Middle-school youth from three Minneapolis and Saint Paul-area Christian Reformed congregations served at nine local organizations for a weekend in August. The group of about 60, including high school and adult volunteers, came from Faith CRC, Calvary CRC, and Grace CRC. Kids who participated are already talking about next year, and leaders plan to invite more churches to the collaborative event, now called TC Serve (TC stands for Twin Cities).
Travis Deur, Youth Champion for the Lake Superior Classis (a regional group of churches) and director of spiritual formation at Faith CRC, envisioned an extension of Faith’s annual middle-school service project, begun by a Faith youth minister over a decade ago.
The opportunity intrigued Rachel Goudeau, a deacon and youth leader at Grace CRC, who had participated in similar events in middle school. “That … investment from the people who collaborated on those events ensured I had longevity in the church,” said Goudeau.
While each church has hosted service events before, this year’s nine locations—including a food shelf, childcare at a homeless shelter, senior living communities, and a Christian school—more than doubled the number of projects completed in the biggest of Faith CRC’s past events. The group was divided into eight teams for work at the sites Aug. 9-11.
Sharing the logistical responsibilities with three-churches-worth of volunteers was one of the many benefits of collaboration as it freed leaders to spend quality time engaging the kids, a rare opportunity in earlier years, explained Deur.
Calvary CRC hosted the group in its large building, well-equipped with a gymnasium and classrooms for the kids to sleep in.
“It was kind of a dream come true to see the space used to make disciples for Christ,” said Eli Groenendyk, Calvary’s pastor of discipleship who leads the congregation’s youth ministry.
All three churches experienced a strong turnout for the event.
“We got (most) of our middle schoolers and some of their friends,” said Groenendyk.
James Aukema, a high-school student from Grace CRC who volunteered, saw outreach potential. “For somebody (unfamiliar with church), like from my school, it might be even better than Sunday school,” he said, “because it wasn’t threatening … and it was geared toward children.”
James’ younger brother, Garette Aukema, shared teamwork as a highlight. “We had small groups so you could get to know everybody,” he said.
Groenendyk encouraged other churches to host similar events. His advice was to “Connect earlier and with more (nonprofit partners). … We want to do something meaningful. … (Finding the right organization) is a process in itself.”
All of the leaders affirmed the importance of serving locally as an introduction to mission opportunities at home and beyond.
“It is so good for these kids to see that there is so much love and opportunity just across the street,” said Groenendyk.