Summer is coming. Which for a lot of youth groups means getting geared up for a missions experience. Whether your group will serve outside of the country or just down the street, your preparation (or lack of) can have a big impact on your overall effectiveness. What follows are 10 tips to help you and your group prepare for a meaningful time of service.

1. Learn about the culture before you go

Before you leave your church, do some research on the culture you'll be visiting. If serving Stateside, learn about the area you're going into, some of the local history, and any current issues. If you're going to be serving an impoverished neighborhood, you and your students probably have areas of common interest with the people you'll be with. Just because a person is "poor" does not mean that he doesn't listen to music or watch tv. If you're traveling overseas, learn about the culture you'll be serving. What do they eat? What do they wear? What are some common sayings? Are there unique ways you show respect?

2. Love your neighbor as yourself

You will lead or co-lead a group that has come to help and serve. Remember to lead with grace and respect. Treating others as you want to be treated is not always about avoiding "bad stuff." Sometimes it is also about being respectful in the way we offer help, both to those on your team and to those you'll serve. Be a servant in what you do.

3. Be FAT: Faithful, Available, and Teachable

Come with a willingness to serve. And encourage your students to do the same. Be totally in. Be willing to learn what you need to do. Move your group out of their comfort zone. Be the people who meet the needs that might otherwise go unmet.

4. Avoid the "poor them" attitude

If you're serving overseas, you might have students seeing poverty in a developing country for the first time. They may be shocked by what they see when they see. It should hurt their heart. However, help your students keep from developing an attitude of pity or hopelessness. Encourage students to share Christ and His hope! This is what the poor (and everyone else) needs. Those in need know they are in need. But their greatest need is their need for faith, hope and salvation.

5. Be all there

This is an important one you can help your students with. Remind them that there is a time to talk with their friends, to text, or to Facebook. While they are serving is not that time. Make some hard and fast rules here. Don't let your students stand on the side lines and experience by "watching." Get involved in every moment of this time you have.

6. Follow the rules

If you and/or your group are given specific instructions to minister in a certain way, follow the guidelines. We may not understand why certain missions organizations do what they do, but there is a reason why. Show respect by doing it their way.

7. You are not the Savior

As you see suffering, you and your group will want to help. Compassion should move us to action. Jesus is the only one who can sufficiently meet the needs of the needy. You are not expected to save anyone. The problems you'll witness may seem so big that you don't know what to do. You or your students might be tempted to become overwhelmed. Remember, you are only expected to do what you can do. And, sometimes the people we serve may not seem "thankful" for our help. This can sting because we've come wanting to see them embrace Christ. Remember again that Jesus is the one that will change the heart. Do what the Lord wants of you and know that our blessings really come from being faithful.

8. Be proactive!

If you see something that needs to be done do it. And grab two or three students to come with you! Don't stand on the sidelines all the time waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Some of the "jobs" are not glamorous. Washing dishes or stacking chairs might seem boring, but it needs to be done. And if you model this behavior, you will be amazed at how your students will pick up on it.

9. Don't make promises you can't keep

We meet someone in poverty and the story breaks our heart. So we tell them that we will buy them what they need and send it along. Then we get home and forget while that person waits for you to fill the need. Think before you act. Address this in your students before you go on your trip.

10. Take it all in

Encourage your students to be sponges! Listen to the people you'll serve. Don't be afraid to tell them you will pray for them. Keep a prayer journal. Seeing beyond our own world changes us. Christ will use this time to draw you and your students closer to Him. Let it happen.

  • What tips would you share with others that you have found helpful in preparing you for your mission experiences?