We are beginning to start our mission trip training for this summer. With two trips planned and two unique teams going, we need to make sure our students are adequately prepared and trained in order to best grow and serve. Our summer ministry rhythm alternates between doing some type of retreat or conference one year and a mission trip the following year. Regardless of whether it is a mission trip year or not, part of our vision for our program is to incorporate missional opportunities in all of our trips because of the mission Christ gave to all of His followers.
What that means is we are always approaching our trips with a mission-centered focus. In order to do that well, we must think through some key aspects. Mission trips that are just haphazardly thrown together are not all together a bad thing as opportunities may just present themselves. But the more intentional we are in thinking through how we can shape and facilitate the trip in an impactful and meaningful way, the better prepared we will be and our students will reap the spiritual benefits.
The points below are intended for those who are planning their own trips and not necessarily partnering with a mission organization. However, I believe these points translate into either type of trip. If you go with an organization some of the points may already be figured out for you. These are key avenues to engage during the very beginning of mission trip planning and are designed to help the main trip leader best prepare themselves and their team for the upcoming training and trip.
1. Know your objectives.
Mission trips are a wonderful opportunity to not only help your students grow spiritually but also to bless others through your actions and care. In order to achieve both of those realities, there need to be clearly stated objectives. If you know the objectives of your trip it allows you to shape and plan accordingly so you can accomplish said objectives.
Your objectives can be focused on the spiritual growth of your students, skill sets that need to be learned, tasks that need to be accomplished before and during the trip, building relationships within the team and with the community you’re serving, or whatever else you see as a goal for your trip. When you have your objectives focused and spelled out, you will then be able to guide and shape your trip and team accordingly.
2. Clearly communicate expectations.
Whether you are setting up team meetings, explaining guidelines for the location, sharing team member requirements, or detailing work expectations on the trip, the ability to clearly communicate expectations will help set your team up for success. This is true even when you are advertising the trip to your students. The clearer and more concise your communication, the more apt your people will be to understand and follow what you are asking of them.
When it comes to expectations for your students, never assume they know what they are even if you have taken them on prior trips. Each mission trip will be unique which means the expectations will be as well. So be clear, concise, and direct with expectations in order to set your team up for success.
3. Utilize team training.
Training for mission trips is a must. Without training you will be setting your team up for dysfunction and potential failure. Training allows the group to grow and deepen relationships, engage in team building, grow in the skill sets needed on the trip, have a better understanding of how to minister to the community you are serving, and to help each team member know more about themselves personally.
Training can include activities to simulate what you will be doing, practice or organize different elements needed for the trip, complete personality assessments, or engage in prayer times, team building, or evangelism and prayer training. It can also include watching videos or reading helpful books, bringing in teachers to help equip your team, or whatever else you find beneficial. These do not need to be exceedingly long or every week, but I would recommend starting training sessions 4-6 months before you are to leave and averaging 1-2 a month.
4. Highlight flexibility.
If you have ever led a student trip before you know the importance of flexibility. But often times our students never see that part of the trip because they are only engaging the trip not serving behind the scenes. That’s one of the key differences between a retreat or camp and a mission trip. On a mission trip students are serving and leading, not simply consuming. So helping your students understand flexibility, why it is necessary, and how it may look on the trip will help to strengthen and equip your team to do their best work and be for one another and the community you are serving.
5. Build your leadership team ahead of time.
As you are beginning to prepare for your trip it is important to recruit the necessary leaders for the trip before you begin to advertise it to your students. This allows you to have the appropriate student-to-leader ratios and it also helps you to have the leaders needed for the trip. We all have amazing leaders who serve in our ministries but not all of those leaders may want or be able to serve on a mission trip. So figuring out who can and should go ahead of time allows you to be better prepared for the trip by having your leadership team in place.