So, as I had mentioned in an earlier post about a week ago I went to Princeton to help consult on what it would look like to implement a philanthropic initiative in the local church. Princeton is utilizing a model provided by the non-profit, "Giving Point" in Atlanta, GA. They are trying to see how a similar model might work in the local church. The plan is to provide a week long academy experience that will help students with philanthropic ideas to execute on their vision. I would like to explain what this looks like in my church. The initiative below represents what I would call my second innovation in our youth ministry. The whole thing could go down in flames, but it is looking really promising. See what you think!?
About a year ago I decided that I was fed up with Sunday School as I knew it for our high school students. I had tried everything. We had done curriculums on justice. That was okay. We tried organizing small groups, but the consistency of the student and leader attendance was low. We had some luck with Confirmation and with Sexuality courses, but it was fleeting. I was tired of helping students to think and live missionally only through doing a work service trip once a year. I started to wonder if we couldn't engage students more powerfully by empowering them to enact Kingdom justice instead of just learning about it. So we started what we call, "The Project".
First, we gathered the students around learning and conversation. I told the students that the objective was for them to develop an idea to serve the larger community and that in order to do it, we would need them to actively participate and lead. We began reading excerpts of Robert Lupton's, "Toxic Charity" and watched the video series, "Poverty Inc." Both of these look at how the church's ham fisted attempts at helping our neighbor have often done more harm than good. In particular we focused in on Lupton's 6 principles of compassionate service.
Next, we looked in depth at the various charities in our communities to see if any of their missions grabbed the students' attention or hearts. We also wanted to see if there were ways that we could adequately serve these organizations. At this point we had about 8-12 students in the room (out of about 35 high schoolers at our church). What we found is that while our students liked some of the organizations, often those organizations often did not have service opportunities that aligned with the schedules of our students or numbers. We estimated that we would get 20-25 students to show up for a service project and most groups couldn't handle that number. Even if they could they could only do so occasionally and our students didn't want to do "hit and run" ministry. The kind where we show up, work, and take off.
From there the students decided that since outside organizations didn't seem to fit our mission that we should look specifically at things that the church was already engaged in. In the end they decided that they wanted to focus on our neighborhood middle school that we know as "Mac". This process of learning and thinking took about 4 months and when summer hit we were forced to take a break simply due to our summer schedule at the church.
When the Fall came around we re-launched the whole thing with a video clip home to parents and a couple of emails. We made scripture a priority and began each session with about 15 minutes of bible study related to mission and justice. Then we dove in to an agenda. Here is when things took off. I am just going to list these in bullet points.
1. Once students knew they were actually going to DO something and be in charge, they started to show up. 9:00 a.m. suddenly didn't seem so early. We now average about 18-20 students per week.
2. Adults got interested. I simply invited them to come and watch what we were doing. Pretty soon I was going out of town and they were helping to facilitate. We went from 1-2 showing up sporadically to 4 committed adults with another 2-3 engaged around the edges. One of them just wandered in one Sunday because he had heard about what we were doing. Another one just hangs around before class starts because he is so interested. We keep asking the question, "Who do we need in the room?" My goal is currently for the class to stop being a high school Sunday School and instead become "The Project". I see a place where adults and students work together to seek out God's justice. I want this class to discern the missional calling for the WHOLE church and not just the youth group. I think teenagers can do it with enough focus, prayer, and some adult encouragement. My suspicion is that adults will continue to want to be a part of that.
3. We did outreach. We have had the local school Community Coordinator in to speak with the students so that they can start to get a grasp on what is really going on at the school. They plan to have others in the class over the next few weeks. Principals, counselors, and teachers. It's kind of a weekly design thinking brainstorm.
4. We gave them roles. Together the students helped develop certain key officer roles that help the meetings go forward each week. They elected their peers and those peers set the agenda, manage the budget, take notes, do grunt work, and work the problem that is in front of us. The moment we elected officers I moved myself from the front of the room to the side and eventually to the back. They are in charge. Each week they learn important lessons about leading a group. It's great. We didn't want it too formal and serious (since this is a youth ministry venture) so we developed better titles for each of their roles.
A. Czar (This explains the hat above. I bought these for our fearless leaders!)
B. Vice Czar
C. Secretaries of Defense (Takes notes)
D. KGB (Adults that supervise and offer input as needed)
E. Queen of Coin (Treasurer)
F. The Peasants
5. We Threw Mud at the Wall. Once we had the location of our mission and started to look at the issues they were facing we told the students to Dream Big. We challenged them to answer the question, "How would you solve this host of problems if I gave you $100,000?" I happen to believe that $100,000 is a very achievable number. The stuff they came up with was amazing! They tackled distribution problems, looked at solar solutions, and have even considered buying a laundro-mat and combine it with a tutoring center. I am telling you, this is the best stuff I have ever heard of and it is impressive to watch this.