour Famine in 2018! As I write this, we’re wrapping up the brand-new resources and they are incredible. The new materials have an awesome curriculum leading up to and post-Famine to prepare your students for the Famine like never before. There are new games and new videos that will expose you to young lives around the world in ways that will both shock you and bring you out of your seat! Most importantly, it will impact your students in deeper and more meaningful ways and that flat out gets me off-the-charts excited! I’m in for big changes in 2018 and so are you and your students with a brand-new set of 2018 resources…BE HUNGRY!

I simply can’t thank you enough for loving and pouring yourselves into the lives of your students. I love you all.

Peeking Into The Future


By Danny Kwon

I am sure that like many other youth workers this time of year is busy. I noticed recently on social media that many of my youth worker friends are taking their teenagers on retreats this month. Thanksgiving is next week and I am wondering if that means some special youth group activities. Then there is December. That month isn’t easy. With Christmas, in our youth group, it means a Christmas party, practicing for a youth group choir that performs Christmas day for our church, and a winter retreat. Throw in all the personal stuff that we all have to tend to, and December will be a busy month.

Whether your next few weeks will be extremely packed or not, I believe it is worth it at this time of the year to take a peek into your youth ministry calendar for next year. Perhaps that may be an overwhelming task and a huge burden, but I think it will be very beneficial. And when a year from now rolls around, you will be thankful. Ultimately, the most important reason I suggest you do this now, even for a few hours, is to assess your programs and activities, to consider their effectiveness and efficiency. In studies of effective organizations, the best organizations do this on a continual basis. For those of us in youth ministry, next year may be the last thing on your mind right now. However, doing it now can be proactive step so we don’t just head into next year, and as we get into busy times during certain times of the year, don’t get bogged down into our calendars, blindly do what we have done year to year, which may not be effective or efficient.

Here are three things I suggest you consider NOW, peeking into next year:

  1. What to Cut. I was reminded of some youth group activities I may cut out next year after reading the blog post about “Program Overload” from our 30 Hour Famine blog last week. Peeking into next year now, it can really be helpful to help solve “program overload.” For myself, in the years that I did not take even just a little time to look at next year’s youth group activities and evaluate different programs and activities we did in the past year, I have found that most of the things our youth group did the subsequent year just wound up creeping up on me during that year. And as the time approached for our youth group to do that program or activity, I just changed the date/year on the announcement, just doing whatever we did the prior year.

However, taking a peek now at next year’s schedule will help you prevent things such as “program overload.” Instead of just doing things because you did it the year before, you can take a little time now, to think about things that worked, didn’t work, activities that you no longer need to do, activities that your teenagers are no longer that excited about. If it is no longer needed, then perhaps it’s time to cut it out of your schedule. Doing things in your youth ministry out of tradition is fine, but sometimes, things are no longer effective, and it may be time to consider cutting them out now.

  1. What to Tweak. Taking a peek at next year’s schedule can also help you evaluate activities that you need to adjust. For our group, I know we always do a one day service activity on the Friday/Saturday before Easter Sunday, along with our 30 Hour Famine, when many of the local schools in our area have spring break. For many years, we just continually did a church clean-up day as part of our Famine weekend, which was good for many years. However, I realized that it was getting routine and boring in recent years. In addition, I thought some of the spiritual benefits of it were getting lost. A couple years ago, as I peeked into the next year’s plans, I intentionally made the decision to change this. It helped me (perhaps forced me), to begin to think about different locations and places we would serve the next year, because I made it part of my intentional plan to tweak our service location. In other words, it was put on my radar as something important, and eventually I found a ministry that our youth group could partner with during Easter weekend. I can tell you that if I wasn’t intentional about it the year before, about a month before Easter most likely, as our 30 Hour Famine materials were being distributed, I probably would have just set up a clean-up day at our church like we always did. The calendar would have just crept up on me, and I would have just settled for the most convenient thing, which was to do what we did last year.  Looking back, I am sure glad we made a switch. Moreover, the intentionality the year before, to tweak our day of service had enabled us to partner with some tremendous churches and organization to serve our communities, outside our church. Ultimately, it has made me realize the importance of program evaluation, as a means of new and greater opportunities, even if it is just a tweak that our youth group would have otherwise missed out upon.
  1. What to Keep. Of course there things in your youth ministry that you probably want to keep. For our group, one of those things is our fall girl’s powderpuff football game, where our guys do a cheerleading competition. It is a day of great fun for our youth group, where students have great fellowship, and where youth group unity is promoted. Of course, every year, it is a lot of work and takes a lot of help and volunteers. In fact, it has gotten so big, sometimes I don’t want to do it anymore. However, thinking about it at the end of each year, it gives me some time to evaluate the importance of this activity, its purpose, and the impact and joy it promotes in our youth ministry, and subsequently why we need to keep it as part of our youth group. Moreover, in considering why we keep this activity, while I do sometimes dread the hard work and hours it takes to pull it off, in evaluating why we keep this activity, it does help me as a youth worker see the greater purpose and rationale of why we do this every year.

