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How we created generous youth

If you have worked with young people for any amount of time, you’ve learned that, well, they’re pretty selfish. No, not all of them. There are a few rarities that have a heart to give, sacrifice and serve. But let’s be honest, that’s not the norm. At least it wasn’t in our group.  Years ago, we had the typical group of teens and pre-teens who, for the most part, thought only of themselves. We knew something had to change if we were serious about recreating the heart of Jesus in a, “What about me?” culture.

The final straw for me came right after a disappointing response to a back-to-school supply drive. Despite the heavy promotion and “change the world” presentation, the result was the same as past missional attempts… poor. I was deflated. Why don’t these kids care? Where’s the desire to impact the world? So, I did what any good leader would, or should, do. I quit blaming the kids and evaluated our program. I mean good, thorough, scary, HONEST evaluation. What we saw wasn’t good.

Here’s what we found.

  1. Our past projects primarily revolved around the obligatory giving holiday times. What happened was that we ended up with, “Seasonal Givers,” which taught kids to give only during the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Jesus didn’t wait until His birthday to fight the crowds to give that perfect gift.
  1. Our other attempts were sudden, rare and HUGE! We would hit them out of nowhere with a cause bigger than the world itself. We would give an inspiring message, show frightening stats, sad pictures and then announce a “Spirit-led” goal that was bound to fail. Before you start to write your, “Why do you have such little faith?” reply, let me assure you that yes, we are an Ephesians 3:20 church. We believe God can do far beyond what our little group could imagine. But, we also didn’t give reality a fair place in our plan and left kids with another, “We fell a little short” experience.

So, one day, God sparked an idea in my heart. Baby steps! It was so simple, so elementary that I almost refused it. In fact, when I shared it with my team some of them actually suggested it would never work. They felt even in its simplicity, kids would never do it. But, we knew we had to change the DNA of our ministry. We knew we had to do something, so we tried it. And it worked! I mean REALLY worked!

Ready for this? Here’s all we did.

We gave it a title.

It needed to be simple so kids could grasp it. So, we just called it the “Help Ministry.” Yep, that’s it. We made a simple logo and had it printed up on small tithing envelopes. We bought a clear plastic bin with a slot in the top and put it on the stage. And here was our profound introductory presentation: “Every week I want you to put just one dollar in an envelope and drop it in this bin. We have “X” amount of kids every week. If each of you give just one dollar, at the end of the month we will have “X” amount of dollars. We’re gonna take that money and give it to someone who needs our help.”

That on-ramp was the start to one of the biggest programs our group has ever created. It quickly went from one dollar to two. Eventually, we started seeing fives and tens. Parents were telling me that their kids were asking them for chores to raise money for the “Help ministry” (and asking if there really was such a thing). Kids were bringing me stories of people that we might be able to help. It was happening!

Keep Students Informed

One of the ways we make this effective and exciting is by keeping them informed. Every time we deliver a check to a family, without naming them, we stand on stage and say “This month you helped a family keep their electric on, buy school clothes, etc.” At times we’ve read a note the recipient gave us to share their gratitude. It’s an amazing feeling to watch formerly selfish kids cheer and clap when they hear what they have done to impact real lives. Oh, and another thing is, we prefer these families or individuals not even be part of our own church or even a believer! We don’t want our kids to think, “Church people” are the only ones deserving of church compassion.

We’ve even begun a spin-off ministry called H.O.T.R (Help On The Road). We’ve taken funds and gone out into the community to physically work with Habitat For Humanity, purchase materials and work on someone’s aging home, and provide bikes for a small housing area. Everything has changed for us.

Demonstrate the Collective Power of the Church

In my opinion, one of the greatest things this ministry has done is teach them the collective power of the church. We’ve shown them what happens when God’s people come together to live out the Great Commission in Matthew 28. We’ve shown them how simple, how exciting and how contagious a selfless heart can be.

I can’t guarantee this works for your group. In fact, not every single kid is on board with us yet. But we can smile at the progress we’ve made and how God has begun to change these young hearts. We just had to meet them where they were and go back to baby steps. Sometimes the “Simple” will be the biggest difference maker. It was for us.


earlEarl Henning has spent the last 15 years at Cypress Point Community Church in Tampa, Florida as the full-time Youth Pastor, Young Adults Pastor and leads the Care Ministry. He has been married to Nicholle for almost 23 years, has 2 amazing daughters who are attending college, and a brand new mini-Dachsund! He’s passionate about family, playing music, gym-time and has a Converse collection that’s borderline “obsessive”.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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