Teaching Life Skills: Practical Outreach for Any Church
- Chris Bolinger Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2019 1 Aug
Is your church having trouble reaching youth, young adults, and young families? Do your older members feel like they don’t have a lot to offer to today’s “young people?"
Well, they do. They have a ton of experience and expertise. And they can teach it to teens and 20-somethings who are hungry to learn.
Just ask Mark Miller, the pastor of Victory in Christ Jesus Ministries in Palm Bay, Florida. His church just completed a wildly successful set of weekly classes called Teen Practical Life Skills Workshops.
It all started when one of Mark’s teenage daughters wanted to buy something that was too expensive for the family budget. He told her, “You just don’t understand what things cost!” At that moment, Mark heard God say, “Why don’t you teach her? And while you’re teaching her, why don’t you teach all the teens I have trusted to your care, and the ones in the community whom I will send to you?”
Miller started with teens because “they need it the most.”
According to him, many teens “spend a majority of their time living isolated in a virtual world of texting, social media, and video games. They are often disconnected from reality and what will be awaiting them in just a few short years. Schools don’t teach them the life skills needed to thrive out in the real world, and many teens don’t learn those skills at home, either.”
Of course, one person’s problem is another person’s – or chuch’s – opportunity. “We can sit back and watch this generation of teenagers struggle to enter the real world,” Miller continues, “or we can step up and get involved now.”
Teaching life skills opens doors.
Teaching teens life skills opens a door for a church to engage with teens in other ways, including teens who are unlikely to attend a worship service, youth group meeting, Bible study, or other church activity or event.
“One of our goals was to plant some spiritual seeds in attendees,” says Miller. “We approached every topic from a Christian perspective. When discussing finances, for example, we mentioned things such as the importance of giving and being good stewards of what God has given us."
Miller explains, “We had two other underlying goals as well. One was to help teens see the importance of taking their education seriously. In addition to encouraging them to apply themselves in school, we discussed ways to continue their education after high school and position themselves for a career that they enjoy and that provides a way for them to make a healthy living. The other goal was to get them to appreciate their parents more by seeing how much their parents really do provide for them.”
Offer workshops in finances, budgeting, car care, cooking, plumbing, and more.
After Mark received his initial inspiration and prayed about it for a while, God led him to have a series of summer workshops at the church. Held on Thursday evenings, the workshops offered attendees an introduction to financial planning and budgeting, auto maintenance, cooking, household plumbing, and sewing.
“We started with finances and budgeting because it is one of the foundational building blocks of everyday life,” says Miller. “Let’s face it: it costs money to live, and often it costs a lot more than we think it does. Understanding money management is an important lesson that should be learned earlier than later. Many of us can look back on some really bad financial decisions we made in our lives."
Miller continues, “Auto maintenance was chosen because many of them just started driving or will be driving in the next year. They need to know how to check the oil, what to do when the car overheats or the serpentine belt breaks, or when they leave the lights on or play the radio too long and need to jump start the car to get home before curfew."
Adds Miller, “Cooking, basic household plumbing, and sewing were chosen as life skills because we all need to eat, everyone's toilet eventually breaks, or we drop something down the sink. And, most of us have lost a button, had a hem fall out of our pants, or torn our favorite shirt. These are basic skills that will help them as they enter everyday life.”
The basic format of a workshop was:
- Self-introduction by the instructor
- Overview of the class and purpose statement
- Classroom teaching session
- Practical hands-on session
- Summary, with a focus on lessons learned
At the end of a workshop, students received:
- Handouts that reiterated the major points covered
- Certificates of completion
- Little gifts such as calculators, tire pressure gauges, cooking gadgets, and sewing kits
Recruit instructors who are managers, mechanics, plumbers, and other professionals within the church body.
“The workshops were taught by people who are experienced with the topic being presented,” says Miller. “I’m a bi-vocational pastor. In my ‘day job,' I have a considerable amount of experience with planning, budgeting, and finances, so I prepared and taught that course. But that’s the only one I taught."