In the end, I want to add that I am no “Lone Ranger.” Hence, taking time NOW to do some program evaluation can and should be something you do with your ministry team. If you can take one meeting, even for just an hour or two to sit with your ministry team and look over next year’s calendar and consider what to cut, what to tweak, and what to keep, I believe the time now, will be of great benefit now…and then.

Planning Beyond 30 Hour Famine: Encouraging Students To See Their Call To Love Locally, As Well As Globally


By Bobby Benavides

For many youth leaders, the 30 Hour Famine is a wonderful way to encourage their students to think beyond their circumstances, and see that there are people around the world struggling to eat or have access to clean water. It’s a great opportunity to teach students to love their neighbors beyond the borders.

It is an eye opening experience for many and it challenges them to move outside of their comfort zone into an unfamiliar situation. It will also allow the leaders to educate the students on global issues. The activities and projects planned will develop a deeper connection, for many, with the plight of children and families globally. It is truly a great opportunity for spiritual growth.

The question that needs to be asked by leaders guiding the event is, “What’s next?”

It is important to think beyond the Famine. It is a great opportunity for students and leaders to grow together and push through hunger, but what happens after the event is over?

Students need to be reminded that, although they spent 30 hours focusing their mind and heart on people lacking food, the need doesn’t disappear after 30 hours is past.

Another idea students should be encouraged to work through is the struggle of peers and families in their direct contact.

The Famine event shines light on global poverty and hunger. It enlightens us to the needs of people around the world who are in unfortunate and painful circumstances. It also shows how World Vision is doing a great work through events like the Famine to eradicate hunger in our lifetime.

After the Famine, we as leaders, need to take time to emphasize the hardships and struggle around us.

How can we encourage our students to care for the hunger and poverty our local neighbors experience daily?

Here are some tangible ways to encourage your students and leaders to think beyond the famine:

  1. SET UP A CANNED FOOD DRIVE: This can actually happen during the Famine. When you encourage students to not only collect money for the famine, but also collect canned food to donate to food pantries and homeless shelters nearby, you keep their hearts and minds focused on global and local issues.
  2. GUEST SPEAKER: During the Famine, or the Sunday following, invite a director of a mission or shelter to come and discuss the issues in and around your neighborhood. If you don’t know one, do some research on local statistics and share the needs.
  3. SERVE AT A SHELTER: Find a shelter to serve in. Do this during a time that isn’t “normal” (i.e. Christmas or Thanksgiving), and find ways to encourage students to write cards or letters of encouragement to leave at the shelter. Ask the shelter for their needs and challenge your group to meet some, if not all, of them.

These three activities could all happen during the Famine event, but it is important to encourage your students to think beyond the 30 Hour Famine activity.

It is too easy to get back into our usual activities and lessons and wait until next year to discuss hunger and poverty. We need to be intentional about pushing our students to acknowledge the needs that occur regularly, all around us, and respond to what we see.

