This is the first post in a three part series about family service projects to do with your kids. You can read the second post here and the third post here. If you’d like a free PDF of all 39 ways to serve with your kids, sign up at the bottom of this post, and it will be sent right to you.
I have a love/hate relationship with mission trips.
On the one hand, I love, love, love that Christians are going out there and following the commandment to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. (Matthew 28:19)
There are so many lost and broken people around the world that don’t know the amazing love of Jesus and His salvation. So I love that there are missionaries doing going out to do that good work.
And here’s where people start to boo me.
The part that I hate is that there are people right here that need to know about that amazing love too, and many Christians aren’t sharing it. I’ve seen so many people get pumped up about going on a week long mission trip when they literally don’t know their next door neighbors. They’ve never taken the time to minister to the people that God has placed in their back yard.
And the other thing about foreign mission work is that it’s not for everyone.
God didn’t call us all to be foreign missionaries.
Finances aside (because let’s be real – mission trips are expensive), being a foreign missionary is a very specific calling from God.
Sure it sounds great to say that you went on a week long mission trip to Wakanda to help the orphans and dig water wells and clean up from the disaster. And the trip was probably great and lots of love was shown and lives were changed.
But equally important (and perhaps more valuable for our spiritual development) is the daily work of showing selfless love to our own communities.
Let’s teach our children to serve right where we are.
Let’s not make service about raising money to go abroad to help strangers.
Let’s make service such an integral part of who we are that our kids think it’s totally normal to spend part of every week serving others.
Here are the first thirteen out of 39 ways to serve with your kids.
But one more thing before we dive into this list – make sure to talk to your kids about why you’re doing these things.
Print the list and let them choose which projects to do first. What may seem easy to you may be scary to them. So, let them pick.
Depending on their age, this may be a difficult transition for them. If you’ve never practiced this sort of mission hospitality with your teenagers, they might/will absolutely make this difficult.
But part of being a good parent is being deliberate about parenting. We’ve got to make conscious choices about how we spend these limited years with our kids. So even if they resist at first, lean into it. This is worth the effort/fight.
39 Ways to Serve with Your Kids: Part One (None of Them Cost Over $2.00!)
1. Deliver baked goods to your neighbors
Make some of your famous homemade chocolate chip cookies or bake some of those delicious place and bake cookies from Nestle Tollhouse. Or just grab a box of Cosmic Brownies and give each neighbor a pack. They’re so delicious no one will complain that they aren’t homemade.
The method of dessert making isn’t important. Package them adorably, or just throw them into Ziplock baggies. The most important thing is that you deliver them to your neighbors.
Introduce yourself and let your kids introduce themselves (this is a great learning opportunity for kids). Invite them to your church. Offer them a ride or just offer to save them a seat in the sanctuary. Find out if they have a need that your family can meet with love.
Once you’ve met everyone in your own neighborhood, go to another neighborhood.
Go to a not-so-great neighborhood and get to know those people as well.
Jesus wasn’t too picky about who he served.
2. Do yard work for your neighbors
If there’s an elderly person, single mom, or overworked dad who needs a little help, offer to do it!
The best way I’ve found to do this is to just show up with all your yard stuff, ready to work. Once there, ask them exactly what they’d like you to do.
Example: “Hi! I’m Halee and these are my extremely excited kids. We met last week when we brought you those brownies. We noticed your leaves needed to be raked, and we brought all our own raking stuff over. Would it be alright with you if we raked and bagged your leaves?”
If you live in a neighborhood where everyone is able bodied and has perfectly manicured lawns, go to another neighborhood.
3. Have your kids pull all the neighbor’s trashcans back to their houses
This one is super easy for kids to do all by themselves.
After the trash men pick up the trash, have your kids pull everyone’s cans back to their house.
If you have competitive kids like mine, they will make it into a contest to see who can get the most cans in the least amount of time. Remind them to not get in such a hurry that they destroy someone’s trashcan. Speaking from experience here.
4. Deliver baked goods to the local police, fire, or EMT station
The men and women who serve our cities do so at great personal cost.
They have a higher than average divorce rate, work difficult hours, and just generally have very tough jobs. I’m not suggesting that you can bake cookies so good that they’ll save a marriage, but they might redeem a rough day.
5. Leave notes or treats for your mail carrier
The mail carrier has a pretty thankless job.
He is alone and outside, no matter the weather, all day. The amount of human interaction he has is pretty low. And often the news he brings is bad. (Sallie Mae can change its name to whatever it wants, I still get angry at getting student loan bills.)
