Recently, I came across a question posted on one of the facebook groups that I am involved in entitled, Youth Pastors Only. The question read, “Who does Student Ministry at an extremely high level in a portable environment? Would love to talk with them.” At first, I had no idea what he meant by portable, and then he explained that it is what it is, a portable environment. You set up and tear down each week. I thought to myself, “That is us!” We have been in this transition of setting up and tearing down our student ministry each week since I came on staff here at the church. Our student ministry has outgrown any room that our facility has so we use the gym on Wednesday nights. Luckily, we have a Christian school here at our church so we have the gym available for use right here on our campus. We set up everything and tear it all down when youth group ends. Many times it is frustrating. It is the same routine every Wednesday. At 3:15 pm, our students start rolling in, and begin setting up everything. You may be asking what do they set up. Well here is what everything means: 15 tables, 100 chairs, stage, screen, projector, and sound system. That is a lot of stuff that our students are committed too each week. I tend to personally complain about this a lot, but this question made me think of the positives to a portable environment. I am not going crazy with this, because when we get into our new church building, I am pushing hard for a consistent place to meet, but while we are in this phase of our ministry, here are the positives to do student ministry in a portable environment:

  1. A portable environment provides service opportunities for your students– This is the most impressive thing about our set up and tear down each Wednesday for youth group. It is completely run by the students. We have about 15 students come and set up everything. They do a fantastic job, and when youth group is over, they tear it all down. They are committed and it makes it feel like their own, and this goes a long way in the mind of a student. Being in a portable environment creates service opportunities for your students to get together and serve with one another.
  2. A portable environment provides fellowship for your students– You better believe that we work on Wednesdays, but we also have some good fellowship. Some of the best conversations have been held during set up or tear down. Some of the best relationships have been built during this time. Occasionally we will go out and geocache for fun or go to McDonald’s if we get set up in time. The students love this, and it provides unity and fellowship.
  3. A portable environment teaches students to work– This one is not fun for students in their heads, but it does teach students to work to earn what they want. If they want a thriving student ministry, they have to work to get it, and they understand this!
  4. A portable environment makes you thankful– Honestly, I am just grateful that we have a place to meet, and I do not care if it is a gym, school, church building, or whatever, we have a place to meet, and this should make us thankful! Our students have learned thankfulness for this place even if they get aggravated with the time that it takes! It could be worse for us, but luckily the Lord has blessed us with this space for now.
  5. A portable environment gives you vision– Our church is building a new church facility a mile down the road. We are planning on beginning the actual structure of the transitional building here in another year or so. So, eventually we hope to have our own space, but until we do, I am slowly gaining a vision of what I see us having down the road that I might not have had if I was not currently in a portable environment. Being where we are has given me a vision for where we need to be, and I am looking forward to when God eventually takes us there!

If you are in a portable environment, hang in there. It could be a lot worse! If you have thoughts to add to this, use the comment box below:

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9 thoughts on “Student Ministry in a portable environment

  1. You guys are so blessed! I am from an extremely small town and in our high school ministry we have like 3 kids who actually show up. The younger kids have a lot more, I wish more students would come! Feel lucky, not frustrated and think that at least you have all those kids who want to be there!

    1. Haley, that is correct, we are blessed and thankful! Writing this post makes me realize how thankful I really should be. Good luck in your ministry and whether you have 3 or 33, God still can use you and focus on who you have rather than who you do not have!

  2. Josh,

    Those are all really good points as to why it is important to involve youth in your ministry and youth work programs. We are big on youth participation and we talk about the importance of creating ownership a lot on our blog.

    We did this post about it in fact: http://youthworkinit.com/2011/09/30/one-easy-way-to-increase-youth-attendance-and-retention/

    When I was a youth I went to both permanent and portable youth programs. One thing that is really important to me as a youth worker now is not waiting until the conditions are ‘perfect’ it’s easy to say ‘when we get our new building THEN we’ll do this or that.’ But you never know what might happen. God may want to be teaching things in your ‘portableness’ rather than through the security if your future permanency. Keep up the good work! And thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Hey Josh,

    Our Youth group has been in a portable environment for several years as well. We actually meet in our school cafeteria! (Talk about a great smelling environment *sarcasm*)
    For the longest, I removed all the lunch room tables, swept, mopped, set out chairs for students, projector, screen. P.A. system…you get the picture. About a year ago, I had a meeting early Thursday morning and had 2 parents waiting to talk to me after church on Wednesday night. I knew I had the lunch room still to set up. So, I asked a couple of our guys if they would mind at least setting the tables back up for me. To my surprise, I came back to find everything completely set up for lunches on Thursday. All these guys were waiting on was someone to ask them for help.
    Since that point, I have teens helping me every week to set up & break down. They have taken ownership of this job.
    Now, I see them helping our church in other areas too. These same students look for areas that they can just be a help. Pretty awesome when you think about it.
    Last thing….they had the idea last summer that since our equipment is so portable, we took our Youth Service to 2 different parks on Wednesday nights. We had a cookout & worship service in the open doors & saw multiple new faces joining us each night! It was great to see them thinking of ways to reach out to our community!

    1. Jamey, good to hear from you man! That is an incredible story. I appreciate you sharing, because it once again proves that students want ownership of the student ministry, and too often we as leaders keep it for ourselves and in the end limit our student ministry and its potential.

      I love the park idea, and I might throw that out to our students and leaders! I appreciate the comment, come back often.

  4. I’m the director of a portable student ministry. We currently meet in a High School wrestling room. We do 3 services every sunday for students and run around 200+ students. Our other campus that I get the honor of influencing and equipping just moved into their first facility and they currently run around 50. Would love to hear some stories or best practices from people who are portable, or who went from portable to a facility.

    1. Thanks for the input Mark. You really have your work cut out for you. That is impressive that you do your ministry at such a high level in a portable environment. It proves that it can be done. Thanks for the input.

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