May your students be encouraged, yet challenged. May you lead beyond the Famine, to continue motivating your students to serve for the glory of Jesus daily.

A Reminder from a Minor Inconvenience


By Amanda Leavitt

Last night, as one girl burst into youth group she blurted out: “The water in our town is contaminated! You can’t drink it!” We hit her with a barrage of questions that were all unsatisfactorily answered by her response: “Can’t drink it. It’s contaminated. My dad told me. That’s all I know.” Then my phone dinged announcing a text from a parent: “There is a boil water warning…” One question answered; to drink the water, we have to boil it. As we started eating our snacks my phone dinged again, this time announcing a voicemail from the water company and all our questions answered; too much rain caused all the water in the region to have “high turbidity.” (Don’t be embarrassed, the woman on the message had a hard time pronouncing it too.) “Turbidity” means the water tests at the plant were cloudy. So, we, the citizens of this region, must boil water to, in short, not get an amoeba. Currently, it is a 2-day boil water advisory.

So, last night, as a mom was dropping her kids off, I asked her to pick up some water bottles for us so we didn’t “die of thirst” at our two-hour youth group meeting after we ate ice cream Sundays and trivia prize candy. After youth group, I went home and boiled up some water from the tap, as I waited for it to boil, I munched on some very salty chips and sucked on ice cubes made from pre-amoeba-risk water, to wash down the salt. This morning I have a huge pot of safe drinking water on my stove top, and I’m currently sipping from a glass of clear amoeba free water on my coffee table. Boiling water is magical.

For some this boil water advisory is like, well, a couple of our local schools are closed because of it, that’s what it’s like. It freaks people out that our standard tap water might be briefly contaminated. I will admit, it IS pretty annoying, because you have to boil the water before you wash dishes too, and boil the water you brush your teeth with, and when you shower you feel like Jackie Chan as you ninja through washing your hair and face without getting water in your mouth. We are not accustomed to this level of cognition surrounding our water usage. On the other hand, let’s be real, this is amazing. It’s just 48 hours of hassle, maybe a little longer, since it is STILL raining here. It is also, like I said before, magical; all we have to do is boil the water, and we are good. AND last night all I had to do was say “Hey Mom, please bring me some water bottles…” and BOOM, water, in our hands, pre-packaged, amoeba-free goodness for all.

Now, here I am over here on the 30 Hour Famine Blog, talking about our ice cream, candy, tortilla chips, ice cubes, bottled water, the clean boiled water on my stove top in the other room, and our “dirty” water school cancelation days. I am actually having one of those “this is my charmed life” moments (no sarcasm here). This is a snapshot of the blessed simplicity in my life, and it is what I want to share today. This description is such a picture of the privilege in my life, in my students’ lives. And…describing this as inconvenience on this blog is almost laughable because of who and what the 30 Hour Famine experience is designed to open our students’ eyes and empathy and resources to, but it’s an important picture. If we have clean water, or in my case today, if we have water we can purify with a quick boil using easy access kitchen utilities, then we’ve got privilege, which can provide a platform to help someone in need. Alongside ministry moments like the 30 Hour Famine, learning to take these “charmed life” mental snap shots in the midst of inconvenience will help kids recognize their privileges and the platforms they have to help people. This practice of looking past our own inconveniences will empower our students to live lives of personal contentment and wild creative generosity in the name of Jesus.

Program Overload


By Anonymous

As I sit down to write this blog post, I am taking a couple deep breaths as a wave of panic continues to rush over me because I just realized that my blog post deadline was… YESTERDAY! Completely putting aside what I was planning to write on, I am moving instead toward a question that has been on my mind for quite a while now—are we doing too much and yet, somehow not doing enough?

