It’s final, after much prayer, you’ve decided to take youth from your church on a mission trip. “Now,” you may ask, “what do I do next?”
The first item of business is prayer. When deciding where to take your team, you must first realize there are hundreds if not thousands of opportunities for mission work. Pray, asking God to lead you to the place where your team can serve the best.
The next step would be to set the date for your trip. Most places are flexible enough to work with you on the trip date if you begin your planning soon enough. It is important to begin planning at least six to eight months prior to the date you choose. Allowing this much time ensures the chances of scheduling the trip when it best suits your team. You can plan a trip in less time, but I would advise against trying it.
Putting a team together is somewhat difficult. Rules and guidelines should be in place well in advance of the trip. Once you decide where you are going, the missionaries in that area will help you in deciding the dress code, expected rules of conduct etc. You should have written, clear and defined guidelines for members to adhere. Communicate your expectations to the team.
Most ministry areas have age or grade completion requirements. Usually youth must have completed ninth grade to participate. In addition to age requirement, you will need to consider your youth and the qualifications of the team.
Age should not be the only qualifier. The youth need to realize volunteering for missions is a huge commitment. It is important to schedule sign-up opportunities for around a month. During this time advertise and promote mission opportunities. If at this point you already know where you are going, I do not recommend announcing the trip location. Those choosing to go should do so for the mere reason to serve.
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
Now that you know the date and your team is in place, you should determine the type of work your team can do. Is your team more of the service type? Do they want to paint, clean, build or do some other service work? Maybe they are a creative ministry team, or more of a sports camp team, or possibly a resort ministry team. What exactly does your team want to do?
Once you determine the kind of ministries is best for your team, this is the time to visit the North American Mission Board website (namb.net). You will find many opportunities depending on your team’s abilities. Clicking on the Find Opportunities button will lead you to the bridge.
The Bridge is an excellent web tool on the North American Mission Board website (namb.net). Southern Baptist Missionaries across the United States who are seeking teams to help in their ministry, provide a list of their needs. After registering, you will have the chance to review and select a project type. Narrow your choices by region. At this point, you should decide how far you are willing to travel.
You will likely spend some time on the search for just the right place for your ministry. All the while, continue in prayer, petitioning the Lord for guidance. This is when the fun really begins. It is exciting when you receive contact from the missionaries-usually by e-mail, sometimes by telephone. Deciding where to go becomes vexing at times but soon you will discover where God is leading you.
WHAT IS A PRE-PROJECT VISIT?
When you finally choose the location, the missionary in the area where your team will be traveling will likely set up a pre-project visit. You will schedule a date to travel in advance of the mission trip to the project area. The excitement and anxiety builds at this point.
The pre-project visit is a time for you to meet the missionary you will be working with as well as determining what you will be doing. Tours of the area, work on your teams schedule and receiving many helpful tips on making the upcoming trip a success will likely be on the agenda.
While waiting to attend the pre-project visit, you and your team should begin to meet on a regular basis. Bonding is a very important element of building your team. Because you do not know exactly what you will be doing on the trip, now is the time to be working on spiritual growth through Bible studies. This is also an excellent opportunity to begin working on witnessing skills. There are many studies available to aid in teaching these skills.
Taking a video camera on your pre-project visit is very important. You will not remember all of the information you will receive while there. The video will be a great tool when returning home to plan for the trip. Showing the video to the team will increase the excitement as well as serve as a visual planning guide.
After the pre-project visit, intense preparation should begin. If your team is to teach a Bible school or day camp, the planning for that begins at this point. Encourage team members to volunteer to teach VBS in your church if scheduled prior to your departure. I would rate this very high on the list of requirements especially if your team plans to teach while on the trip. Teaching VBS will serve as a practice for your team and will help them be better prepared.
If you are planning a work trip, your focus will be on gathering materials needed. Whatever the plan, preparation is vital to the success of the trip.
Complete travel arrangements well in advance of the trip. Who is driving? Do you need to rent a van or a U-Haul? How many cars do you need once you are there?
Speaking of U-Haul, loading supplies and equipment the night before your scheduled departure will decrease the harried feeling sure to come in the morning. Have team members load all of their luggage, linens, pillows, cots or whatever they will need the night before also. They can each bring one overnight bag the next morning for last minute items, makeup and such. The overnight bag will be especially important if your team will be staying in a motel prior to arriving on the mission field. This will help keep you from digging through supplies to find luggage.
It is very important to involve the church in this trip. Have members donate needed supplies or money to purchase the supplies. Ask for prayer partners for your team members. Church members can be praying for specific team members while they are away. The prayer partners can be encouraged to give goodie bags to team members to take with them on the trip. Daily notes of encouragement added to the goodie-bag are always a pleasant surprise for the individuals.
Encourage your pastor to have a commissioning service the Sunday prior to your leaving for the trip. When you return, hold a celebration service for your team. They can report to the church the happenings of the trip. Show slides or video.
Enjoy the trip. Be flexible and ready to make changes without notice. One year when our team traveled from Kentucky to Georgia, about half way into our trip, I received a phone call from our missionary. There had been some mix-up about where we would be staying. Another team mistakenly scheduled to stay in the same church as our group refused to yield to changing to another location. They adamantly voiced that the missionary was at fault for the conflict.
I could feel our missionary’s stress surging through the phone line and hear it in her voice. After consulting with co-leaders, we decided to do what was necessary to make this situation work for everyone. In other words, we chose to be flexible.
The proposed change included a hefty increase in the cost of our stay. Our missionary was worried about our reaction and apologized profusely. I assured her we would make it work somehow. As it turned out, we had a wonderful place to stay, the kitchen stocked with cooking utensils, could not have been better. The gymnasium was air-conditioned and our youth loved the place. We felt truly blessed and we used the opportunity to teach our group through actions that trusting God is imperative.
Our team enjoyed staying there that week. The following year when we returned to Georgia, we asked to stay in that particular church.
Don’t allow setbacks and required changes to have a negative impact on your team. Use every occasion to teach the team to trust Christ and wait upon Him to bring good out of the bad. Remind your team they are there to do a job, sometimes they will have to make necessary adjustments.
Soon after returning home from your trip, you should begin praying and thinking about next year’s trip. In a few short months, it will be time to begin planning once again.
Going out on mission can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. For most of us, it is a life changing experience. Our church (a medium sized country church) has taken a team of fifteen to twenty on average every year for the past eleven years. Sometimes our teams have been mostly youth other times mostly adults. We have found God can use us no matter what age we are.
I am pleased at the profound effect it has had on our church and our members. I would encourage every church to be actively involved in missions. God will bless your efforts.