Intergenerational Service Trips

I’ve been in youth ministry for over 5 years and this past weekend I got to experience something brand new to me in ministry. Our church took a group of 37 people, Jr High students and their parents, down to Mexico for a faith adventure.

In the last five-plus years I’ve been part of dozens of camps, retreats, trips, and events. Summer camp has always been the focus of ministry calendars that I’ve helped shape. I believe so deeply in the power and importance of students experiencing a week of summer camp. 

As I was processing this past weekend I started thinking a lot about Sticky Faith. If you’re in youth ministry you most likely know that Sticky Faith refers to the research by the Fuller Youth Institute on long-term spiritual formation in adolescents. One of their primary findings was that 80-90% of high school youth group students will walk away from the Church after graduation. That’s a staggering statistic. The book, and accompanying work books, feature research of churches that are striving to reverse that trend through intergenerational ministry. 

This weekend was a first because it was my first truly intergenerational ministry trip. Here are 4 things I processed and observed.

1) Shared experience. Watching parents serve alongside their children created a lasting shared experience. As much as I believe in summer camp, I know that students will often come home and the only word they have for it was “awesome!” I’m glad when students love camp but the understanding gap is often impossible for parents to bridge when they don’t know the right questions to ask. Watching parents share this experience with their children brought me so much joy to know that they were having formative moments as a family alongside one another. 

2)  Speaking truth. One of the things that I loved was watching students and parents call out truth and affirm one another in the debrief times. There were several moments where people brought the whole debrief circle to tears as they spoke truth about their family member. I love that service trips open doors of opportunity for affirmation to go from being a thing that families do in Mexico to doing in their own homes.  

3) Web of relationships. One of the findings of Sticky Faith is that students need 5 adults in their church congregation that know them, care for them, and form a “web of relationship” in order to be more likely to stick in the Church beyond High School. This weekend was powerful because we got to see those webs of relationship form. I work at a large mega church so it was powerful to see church get a little bit smaller this weekend for our students. My hope is that as they return home the relationships they built with other adults and parents will form this supportive web that they so deeply need. 

4) Children seeing faith of their parents. We know as youth workers that we aren’t the primary spiritual influences in a child’s life - their parents are. This weekend was powerful to watch parents modeling the type of servant-hearted faith they hoped their children will grow to live out. This took faith beyond a conversation and put work gloves on it. I’m excited for the doors that this weekend opened for ongoing dialogue between parent and child regarding their relationships with Jesus and participation in God’s kingdom.

This weekend was part of an unfolding storyline. These four takeaways are like seeds that I pray are watered as they grow and are lived out within the unfolding storylines of nuclear families.