How to Plan a Youth Ministry Mission Trip in 2021
This Online Article and Training was written by Servant Life Director Zac Condie. Servant Life is a ministry partner of YM360 focused on mobilizing groups on gospel-centered, Christ-focused, short-term mission trips designed to support the strategic, long-term ministry of missionaries and churches around the world.
It’s no exaggeration to say that 2020 has been an unpredictable year. We’ve all dealt with schedule changes and had to reconfigure plans, including ministry events such as camps and mission trips.
As we have entered into the fall semester, a time when many of us are planning our 2021 calendars, you might be asking if it is really worth it to start planning a mission trip. It’s a fair question, and you might be tempted just to “skip it” for another year. But we believe there is great value in planning a mission trip, and today I want to share a few reasons why you should consider putting that trip on the calendar and what steps you can take to ensure a successful mission trip for 2021.
The first step toward planning a mission trip is to remind your students (and parents) of the importance of living a missional lifestyle.
All throughout the New Testament we see the pattern of believers receiving the gospel and then proclaiming it to others. Each gospel concludes with some version of Jesus commanding his disciples to go forth and preach the gospel to the world (Mt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 24:46-47; Jn. 20:21).
We all have that same calling on our lives today. As we are called to love God and to love others, one of the primary ways we do that is by pointing others toward the hope of the gospel— the good news that our glorious God has graciously saved us through Jesus Christ.
Does that calling change during a global pandemic? Absolutely not. If anything, as the world around us is broken and hurting, there is a greater need for faithful gospel witness. And yet, what often happens in our lives during a pandemic is the opposite. The complicated events around the world cause so many of us to be consumed with an inward focus. We’re thinking about our job security, our financial stability, our disrupted family rhythms, our shifting plans, and so many other ways that our lives have been impacted. Before long, we’re consumed with an inward focus that runs counter to that missional lifestyle we’re called to live.
When we engage in missions, we overcome that inward focus as we demonstrate to our students that the mission trumps the circumstances. As we see in the life of Paul, even when we ourselves might be hurting, we still look to love and serve others with Christlike humility (Phil. 2:3-4). Planning a mission trip requires sacrifice as we give up our time, our finances, our vacation days, and much more as we seek to love others. Putting that mission trip on the calendar is a tangible way of teaching your students that even when the world around us stops and reconfigures, the mission of God continues on for Christ-followers.
As you begin planning for a mission trip, one of the most important decisions you’ll make is choosing the right location.
Choosing a trip location is a unique decision for each group based on a number of distinct factors for your group, such as their mission trip experience, the group makeup and maturity, and how comfortable they are with traveling right now. Different churches may reach different decisions about what makes sense here, and that’s ok!
For example, we know some churches who have been to Guatemala the past 5 years, and they are planning on being back in 2021 because it’s a place they know and trust—a place where their team members have great buy-in and long-standing relationships. To them, going to Guatemala in 2021 is not scary or intimidating because of their familiarity. However, we have other groups whose students have never left their home state before, and leaving the country in 2021 might feel a bit more daunting.
Some churches have already gotten back to their international trips this fall, and we’ve seen them do so safely and with great ministry opportunities. Other groups may determine that it makes more sense to consider a domestic mission trip instead. You know your group best, and you need to choose a trip location that will feel accessible for your students and parents.
Once you’ve chosen a trip location, you need to announce the trip and begin building excitement.
Don’t expect to have students rushing to sign up for the trip just because YOU think it’s a great idea. You have an important role to play in nurturing your students’ love for missions and helping them see the importance of such a trip. This includes spending time teaching about missions and praying that God will burden your students for the lost and give them a heart to be disciple-makers.
Your role also includes building up excitement for the trip. As you think about hosting your first trip announcement meeting, how can you build people’s intrigue? Do you drop hints about the trip location, bring a dessert from that part of the world, or do a drawing for a small prize (or trip discount) at the first interest meeting?
At the very least, people need to understand that the first meeting is for anyone interested and not only for those ready to commit. Lower the bar in order to get people in the door and thinking about the trip. We don’t want to downplay the importance of the trip by portraying it as all fun and games, but we can help people understand what an exciting and potentially life-changing experience it can be, not to mention a faithful response to the calling on their lives to be disciple-makers.
As details begin coming together, you must be committed to preparing your group well.
This could be somewhat of a broad topic, but I will specifically mention two areas of preparation: the logistical (including the financial!), and the spiritual. Have a plan to help your students raise money for a trip like this. Don’t let anyone hear the price of a trip and immediately decide they won’t be able to afford it! Point them to fundraising ideas that they can do on their own, and possibly some they can do along with the rest of your group. Help them to understand that fundraising can be challenging and will require work (that’s part of the sacrifice of the trip), but that it is also a great opportunity to trust the Lord and his provision.
Similarly, you’ll need to have a plan in place for training sessions leading up to the trip. No team member should feel like they can’t go because they “don’t know what to do on a mission trip.” Coach team members through sharing the gospel, teach them how to be culturally sensitive, and make sure they understand that our gospel witness goes well beyond our words and extends to our actions and mannerisms.
A mission trip like this is not just another week on the summer calendar, but a formative life experience for most people. The discipleship, training, and preparation that take place for a trip like this have value well beyond the week of the trip itself. It is not uncommon for short-term trip participants to return home with a passion for sharing the gospel here in their home context once they learn to do it in a foreign context. As you start planning your 2021 calendar, don’t skip out on a mission trip opportunity that could be a huge catalyst for spiritual growth and the perfect bounce-back from an inwardly focused 2020.
(If our team at Servant Life can help, you can learn more at www.servantlife.com, or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.)