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Trading the Surf for Service
Young People’s Spring Break Activities are Shifting
An article from David R. Smith at

If you’re reading my weekly article right now, you’re probably NOT using your Spring Break to vacation at the beach… or anywhere else. Based on recent trends, it appears that many young people are also passing on Spring Break vacations. Their reason why may surprise you.

A New Trend
In contrast to recent years, 2009’s Spring Break will see fewer teenagers at the beach and fewer college students in the bars. In the past, tons of students have used Spring Break as an opportunity to wash away their academic woes in the waves at the beach… or drink them away at the bars. This Spring Break will be a bit different as more and more young people are sacrificing their Spring Breaks to serve others.

Their reasons for serving – and the ways they do it – are as varied as the students themselves. During this week, some will volunteer for a social cause within their community, and others will travel hundreds of miles to participate in an evangelistic mission project. Regardless of the purpose and the place, the good news is, more young people are giving of themselves to help others. That’s encouraging.

At lunch last week with youth pastors from the Tampa Bay area, one leader talked about his Spring Break mission trip to the Amazon. “The flight leaves after school on Friday.” Another church’s middle school and high school ministries are teaming up to volunteer at a local orphanage. My wife, who directs a college ministry on the campus of USF, has been hammered with students’ questions about the service opportunities she has planned during Spring Break.

It appears that millions of teenagers and college students are excited about working for others instead of working on their tans.

A New Season of Service
Thankfully, this kind of mindset extends far beyond the Tampa Bay area where I live. According to the most recent statistics from the United States Department of Labor, it’s happening across the country. In 2008:

  • 61.8 million people (26.4% of the total population) volunteered at least once.

  • People between the ages of 35 to 44 were “most likely to volunteer” (31.3%).

  • Volunteerism of 16-24 year olds increased by 1.4%.

Unfortunately, last year’s increase in young people’s volunteerism is actually a rebound from two consecutive years of decrease. Volunteerism in this age group was at its highest in 2005. But, with the recorded increase last year, and the projected increase this year, we’re headed in the right direction.

What Are Your Spring Break Plans?
Some youth pastors choose to offer fun events during Spring Break in hopes of growing their numbers and/or deepening the fellowship in their group. has a long list of great ideas to help youth pastors pull off an event with “fun” and fellowship in mind. However, some youth pastors want to use Spring Break to serve others, do outreach, and make a dent for the Kingdom. also has a ton of fantastic and creative ways this can be done, as well (or listen to our podcast on the subject of missions trips).

You really can’t go wrong if you capitalize on Spring Break with something fun, or with something service-minded. Spring Break is a great time to be with your students, regardless of what you’re doing. If you happen to have another week before your Spring Break arrives, you can use this resource to encourage your students to make a difference by Sharing the Gospel, and then plan your own Spring Break project to change the world.

Spring Break will eventually come to an end, no matter what we do with it. However, if we choose to make a difference by serving others over Spring Break, the effects of our sacrifice can extend into eternity. That’s time well spent.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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