As I sit here now, my office is cluttered with basketball registration forms, uniforms that need to be updated, children’s church attendance sheets, fundraiser miscellany, residual Fall Festival games/decorations/pumpkins that need to be put way before that one church lady chides me for a messy office, Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes that need to be packed, a notebook with our big January retreat program information that has not even been cracked open, a children’s Christmas program that I’ve got to cram into December somewhere (along with caroling, parties, and all the other stuff we try to cram in) and two calendars that get dates put on them (but obviously aren’t looked at enough to keep track of when things are due)! I know that all of these things have value in some way, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on how to whittle away the fluff and focus on what is truly meaningful for the lives of the people we serve! The truth is: I have so much on my plate that I don’t have time to whittle away the fluff. I know that I need to take time away to re-focus and re-charge, but (to be honest) when I have time off the last thing I want to think about is church stuff. I am positive that many other ministry leaders out there are in the exact same boat.

Less is more. Less is more. Less is more. I’m not sure when I will actually learn this. I spent a year working alongside other youth ministers as a part of a Youth Ministry Coaching Program cohort and this was my mantra then. Obviously, it did not sink in; but it must. Too many of us burn out too quickly because we are doing what the church wants us to do and barely leaving time for what God wants us to do.

So, what do we do? I wish I had some magical answers for us all. It is clear that I may be in no position to give advice, but I can tell you what I plan to start doing for myself.

  1. TALK IT OUT—Sometimes I find myself feeling so overwhelmed that can’t breathe. I talk to God, to my husband, to my sister, my ministry friends. And suddenly it doesn’t seem like too much to handle. I take a beat and reflect with the help of others. No one can do everything on their own.
  2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK—If you gain nothing else from this post than a resounding “ME TOO” feeling, then my mission has been accomplished. Ministry is not easy. There are no perfect formulas. Suggestions are not imperatives—just because someone says we should do something, doesn’t mean we have to. This one is a biggie for me!
  3. BE STILL—Jesus was known for taking time away, especially before and after a big event. How can we know what direction God wants us to go in, if we aren’t taking time to listen to Him? Take a day or week (not vacation) to re-focus, to listen, and to align with God’s call for you in the area of ministry that you serve.
  4. DON’T GIVE UP—What we do as ministers is important work, even if what we are currently doing doesn’t feel that important. Take time (#3) to figure out how to make the areas that seem less meaningful…become more so; or, get rid of them…cast a vision with your congregation, your students, and parents about how you want to lead. There will probably be some push back, but sometimes growth is painful (just ask the teenagers that you work with).
  5. ALLOW ROOM FOR TEENAGERS TO DO NOTHING—They are often overwhelmed too. I planned a lock-In a few weeks back for my high school youth. I had lots of different things planned, but when it came down to it, when spent the night playing cards, playing a whole lot of sardines (of course), and just sitting around talking with each other. I went home and told my husband that I felt like we did nothing all night; but, they had a blast. I need to remember that sometimes a lack of structure is not a terrible thing. Sometimes, it’s exactly what everyone needs!

Those who have the most programs do not always win even though it may seem that way sometimes. I have found over the more than ten years I’ve been doing this ministry thing that the most meaningful ministry moments are often the ones that happen when I least expect it, and have very little to do with flashy programming or perfectly run events. Moving forward, I am challenging myself to focus on a ministry that has more depth than width. I challenge you to do the same!

Was I Really Hungry?


By Grant Byrd

I remember a long, long time ago traveling to my grandparents’ house around Christmas. It was a six hour drive and for some reason mom (the planner) didn’t pack snacks or a lunch. We looked for a place to eat and nothing was open.  So it was a forever wait (for a seven-year-old) to get food in my belly.  We finally found a sketchy fried chicken place that was open. I left absolutely nothing on the bones of that chicken. Now looking back, my wait was maybe four hours past my regular mealtime, which normally occurred like clockwork, 3 times a day, every day.  Boy, what a tough life.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to travel to many places where hunger is real.  Places that celebrate one meal a day. Places that have never had a full belly like I experience every day.  God has opened my eyes to see the needs of so many around the world and how I am blessed to bless others.  When I was younger, I didn’t know better; but now I do.  I can do something.  Not only can I do something like supporting our sponsored children, but I also can educate my students to the world around them.

