When someone tells me their students are doing a service project, I can almost tell you it will involve one of four things – collecting something like food, raking leaves or other yard work, painting or the ever popular “working with kids”. Now there is nothing wrong with those service projects, except they rarely require students to stretch and grow. In fact, most kids have done these projects so many times, that by their late teens they can do them without thinking at all.
Service without thinking is a huge problem. As Christians, we hope having young people serve will accomplish several goals – all of which require the participant to think and process what is happening. One of our biggest stated goals is for the server to grow spiritually from the service – and that will require quite a bit of thinking.
There are a lot of things you need to do to prepare a service experience for your students that will help them grow spiritually. One relatively easy way to add meaning is to make the project more creative, requiring students to problem solve and process what happens along the way.
Even if you are not the most creative person in the world, you can find ways to meet the felt needs of the people you are serving and step outside of the normal four ways young people are usually asked to serve. Gather a few people – preferably even some of your students – to help you answer the following questions and see if you can’t make the service experience more meaningful for your students.
- What felt need of the recipient needs to be met? (Usually, what the person would say their need is: for example “fixing up my house”.)
- What core need of the recipient needs to be met? (Usually, an unstated need causing the stated need: for example, the person may be unable to read thereby unqualified for well paying jobs that would allow him/her to pay for house repairs.)
- What are any special spiritual growth needs of your students? (Are several struggling with patience, joy, seeing God at work or some other area of spiritual growth?)
- Is the felt need of the recipient essential or merely a way of attempting to meet the core need? (For example: an older lonely person may say they need free meals, when what they may really want and need is the company and attention of the person bringing the meal.)
- Is there a more creative, interactive or meaningful way of meeting the core need? Consider using Pinterest for ideas and write down any that come to mind even if they seem a little silly at first. (For example: the older person who asks for help around the yard, but can actually afford to pay someone and really wants the company, might have her needs met better by picking her and some other older women up and hosting a special tea party for them where they share their memories with young people.)
- If the felt need is essential, is there a more creative way of doing the project or a way of adding meaning to it? (For example: asked to paint a wall at a children’s home, would it be possible to paint a meaningful mural instead on the wall?)
- Considering the ideas generated above, which will best meet the felt and core needs of both the recipient and the volunteers?
It’s important not to get so creative you actually do more harm than good. Adding some creativity to your service though can add meaning to the experience for both the volunteers and the recipients. Adding these steps to the planning process will also encourage volunteers and planners to be more mindful when serving others. If you have found some creative ways to serve others and share your faith, I would love for you to share your ideas. I’m sure others can benefit from your experience.