Adds Miller, “In our church we have people who are mechanics, plumbers, excellent cooks, and those that like to sew. Recruiting those folks to teach was incredibly easy. When I approached them and explained what we were doing, they all immediately jumped on board. They couldn't wait to share what they had learned over the course of their lives and in their careers with the class.”
Because some of the instructors had not worked with youth in the recent past, Miller helped out. “Teaching teens is not always easy,” he admits. “To help ease a teacher’s potential anxiety, I helped with the preparation of materials and with keeping the class a bit under control. If we had a youth pastor, I would have asked him or her to oversee the classes!” he adds with a smile.
Miller encouraged instructors to do more than share information with attendees. “We always find that relational communication is more effective,” he explains, “so each of the teachers did their best to connect with the teens on their level. Teachers shared personal stories from their lives, including things they did well (or not so well) when they were growing up. They asked the teens about their lives to keep them engaged and to keep the lesson relevant to the lives of the teens. We also made it a point in each lesson to let the teens know that we really do care about them and that our church is a safe place where they can come to live, love, laugh, learn, and grow in their relationship with the Lord and with each other.”
The results: the best-attended program in years.
So, how did it go?
In a word, fantastic.
“This was the best-attended program we have implemented for our teens in our five years as a church,” says Miller, who never expected such a high level of interest from the community, especially among those who don't normally attend any church.
“Our advertising was limited to spending $100 to boost the event we posted on Facebook,” he says. “We are a church of maybe 100 people on any given Sunday, yet almost immediately the ad was shared by hundreds of people and that ad reached thousands of people. Needless to say, we weren't prepared for the turnout we had that first night.”
And attendance was not the only indication of success.
Students gave Miller and others at the church a lot of positive feedback on the workshops, saying that the information was a real "eye opener" for them and that they learned a lot.
“At the beginning of each class, I would ask the teens how many of them came because their parents made them come,” says Miller. “All of the students would raise their hands. At the end of the class, I would ask how many were glad that their parents made them come, and all of the students would raise their hands.”
The instructors, mostly laypeople in the church, relished their opportunities to make a positive impact in the lives of the next generation, including planting spiritual seeds.
Lessons learned will continually improve the program.
The workshops were so successful that Miller and his team definitely plan to do similar workshops again. Next time, they’ll make some improvements and other changes. For starters, they’ll add more topics, such as completing job applications and interviewing for jobs, which teens and their parents requested.
They also will be lengthening the sessions. “These first workshops were limited to one hour. That was not enough time,” says Miller. “For most attendees, it was like drinking from a fire hose. There was just so much information coming at them so fast it was a bit overwhelming.
Next time, we will have 90-minute classes consisting of two 40-minute sessions with a 10-minute break in the middle to give them a drink and a snack and let them catch their breath.”
Miller says that follow-up with attendees, especially those who don’t attend the church, should be improved. “We missed the boat on that,” he admits. “We should have done a better job with registration. At a minimum, we should have had them like our Facebook page so they could follow us and we could contact them for future events.”
The church also will expand the audience to include young adults. “There was quite a bit of interest from other age groups and target audiences,” Miller says. “We plan to set up another version of the classes to meet the specific needs of the young adults who are just stepping out of their parents’ homes and now are trying to make it on their own.”
What advice does Miller have for other churches who want to conduct similar workshops?
“I would recommend starting with just your youth group,” he says. “That way you can iron out any details or issues you may encounter with the program, the teaching materials, and/or with your instructors before inviting larger groups. At the end of each class, we learned a lot that we needed to implement to benefit the next class. It would have been great to have that knowledge before we opened our classes to the public.”
Miller and his team developed all of their coursework from scratch, which was time-consuming. He encourages other churches to search online for “prepared materials, teachings, books, slide shows, videos, etc.” And he encourages people to contact him at Mark@VictoryinChristJesus.org or on the church’s Facebook page.
His primary advice, however, is to offer life skills training and instruction for the youth and young adults in your community. Everyone wins when you do.
Chris Bolinger is the author of Daily Strength for Men, a 365-day devotional published by BroadStreet Publishing and available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book Distributors, DailyStrengthForMen.com, and other retailers.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/DMEPhotography