That is where 30 Hour Famine comes in. It changes my students. It opens their eyes to see that they can do something to change lives. They can make a difference.  With the focus on others, their hunger is concentrated not on themselves, but on the hard lives that so many around the world face daily.  When my students get their eyes off themselves, God opens their eyes to see the needs that he has equipped them to meet.

30 Hour Famine has stirred up something in my students nearly every year. Some of them continue to give and raise money for the hungry around the world.  From their suggestion, we have changed the names of our rooms in the youth area from just boring numbers to country names so we can keep the world on their heart. Instead of “201” we call it “Zambia” and have flags of the country over the door.  This is just one idea that my students have come up with as their eyes are opened to the wonderful people of the world that God made.  My hope is that the students in my group, and the students in yours, will be used by God to impact the world!

“Never tell a young person something is impossible. God may have been waiting centuries for someone ignorant of the impossible to come along and do that very thing!”   -G. M. Trevelyan

Love Your Whole Church


By Alex Ruzanic

I am struck by the simple things in life. The comfort of a good shoe, the heat of a fire, the beauty of a full moon at night. I love keeping things simple and not complicated. One of the things that keeps my ministry simple is caring about the congregation I work with. I am talking about loving ALL the people in my church even though I am called to be the youth pastor. When I was younger I didn’t realize the amazing impact caring about the whole congregation would have on the ministry God had called me to. But in the last decade I have been blown away by the impact that this simple shift has had. So today I am encouraging you to develop a ministry of care and love for everyone in the congregation God has called you to be part of.

In youth ministry it’s very easy to focus solely on the youth we work with. Some of us might even care about the parents, who may be our harshest critics or our biggest fans – either way, loving them is an integral part of youth ministry. Loving students and parents is just the tip of the iceberg, though. What I’m talking about is loving the entirety of the congregation. Developing relationships with folks in your church that have nothing directly to do with youth ministry may seem like something you just don’t have time for. But I’m saying: make the time – it WILL BE worth it.

This might seem odd but I’ve discovered a key principle here: When I love the wider church body I am a more effective youth worker. It may sound simple but loving the overtired parents of a toddler by entertaining their kid during coffee hour, or sitting and talking with an elderly parishioner when they stop by mid-week right in the middle of the time you were planning on scheduling your spring season isn’t always easy. Yes, the task itself may be simple; but sometimes it’s the simple things that trip us up. Loving people like this requires intentionality and, let’s be honest, there are times when we feel tapped out, like there is no more of us to go around. I get that. But let me share how this has worked for me.

You start small – do events with other ministries from time to time and focus on building relationships. In youth ministry we talk about how incarnational and relationship-focused we are…so just transfer that philosophy to everyone in the church. I send our cards (yes, physical cards) to older members, to say I am praying and caring about what is happening in their world. This breaks down walls and allows natural and wonderful relationships to occur.

And guess what else happens? Folks from the congregation start to care about the youth and begin to understand what we are doing, because when we have a relationship with with them we talk about what we love…undoubtedly it is the youth of our church. By spreading our nets a little wider by genuinely caring about them we end up with relationships that are good for us as well.

There are so many folks that ask me about what is happening in youth ministry, or what is happening in my family or in my world. I feel prayed and cared for. The youth of our church also feel cared for in bigger and better ways. They feel connected to our church as a whole because the groundwork has been laid for intergenerational relationships to develop. Students will watch what we do and will often follow our lead. Relationships blossom and good things will happen.

Why do I do this? It is important to connect with your church and not just be on an island as a youth worker. Since I’ve been working on this idea I have seen great things take place. When I am working on outreach I involve the church as a whole and I gain momentum and encouragement. Because of the simple act of caring for people none of this is forced, it’s natural. The whole church has become committed to supporting the youth ministry. When we give love and commitment we get love and commitment – often times it’s really that simple!