Kurt Johnston has been a youth pastor since 1988 and currently leads the student ministries team at Saddleback Church in Southern California. Widely regarded as one of the most trusted voices in youth ministry, Kurt loves to encourage other youth workers and has written and created over 50 books and resources with that goal in mind. In his free time, Kurt enjoys surfing and riding dirt bikes in the desert with his wife and two children.

Summer is a looong way off. In fact, some of you are still thawing out from the Polar Vortex as you read this little article and may be tempted to postpone thinking about summer until the thermometer reads at least 40 degrees!

And although summer is still several months away, the time to start thinking about summer events and activities for your youth group is now. And very few things take more time to plan out than service projects.  So today I want to share three summer service ideas that will take a little planning but are worth the effort. Besides it’s January. You are huddled up in your office throwing 7th graders on a fire in an attempt to stay warm. You might as well plan ahead!


There’s lots of ways to do this, and larger youth groups may be able to adopt more than one block, but here’s the basic idea: Pick a neighborhood in your town and offer to “adopt” for the summer. Once a week, once a month…or just once! Mow lawns, wash cars, and do general chores for the folks who live in that neighborhood. Make sure the families on that street know well in advance when you will be coming so they have time to think up some projects that your students can perform.

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Instead of picking one destination for your missions trip, why not go mobile? Rent or borrow a few RV’s and head out for a week-long road trip that consists of a different service project each day.  The memories created from living, sleeping, eating, and driving together in an RV combined with a mission experience are hard to beat!


If your church does some sort of VBS, make serving at it an exiting summer event instead of just another service opportunity for a select group of students. Here’s a crazy idea that just might work (the two previous ideas are proven, this one is theoretical): Consider making serving at VBS a missions-like event of it’s own. Spend the night each night at the church or in homes and have evening de-brief and programming like you would any other missions trip. Since VBS is typically only about 4 hours, you can add a half-day of fun (lake day, amusement park, etc.) to each day of the week, too!

Not every student is attracted to every sort of missions/service opportunity so it’s important to try to create a variety of opportunities…by putting lots of hooks in the water you are more likely to get every student to eventually “bite” at the idea of serving this summer.



How service-minded are your teenagers? Take this short quiz to find out!


  • N Good says:

    We’re doing the third suggestion (already had some plans in place before reading this). I was hoping, when I saw the title of that section, that you would have already done this several times and have tried and true advice to help plan our VBS missions trip…. 🙂 I guess I’m still stuck being a pioneer. The multiple hooks in the water suggestion is exactly where I was going with it though. If we’re working with kids in the morning perhaps we’ll have one afternoon volunteering in a retirement home, another afternoon at a community garden, another afternoon at a homeless shelter, another afternoon doing a construction project. Now to make the connections and phone calls….my favorite part.

    • Christian says:

      @N Good… You may also want to add in a morning personal devo time and evening team worship and devo time together (as well as time for kids to share highlights from their day).

  • Christian says:

    Great article! I have been thinking about summer plans… especially our local areas mission trip we are thinking of doing. And I am planning to encourage our youth group to be helping with VBS. So, the VBS ideas you had are ones I need to mull over. So, great timing!

  • Madame B says:

    I LOVE THESE IDEAS! I will definitely use them for my church. The only question I have with “adopt a block” is how can you do this when your youths live in different cities and only come together in one city on the day of worship?

    • Kurt J says:

      Great question, Madame B. One option might be to encourage students to “adopt THEIR block” for the week…meaning that they pick a block or a individual home on that block and do some random acts of kindness on their own, or with another youth group student who also lives in that town. That’s a tough one!

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