What is the best way to prepare for a mission trip? In a word…TRAINING. You want to avoid the Romeo who tries to ask out the missionary’s daughter or the insurance deductible for what is left of the new orphanage wing…Well, here are 10 steps that will help prevent disaster and set the table for God to work. (Disclaimer: Accidents, Trials, and Difficulty can/will occur during mission trips, but there are some difficulty that can be avoided)
1. Application Process
Mission Trips are serious business. They must be handled differently than a trip to an amusement park. You don’t just put a sign-up list on your bulletin board with cool font and clip-art graphics. No, most of the trips are designed for those students serious about serving God and getting their hands dirty for Jesus Christ. So what do you do? You have an application process. Have each student fill out an application, get references from their parents/guardians and another adult, and must be turned in by the deadline. Following the application, have them interview with yourself (include parents & other leaders in the interview). Lay out the expectations of the trip, the assignments, the attendance policy, and the behavior expected in each participant. If the student cannot meet the expectations, it is in your and their best interest they are not part of the team.
2. Here’s Your Notebook
Make it look official. Give each student a notebook with the assignments, place for notes, support letter samples, contact information, prayer requests, release forms, etc. Students will be able to keep their program assignments and other materials in one spot, and will be advised to take their folders on the trip. Although it takes some work to put these notebooks together, it is well worth the effort.
Lessons for the notebook notes include Evangelism training, Bible studies on Missions, and assigned reading review. Guest speakers from the church provide a great way to connect the generations in this effort. I’ve had elementary teachers and children workers come speak on child evangelism, working professionals speak on leadership or give a “How to Paint” tutorial, and Spanish teachers teach us about Latin culture.
3. Strict Attendance & Expectations
When I say strict, I mean it. I give the students one excused absence from training which would include vacation, sickness, etc. If they miss more than one, they will receive an extra assignment. Two absences will result in a meeting with the parents. Why so strict? I want these students to take this trip seriously. They will be representing Christ and our church in another state/country, and skipping training shows they don’t see the trip as important.
Also, as part of their attendance each time we meet, I ask each student about the following: Devotions, Church Attendance, Book Reading, and other assignments. If there is consistent neglect of these things, additional assignments, and/or meeting with the parents will occur. If the negligence continues, the student may be dismissed from the team.
4. Get Your Church On Board
Each year, we prepare a short 15 minute presentation to the church about the trip. The students present the trip by preparing a PowerPoint, explaining the training, preparation, funds needed, and trip tasks. A student also will pray for the trip following the presentation. This shows ownership of the trip and the church will most likely get on board when they hear about the trip from the teenagers themselves. (And when you get back, makes sure to organize a testimony service)
5. Unwrap Gifts
The last few years I have required that each incoming/new student fill out a Spiritual Gift Inventory. Using the results of the inventory, I place each student in the groups that best suit their gifts and abilities. Why would I place a shy introvert whose gift is serving in the lead teaching role? Similarly, why would a type-A, brilliant communicator with a teaching gift be put in a primarily behind the scenes role? Sure, there will be times when you go out of your comfort zone, but the primary role should be one that reflects their gifts and abilities, which will in turn allow them to reach their greatest potential for God’s glory.
Tasks and responsibilities could include/but not limited to: Communicator, Work Coordinators, Team Encourager, Communication Assistants, Ministry Coordinators, Photographers, Prayer Coordinators, Public Relations, Praise Band Member, Teaching Team, Hospitality Team, Cleaning Crew, & Supply Team (Stay Tuned for Task & Responsibility explanation list later in the blog this month)
6. Unity Doesn’t Just Happen
Unity takes so much work. This past year we did a unity game and it was complete silence, frustration was high, and people were getting offended by their misuse. But, we kept at it, continued to do unity games periodically in training, and the final unity activity gave me goosebumps…communication, laughter, leadership, encouragement…that was worth the effort.
7. Provide Leadership Opportunities
Stretch your students to reach their potential in leadership. Give them responsibility. Allow failure, but be there to pick them up when they fail at times. If the teens aren’t pushed and are not taken out of their comfort zone, your spiritual growth opportunity will decrease significantly. Allow them to lead music, teach lessons, take the pictures, share the Gospel, lead the devotions…You let them lead, and it may be more work in the outset, but the blessings will be so much more than you ever expected.
8. Practice Makes…It’s Never Gonna Be Perfect
This is a no-brainer. You have to schedule time to practice. Whether it is puppets, music, teaching lessons…give them time to practice during training. Allow students to be leaders during these practices, particularly the upperclassmen running these practices of their particular part in the program.
9. Don’t Forget About the Gospel
Speaking of practice, give the students opportunity to practice sharing the Gospel, both real and imaginary. Here’s what I mean. Each year, I set up the gym like wherever we are going. I typically ask 2 or 3 small groups to come and participate in a mock evangelism event acting like different kinds of people. One year was a park in inner-city Chicago or New York, and other year we were at a camp with a whole bunch of adults acting like elementary kids. It gives the teens opportunity to practice in a less-pressure filled environment. As the teens mature and gain more experience, take them door-to-door or to local parks to talk to people about Jesus.
Last, but certainly NOT least, is prayer. Inside the notebooks should be a list of prayer requests that you have for the trip. Encourage students to pray for these regularly. Design a prayer card with the team’s picture on it and send those out in your support letters. Have those cards available in the lobby of the church for people to grab and put on their refrigerators. Also, as seen in the responsibility list, designate 1 or 2 students to be prayer leaders. Have these leaders design a prayer book for the trip, and during training have them lead the prayer time and also keep track of individual prayer requests along the way.
See 10 Keys to a Successful Student Mission Trip for more trip information and resources.