We love the team at Experience Mission and their heart for helping youth workers make their mission trips more awesome, so we asked them to share some thoughts on how we can all take our mission trips to the next level. Here are some thoughts from our pal Heather. Check it out!

by Heather Reynolds (Experience Mission)

For many youth ministries, a summer mission trip has become a “right of passage” as students make their way through the middle school or high school years. Most of us who have grown up in church can probably think back with fond memories to our own mission trips—leading outdoor VBS programs, serving the homeless, tearing off (and rebuilding!) a roof, or eating foreign food for the first time. You probably still have the t-shirt, right?

As you’ve worked to provide these opportunities to the next generation of students, hopefully you’ve been a part of some healthy, impacting mission trips. But maybe you still struggle with questions like:

How do I get my students excited about serving?
How do I help students grow spiritually during this focused week away from home?
How do I know the work we’re doing is actually making a difference in the community?

At Experience Mission, we live and breathe mission trips, and we know the most meaningful ones don’t just happen by accident.

It takes intentional planning to turn a mission trip from a one-week getaway into a true learning experience that can radically change your students’ perspectives about the world, poverty, and who God is in their life.

So, how can you take your mission trip to the next level? Here are a few ideas to get you started!

1. START LEARNING BEFORE YOU GO

As you plan your trip, don’t forget to slow down and ask the big question: Why are we going on a mission trip? Hopefully the answer sounds something like, “to grow closer as a team while serving others.” That’s a great place to start!

But you also might consider guiding your team from a conversation about why to a conversation about how you serve on a mission trip by asking questions like:

How are we going to interact with people in a way that honors their dignity?
How can we respect the culture we’re visiting?
How is the work we do this week part of the long-term community vision?

At Experience Mission, we’ve put together a few FREE pre-trip training resources to help your team wrestle with these questions even before you show up in a new city or country. When you encourage this kind of learning early-on, it helps your students stay focused on the big picture during your trip.

2. PRESS PAUSE EACH DAY

As your team serves together on your trip, you’ll likely have early mornings, full days, and late nights. Often, it can be hard to slow down during the week because there is pressure to fit it all in. But when you make time for intentional conversations, you’ll get the most of out your mission trip experience.

Create time each evening to debrief the day with your team. It can be as simple as sitting down after dinner to share “highs and lows.” Or give students a chance to share how they saw Jesus show up through the actions of teammates and interactions with local ministry partners.

By taking time to pray together, reflect, and share, we create an environment where students are challenged to think deeper about what they’re doing and seeing.

3. LISTEN TO LOCAL PEOPLE’S STORIES

Throughout your mission trip, your students will meet some incredible people.
Pastors pursuing change in their community.
Addicts finding freedom.
Immigrant families creating a new home.
Children learning about Jesus for the first time.

Encourage your group to stop and hear people’s stories whenever they get the chance. Sure, there is plenty of work to do! But painting over graffiti or serving soup or digging a well are tasks that pale in comparison to the joy of connecting as an equal with another person from a totally different neighborhood or culture.

Taking the time to look in people’s eyes, learn their names, and understand their stories—this is what really makes a long term impact (both on the people we meet and in our own lives). It’s a simple way to make people feel valued, and it gives us the chance to grow and share more of our story, too.

4. EMBRACE ALL THE NEW EXPERIENCES

Everyone loves being part of an inside joke. It just takes one look or one word to bring you back to that moment. But it’s even more powerful when you’re part of a shared experience like a mission trip.

During the week, things like messy hair in the morning, shy students who come out of their shell, rainy day outreach programs, late night ice cream runs, new foods, spiritual breakthroughs, wrong turns, and exploring a big city can all become important things that bond you as a team.

When people are away from home and experiencing both the good and bad together, it creates a truer sense of vulnerability and community with one another—exactly the thing you strive for week in and week out with your youth.

So, come ready to embrace it all—the carefully scheduled opportunities and all the unscripted adventures along the way!

5. STAY ENGAGED WHEN YOU GET HOME

Just because your trip has ended doesn’t mean the excitement about serving needs to fade!

After you return is a great time to ride the momentum of your trip and find meaningful ways for your students to serve in their own community. Often, after a mission trip, students’ eyes are opened to the needs in their school or neighborhood, so they are eager to make a difference.

By planning opportunities for our students to serve once they’re home, we’re helping them make missions a lifestyle and not just a one-time experience.

And that’s some next-level stuff right there!

Want more practical tips for your next mission trip? Click the button below to get Experience Mission’s free PDF “5 Keys to a Successful Mission Trip”

If you’re still looking for a meaningful way to serve during the summer of 2018, explore all of Experience Mission’s upcoming trips at experiencemission.org