Summer mission trips are awesome! Some of my best memories of being in youth group come from those trips. Now, that could be because it always seemed to be a tropical island and it was a great chance to get close to the girl I had been after for a long time (sidebar: she’s now my wife!). Whatever the reason, those trips are a marker of a time and place where I had the opportunity to get away from my everyday surroundings, stretch my faith, and ultimately grow closer to God.
As a student, I had no idea the time and effort my youth pastor had to put in so that I could have the experience I did. I thought we just bought some plane tickets, rented a van, and found a church to paint. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot more that goes into planning a summer mission trip than I thought!
If you are planning on taking a missions trip this summer, here are the 4ish things you should be doing now as a Youth Pastor or Youth Minister to prepare.
1. If you haven’t already, find a place to serve
I won’t say that you’re behind if you haven’t figured this part out yet, but you are definitely getting there. Where you will be taking your students will determine the outcome of many other decisions along the way, so this is an important step. The misconception is that a summer mission trip has to be an elaborate, out of the country, incredible escapade in order to be successful or well attended. That’s not true at all! In order to be successful I think you should consider these three criteria:
- Does it fit into your budget?
- Does it fit your group’s skill set?
- Is God leading you there?
If the destination you’re considering fits these, you’ve probably figured out where you’re headed this summer.
One of the best summer mission trips I ran as a Youth Pastor took us to southeastern Ohio. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t glamorous, nobody I knew had taken their students there. But, it fit our budget, our skill set, and no matter how hard I tried to convince God that we should be in Jamaica, He was leading us to Ohio (Here’s a video recap of that trip).
2. Get your finances straight
This may seem a little backwards because in step one I mentioned that the destination should fit a budget, but the finances are step two. Having a general idea of how much you want to charge students and costs of travel, food, and lodging as you decide where you’re going is very important! The nitty gritty, I can’t have a “$1500 oops in my budget again this year, details can come later.”
Now that you know where you’re going, it’s time to figure out how it’s going to happen. As you work the numbers you’ll need to figure out things like how much are adult leaders going to have to pay if anything? Or, how much of my youth budget can I afford to use to cover costs? Do we need to rent a van? Can someone house our students or do we have to get a hotel? All of these and more will begin to pile up, so be sure to go through this part with a fine-toothed comb. Don’t forget to add a buffer, we all know the unexpected is bound to happen!
Too many Youth Pastors have given this area too little attention and it has either hurt their church or lost them a job.
A couple of good tools to help you out are:
- A budget spreadsheet from Youthministry.com
- A food prep chart from Youth Specialties to help determine how much food you’ll need
3. Build your team
Now that you’ve got the first two steps out of the way, you can begin to cast the mission trip vision. I can see it now, slideshows of past trips, videos of the area and the people you’re going to help, weekly attempts to motivate students to do something with their summer, bribery, sermon series. However you decide to sell your trip to the students, the one thing I hope you’re doing at this step and every step of the way is prayer. If you’re not asking God to bring the right students on this trip, it doesn’t matter who goes, how much work you accomplish, or how much fun you have, it will all be in vain. Building your team starts with prayer.
Once you’ve solidified your team, it’s time to start preparing them for what they’re going to face on the mission field. This is true whether you’re feeding orphan children in a third world country or building wheelchair ramps in Ohio. God has a plan for this trip and I’d venture to guess that it goes beyond your plans, so let’s prepare these students as best we can for whatever God has in store.
As a student, my Youth Pastor would have us work through a devotional guide before each trip. The guides used a number scale to help students decide how much they wanted to engage with Scripture. The higher the number, the more thought and the more time it would take to complete each day. The Youth Pastor challenged each of us to complete the guide at a high level before going on the trip. With that in mind, here are a couple of similar resources, one to use before the trip and one to use during the trip.
- Don’t Climb Alone has a 6-week study called Soul Exercise. This is a great resource that will walk students through 6 spiritual disciplines that will help them prepare for the mission trip.
- Don’t Climb Alone has another study called Acts of the Holy Spirit. This guide will lead students through the early church and what missional living is all about. It would make a great study for during the trip.
4. Get support
This is easily my least favorite part of doing a mission trip! Fundraising is not my forte, but it is definitely necessary. In this section, we’re going to talk about Youth Pastor fundraising and student fundraising.
The first church that I worked at, I was given a yearly budget of $250. Yes, yearly. That didn’t allow me to subsidize any trip for my students. Instead, I had to find other ways to help cut the final costs. There were two ways of doing this for me. The first was to go to the Senior Pastor and then to the board and plea for more money. When that didn’t work or didn’t amount to enough, I had to find donors that would help cover costs. There are bound to be people in your congregation who believe in you and believe in the youth enough to front a couple hundred dollars. You could also get out into the community and track down addition resources from like-minded businesses.
Student fundraising can be as simple as instructing them on how to send out support letters (here’s a great resource from Youth Works), but it can be as nightmare-ish as handing out hundreds of dollars worth of candy bars, for hungry teenagers to sell, that the church prepaid for. Then you have to track down who took what, where’s all the money, who wrote the I.O.U.?! Fundraising is hard, but if God is in the planning, an adult leader always used to tell us, money is not an issue! Here’s a resource of 101 great fundraising ideas from YouthEncounter.org.
As you plan and prepare, sweat and worry, don’t forget whose mission trip this really is. You may have a lot of work ahead of you, but if you keep giving it to God and remember that you are doing it to further His Kingdom, there is nothing that can stop a motivated herd of teenagers and their fearless leader! God bless you on your trip this summer.
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Never The Same
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