I can write this blog because of all the mistakes I’ve made running service projects. I have managed quite a few service projects in my 13 years of ministry. Not all of them have been stellar. In fact, a number of them were hugely unsuccessful. Some have been okay. And few of them have been pretty good.
I just completed my portion of one of the largest projects I’ve been significantly involved with. I helped start and manage the construction of a storage shed. You might be thinking, whoopee do, a storage shed, huh? It might seem that way at first but it let me tell you that it was more than I wanted to handle. A 1000 square foot storage shed that has to meet commercial building code is not something a novice should jump into. Despite being in over my head I (re)learned some great lessons about running a service project.
1. Do service projects – Service projects (if done right) accomplish a multitude of great things, so do them! – Laboring together is a fantastic way to get to know someone. We had groups of guys get to know one another as they swung hammers, cut wood, and sweated together. People enjoy serving in a meaningful way. In most cases meaningful service in the church involves teaching, musical talents, or menial labor (handing out bulletins, greeting, etc…) Most people are stuck in that third category which can be a drag. A service project lets people serve in an area of talent and /or significance. Service adds ownership. All of the people who helped have blood, sweat, and sore muscle equity in that storage shed. It belongs to them. There are more benefits to service projects, but hopefully you see the huge value of them.
2. Planning is key – This is a problem for me because I’m not what you would call detail-oriented. (As my wife giggles in agreement) I’m more of a wing-it kind of guy. But, I have to be diligent to labor over the details of a service project so I can accomplish the next couple of points.
3. Be an expert on the scope of service – This does not mean you have to become an expert in the field. I’m certainly no building expert. Deeming me a novice builder is probably giving me too lofty of a title. Nevertheless, you certainly need to understand what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. This will give you the information you need to find the right people and obtain the correct supplies.
4. Find the right people – Most adult guys aren’t stoked for childcare and few jr. high girls are any help on a construction site. Likewise, you don’t need 200 people to distribute food in a soup kitchen line, or 2 people to paint a bridge. Find appropriate people, and number of people for the project you are doing.
5. Provide the correct supplies – If you ask people to volunteer their time and service please respect them enough to provide the proper supplies for the project. Most people don’t expect you to think of everything. But if your volunteers spend more time waiting around rather than working because you didn’t think to bring nails to a construction site it will not be a pleasant experience.
6. Let people shine – As a youth pastor I’m up front quite a bit. I spent the better half of a decade becoming an expert in communicating Bible and Theology and I get to show those skills on regular occasion. A plumber, on the other hand, doesn’t usually get to demonstrate his skill in front of the congregation. But, during a service project that involves plumbing he can shine. Let him. Let experts explain and skilled laborers demonstrate their skill. Allow the body to function as such. Let feet walk, ears hear, hands build, and arms lift. Take a backseat and let the spotlight shine on others.
This last experience has been positive. I have seen members of our church become closer and take a greater sense of ownership of our church. Sure, it wasn’t serving the homeless, or doing some social justice ministry, but it was necessary and it is definitely a start. We could have easily hired people to build this shed, but we thought it was worth the “hassle” of organizing this service project to reap the benefit of service. Next time I will write about when a service project isn’t ideal…
I would love to hear your thoughts on what constitutes a quality service project. What makes a service project fun, enjoyable, and worthwhile?