So some Rice Krispie treats or chocolate chip cookies might really brighten his day. As would a sincere card thanking them for doing such a great job.
I know my mail carrier has to work extra hard because of all my Amazon Prime orders. It’s the free two day shipping that gets me. Should I load all the kids into the car to drive twenty minutes to the grocery store to pick up the honey I forgot to buy or wait an extra day to have it delivered?? That’s a no-brainer for me.
(If you’d like to have honey and other necessities delivered to your door with free two day shipping, you can use this link for a free 30 day trial of Amazon Prime. It is an essential mom splurge.)
6. Bring your trash men cold bottled drinks in the summer
We live in Texas and it is hot outside for a lot of the year. People that have to do their job outside all day have my respect because I can last for about twelve minutes outside before I start to feel like I’m sweating so much I’m at risk of dehydration.
Bringing ice cold bottled water or Gatorade to the people picking up your trash is a fantastic way to show God’s love.
A bonus that makes this activity even easier at my house is that my kids are already obsessed with the trash men. They love watching them and are thrilled whenever they get to interact with them.
7. Deliver baked goods to a homeless shelter
You should probably call the homeless shelter first and make sure that this is okay with them. Different shelters/homeless ministries have different policies, but even if they won’t accept free cookies, they probably have some other way you can help.
If they say yes, you also might want to find out how many people they have staying there so you can make sure you bring enough treats for everyone.
8. Donate board games or decks of cards to a homeless shelter
Clean out your game closet and donate any games that are duplicates or that aren’t played very much. I don’t know exactly how this happens, but about once a year our game closet gets so full that games start to fall on my head whenever I open the door to
neatly put away cram the sheets onto whatever shelf I can reach easily.
Again, you should probably call the shelter to find out their policy for donations.
9. Babysit for a single mom or family who is struggling financially
Finding a person you trust to take care of your children is not only very difficult, but also pretty expensive.
Every time my husband and I have a date night, it costs about $50.00. (Which is totally worth it for our outstanding babysitters that our kids love, but it can get expensive.)
So volunteer to watch the children of a single mom or a family who is struggling financially. Chances are, if the family is struggling financially, their relationship is under a lot of stress too. Having time to spend with their spouse without the kids, could be an even greater gift than you know.
We have had families do this for us in the past, and it is always a welcome treat. If your kids are like mine, they will relish the opportunity to have other kids over. It will basically be a playdate for your kids!
10. Volunteer at your local food pantry
The food pantry in my town is only open to the public one day a month, but they need volunteers from time to time. The volunteers can sort food, assemble boxes of food, etc. on the days that they aren’t open.
On the Saturday that they are open, it is extremely busy and they need all the help they can get.
11. Organize a food drive for your local food pantry
This may seem like a much more daunting task than it actually is.
I’ve participated in food drives at both my church and my children’s schools. You will basically talk to the person in charge and tell them you want to do a food drive. They’ll direct you as to what needs to happen from there.
Our church does theme months to collect food for our local food pantry. In the month of March, it was Macaroni Madness and everyone brought macaroni. The donations are collected on a table near the sanctuary so that everyone has a chance to see it all month as a visual reminder to grab some extra boxes of macaroni on their next grocery store trip.
12. Clean out your pantry and donate nonperishable items to the food pantry
This is one that my kids love to do because they always try to give away the foods they don’t like.
“Mom, we should totally donate these lentils because they’re so healthy and full of protein. I mean, I love to eat them when you make them, BUT I’m willing to let someone else have them because I want to be generous.”
13. Have a garage sale and donate the proceeds
This service project also gives you a chance to declutter and get rid of some unneeded items in your home. And although I quit trying to be a minimalist, we still have plenty of items to clean out!
Because I didn’t want this post to be too long, I broke it into three posts. You can read the second post here and the third post here.
If you’d like to print this, you can sign up for our email list at the bottom of this page, and we will email you a free printable PDF of all 39 ways to serve with your kids.
We have the printable hanging on our refrigerator and plan to complete all of them this year. My kids love marking them off the list once we’ve completed them (which is a little ridiculous because many of them are projects that can be repeated over and over throughout the year).
But the point is my kids love doing. (They also love lists.)
Chip and I get a lot of things wrong with our kids, but I think we are getting this right. We are raising them to love to serve others. They don’t expect payment (though they did at first) or reciprocity (though they asked about it).
They want to love others and be like Jesus.
It’s all well and good to go to church and read your Bible. Do that. Do those things because they are good for your heart and soul.
But don’t forget to serve.
Don’t forget to get your hands dirty and your heart a little broken as you reach out to the broken in your community.