3 Ways to Think Ahead About Your Summer Mission Trip
Oh, the mission trip. These short-term, service-based excursions have been a mainstay of youth ministry programming for years. Not only do they help teenagers to think beyond themselves, but it often gives them a renewed joy of serving that is gained from their new perspective. For many of our churches, they are also great ways to connect with missionary partners around the world.
Mission trips can also be the bane of some youth pastors’ existence. There are so many details to figure out, especially if you are going out of country. The fundraising can be a pain, no matter how good you are at it. And there are tons of papers for the students to turn in, and we all know how good students and parents are at turning in paperwork.
So if we still believe in these trips, how can we make them better? I think one of the best ways is to plan ahead. Plan way ahead—at least a year. And with that in mind, here are three ways to think ahead about your mission trip.
The location is one of the most important parts of your trip. It will help convince students to sign up and go. Pick a location and sell it well. Consider working in a focus on service or missionary work into your youth group teaching/discussion. You can also consider going back to the same location. This not only helps you plan ahead, but it also will help you build expectations for the next trip.
If your church does not have a regular place they go for short-term trips, I would encourage you to discuss it with your leadership. Perhaps there is a missionary partner from your church that you can visit every year or so and help build the relationship beyond just sending money. The students will see this and it will help them understand missionary work even better.
Knowing your location early will also give you more time to figure out all the details that come with that location. What paperwork is required? How much are the flights? Do we need access to vehicles once we are there? If we have an accident, is there a local hospital we can access? Are there any required vaccinations? Many of these things take time to figure out. Some even require you to schedule appointments for passports and vaccinations.
Mission trips cost money. Whether it be an overseas trip that costs thousands of dollars or local trip that requires you to pay for transportation and food, they all cost money. It is a great practice to have students raise money on their own and as a group. This helps them feel more attached to the trip, but it also helps them experience a little bit of what missionaries go through as they are planning for their long-term missions.
Fundraising, however, is not what many of us enjoy doing. In order to combat this, start early. Have the students get their support letters out as soon as they sign up for the trip.
Do not forget to ask others for help. Not everyone feels the same way about fundraising. I recently found out a parent of one of our students used to work in fundraising for nonprofits. I was immediately emailing her and asking for help.
If your group has a regularly scheduled trip, you might want to think about having a regularly scheduled fundraiser. This will not only provide steady income for your next trip, but it could also grow over time and help your church and community know what students are doing. Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel in fundraising.
Some youth groups overlook the importance of team meetings. I am not a proponent for an abundance of meetings, but they can be used to help prepare your team. I suggest one-hour monthly meetings to help them stay focused and grow as a team.
I also encourage an initial informational meeting as early as 11-14 months before your trip. Invite all students who are interested in the trip, along with their parents, to attend that meeting to hear information about the trip, deadlines for signup and fundraising, and a schedule for future meetings. This not only sets them up well to make an informed decision about attending, but it also helps parents to feel much more at ease (we all know the importance of that in youth ministry).
Be sure to plan your meetings strategically. When I plan for a trip out of the country or immediate culture, for example, I have the students do some research about the area we will go to serve. They will then present this information at a future meeting and be ready for discussion with their teammates. This puts the responsibility back on them. And, similar to fundraising, it also helps them connect with what it takes to be a long-term missionary. In order to plan for this, meeting have to be strategically planned.
Team meetings are also great places to check in on paperwork and other things that need to be done before the trip. As you most likely know, it is incredibly difficult to take care of all that through email, texting, and phone calls. Face-to-face time helps people actually remember to turn in their medical forms.
I believe part of our job as youth pastors is to help teenagers see the world the way God sees it. While planning can be difficult, I still believe God can use them. If done well, they can be pivotal moments in the lives of our students. The next generation wants to see faith in action, so let’s give them opportunities to serve in our local communities and around the world. Let’s plan our mission trips well.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.