Every summer we take our students on mission trips. For the past few summers we have been taking two trips. One trip is for middle school students and the other one if for high school students. These trips are always the highlight of my summer as I get to see God work in and through our students. I want to share a few tips on how to pull off an amazing mission trip with your students. I hope this will be a help to any student pastors or youth workers out there who may have the opportunity to take students on mission trips.
First, partner with a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary for your trip. Don’t try to pull off a mission trip on your own. It’s not worth it. You will just make it harder on yourself and will keep your students from experiencing the most out of the trip. Instead of going on your own partner with either a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary. For example, for the past few years we have been doing our student mission trips through LeaderTreks. LeaderTreks does a lot of different things but one of the things they do is short-term student mission trips. When you go through LeaderTreks you have the opportunity to partner with an organization that knows the area where you are going, has a few staff people there to help lead your trip, and are trained in the work projects you will do on the trip. By partnering with LeaderTreks we have been able to take our students on mission trips to Dayton, OH, Memphis, TN, Pawley’s Island, SC, Manchester, Kentucky, and Chicago, IL. I’d encourage you to check LeaderTreks out and think about using them for your next student ministry trip. Also, instead of partnering with an organization like LeaderTreks, you can partner with a local ministry or missionary in the area where you are going. Find a ministry or missionary your church supports and have the host and help lead your trip. Serve along side them for the trip and let them lead your group in serving Jesus in that area. They are already doing ministry there and know what is working and what isn’t working. Also, they will be there to continue doing ministry when your team leaves. Whatever you do, don’t do a mission trip on your own. That’s the first step in pulling off an amazing student mission trip.
Second, have pre-trip meetings with your team. Don’t have students sign up, pay, and then a few months later jump in a van or on a plane to head off for your mission trip. Spend time as a team months before the trip to get to know each other better, learn how to work together, and plan for the trip. We always have four pre-trip meetings with our student teams where we do a Bible study, learn about the area where we will be serving, and planning ministry things we will be doing on the trip. These meetings are key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.
Third, take enough leaders. Recruit a few good adult leaders to go on your mission trip. The number of students you have going will determine how many leaders you will need. However, don’t be afraid of taking too many leaders. More leaders will help with things like driving (if you are driving to your location), keeping students safe, building relationships with students, and allowing other leaders to take a few breaks from the craziness of leading teenagers on a mission trip. Make sure you include the trip leaders in your pre-trip meetings and things like that. They are not just chaperones they are a vital part of your team. Taking enough leaders is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.
Fourth, do a variety of ministry. Plan to do a variety of different ministry things on your trip. You want to expose your students to as many types of ministry as you can. For an example, our Chicago mission trip this summer with our middle school students had a variety of ministry. For the first part of everyday we did construction. It was hard work and very physical. Then in the afternoon we would do different things each day. We did things like a prayer walk in the neighbor where we were staying, VBS in a local park, and a community outreach cookout. This is one of the benefits of going through an organization like LeaderTreks. They plan and allow your students to be a part of different types of ministry throughout the trip. Doing a variety of ministry is always key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.
Fifth, have fun! Student mission trips should be fun. Don’t get so focused on “getting work done” that you forget you are leading a mission trip for teenagers. Have them work hard but also play hard. When there is free time let them be crazy! Take some time on the trip to explore the area you are staying and do some sightseeing if you are in a major city or out in the mountains. Spend some time on the beach if you are on the coast. Have some fun with your students. They will appreciate it. Having fun is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.
These are a few things I have seen work for us over the past few years as God has blessed us with some amazing mission trips. I hope they help you lead students on amazing mission trips in the future.