Short-term missions and youth ministry: is long-term impact possible in our students?

January 4th, 2017

7-9 months.

That’s roughly how long you have from right now until you take your students on a short-term mission trip this summer.

Now, that might sound like a long time…plenty of time for us procrastinators. But in reality, it’s not.

In fact, if we want our short-term mission trips to have any shot of having a long-term impact on our students, now is the time to start putting together the team. Sound crazy to you? Well, hear me out, because, for any 7-10 day trip to create more than just another spiritual high in our students, we have to think about the short-term mission experience with a long-term perspective.

Think of your mission trip in 3 stages…before, during, and after.

Each stage is critical to making long-term impact possible in our students. And, each stage requires a lot of thinking and prep time on our part, which is why we need to start the “before” stage now. So, what does that look like? Where do we begin?

Here’s a short list of things to do in each stage with a brief explanation of how they can make long-term impact possible:

The Before Stage

Things to do: put your team together, prepare your team.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, if you want to make long-term impact possible, you need to think about how you are going to put the team together and then how you are going to prepare them. A short-term mission trip is a privilege, not a right. So you might think about what process students need to go through to even be considered for the team. Will they fill out an application? Will they meet with members of your church’s missions committee or other church leaders to go over their application and talk about why they want to go? How you put your team together is a critical first step to making long-term impact possible.

Once your team is set, it’s time to prepare them. I’ve often had students ask me why we start meeting in January when our trip isn’t until June. The short answer I give them is because we’re a team. And, teams don’t just show up to their first game and play together. Teams practice together. Teams learn together. Teams bond together. Teams work hard together. And, then they go out and play together. Preparing your team is all about getting them ready to “play together,” whether you’re building houses in Mexico or doing inner-city work in Detroit. And, preparing a team takes time…so now is the time to start thinking about what that’s going to look like for you and your team.

The During Stage

Things to do: process the experiences, debrief the days.

Now that the team is prepared and ready to go, the next step is to think about how you will continue to make long-term impact possible during the trip itself. A short-term mission trip is an intense time of serving together, not a vacation. So you might think about some intentional ways that students can process all that they are seeing and doing together. Will you schedule some quiet time into each day for them to dig deeper into God’s Word and journal about their experiences on their own? If so, what do you want them to learn during that time? And what questions will you ask to help them process through each day?

Giving your team personal time during the trip to process their experiences is an important element of any short-term mission experience. It’s important because it prepares them to debrief the days together more effectively. At the end of each day, your team should be meeting together to share what they’ve seen, heard, and done that day. What will that time look like for you? Will it include team members sharing their testimonies with each other? Will it include some kind of worship together? How will you use these times to continue to build team unity and togetherness during the trip? These times of debriefing are essential because they give students an opportunity to learn from each other and grow together while everything they are processing from the day is still fresh.

The After Stage

Things to do: celebrate with the team, follow-up with the team.

Now the team is back home, and you are probably exhausted, which makes this stage often the most difficult. You’ve just poured six months or more of your life into this team, but there are still a couple of things to do if you’re hoping that the impact of all your work lasts longer than that for your students. It’s time to celebrate with your team! Celebrations can be anything from a church service where your team celebrates what God has done by sharing stories and pictures with your congregation. Or, it could be something like a team dinner where you gather together to eat and look back on what God has done together. Either way, it’s important to celebrate and create memories that students will remember later on when the spiritual high of the trip has worn off.

One more thing…you need to think about what personal follow-up will look like for each student. You may not have time to meet one-on-one with all of them, but you might pick a handful of them that stood out to you on the trip to meet with. Or, you might use the rest of the summer to build on the experiences that the team had together in some way. Whatever you do, be intentional with the time that you have to help your team move beyond looking at the trip as just another spiritual high.

The goal of short-term missions in youth ministry should be to make long-term impact possible in our students.

The summer of 2017 will be here soon…time to get to work.

jasonJason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington state, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years.  When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest.  He also loves to write, and you can find more of what he writes about at one of his blogs (WWW.VERSEOTHEWEEK.WORDPRESS.COM & WWW.PJASONMATTHEWS.WORDPRESS.COM).


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.