Mission trips can be very heavy on logistics. Where you go. Where you stay. Who you serve. How you serve them. What you eat. How you get there. And many more details… Ugh. In the mountain of all that info, it’s easy to miss planning and preparing for what may be the most important thing that will happen on your mission trip.
Your students encountering Jesus in new and powerful ways.
Let’s quickly make sure we agree on a few things (I’m sure we do, just double-checking):
- The goal of youth ministry overall is to help young people grow closer to Jesus.
- As youth leaders we’re always looking for the best method to “transport” our students closer to Jesus.
- Missions are one form of “transportation” that are remarkably effective.
OK, do we agree? If so, then…
- In order to make a mission trip most effective you need a clear idea of where you want your young people to go… and how to help create that environment on the trip for Jesus to work.
- Having a well-developed plan for a deep spiritual experience is key to reaching your ultimate goal. This is true whether you build the experience or you select an experience built by others.
To get started here’s several questions to ask to help shape the spiritual growth goals you have in mind as part of your mission experience.
Where are my students and adults at spiritually?
- the group as a whole
How do the following issues impact your times of worship or spiritual programming.
- the location of the mission trip
- the geography (urban, rural, jungle, hotel?)
- the travel required to get to your mission location
- the stories and background of those you’ll serve
- the type of service or outreach you’ll be doing
Where would I like my participants to be at the end of this trip? In terms of
- knowing God more?
- understanding service more?
- personal faith / salvation?
- understanding compassion?
- or what else?
Now, look at all the answers to those questions, and you’ll begin to get a picture of the spiritual aspects and possibilities of your mission trip. Use all of this thinking and information to come up with a top spiritual goal of trip. Then apply this thinking and goal to the following aspects of your mission trip…
Preparing the hearts of the congregation you’re leaving behind
- Make your spiritual expectations clear and realistic to other ministry staff, pastors and parents.
- Emphasize spiritual goals as equally important as the service part. This will help others understand why you’re focusing so much on this aspect.
- The more realistic and clear you are, the greater support you’ll get before, during and after the trip.
The same applies for your students and adults who are participating in the trip
- Let them know what to expect
- At the same time, don’t give away the best parts
- Prepare pre-trip devotional content that prepares everyone for the experience.
- Do what you planned to do AND be prepared for the unexpected
- The more you’ve carefully planned, the better you’ll be prepared to experience and process God’s unexpected events. The things you should plan for:
- Devotions – daily during the trip
- Worship time – at least daily
- Times of debriefing and reflection – if not daily several times during the trip
Asking good questions is a great way to help people dig deeper and encounter Jesus — the hard work is preparing them in advance. An example from our ministry: a couple years ago we did a foot washing experience as part of worship during our mission trips. After the experience, we planned a time for small groups to debrief. We started out with pretty standard questions, “How did this feel?” What was difficult or easy about the experience?” But it never felt like we were helping people dig deep. Then we came up with this question — “How would this experience have been different if Jesus was sitting in your circle?” That changed everything. The level of depth and interaction caused by that single question was amazing. Students really began to think about how Jesus might have handled a situation or how He would’ve acted or what He would’ve said. Pretty cool…
- Post- trip devotions — be sure to create “space” for people to continue processing the experience after it’s over. A great way to do this is through personal devotions that give participants a chance to focus on what happened and how it has changed them.
- Post- meeting and celebrations — plan times for the entire group to get back together. One more way to keep the experience top-of-mind and help make decisions made during the trip “real” now that everyone is home.
- Reunion for everyone a couple months after the trip
- Celebration worship service for all who attended.
- Give a report to your church of the mission trip experience. It could be at a worship service, a board meeting, etc…
- Implement local, ongoing community service. The service doesn’t need to end just because you’re home. There are needs right in your town.
It’s easy to get caught up in the mountain of details just to make a mission trip happen. My encouragement to you is to take that little extra time and focus on that other part of the mission trip. The God changing lives part. You won’t regret do a little “detail” work in that area. I promise.