I think every youth minister has wrestled with this at one point or another. So much effort and energy goes into planning and executing the mission trip that we neglect what happens AFTER the bus heads for home.
I am becoming more and more convinced that what happens at the end of the trip and the follow up after the trip are as important as the trip itself. Having a solid plan after the trip can help you to harness the incredible spiritual momentum that the trip creates.
I will be honest and confess that I don’t always do a great job of following up after the trip. Busy schedules, family, and the “next event mentality” always make this a difficult strategy to execute. But I see the value in a post-trip plan, and want to share some ideas that might help you to follow up after your next mission trip.
1. The trip home is important
As we are returning home after a great mission trip, I always instruct my students to be ready for mom and dad. Parents will always ask, “How was the trip?” I want my students to be ready to answer that question, and to answer it well. I tell them to be ready with spiritual answers, not the funny thing that happened on the bus on the way home. By having your students prepare in this way, you will help parents see the value of your trips, and you will help your students think through all that God has done on the trip.
2. Personal devotions after the trip
I think most of us probably prepare devotional thoughts or booklets for the trip itself. Something I have started doing is including a reading plan or devotion ideas for after the trip. Often, we instruct students to “stay in the Word” or “read your Bible daily,” but we rarely provide them with a game plan or resource to help them accomplish this. Late this summer, we are taking a small group of college students to Honduras. As part of their cost, we are purchasing the book Disrupted, a 52-week devotional designed for those who have experienced a cross-cultural mission trip. Either find or provide a resource to help your students stay in the Word.”
3. Get your whole church family involved
Studies like Sticky Faith have shown that one of the best ways to keep students plugged in to the church is to connect them with the larger church Body as a whole. When we return from a mission trip, we almost always play a slideshow in the main worship service, highlight the trip, and wear our mission trip T-shirts together on the same Sunday. I also instruct the congregation to seek out the students wearing the mission trip T-shirts and ask them about their trip. Sometimes, depending on the trip, we may devote a Sunday night or a Wednesday night to highlighting the trip, and allowing students to speak about their experience. Be creative, but involve the whole church in spiritual growth after the trip.
4. Use technology to stay in touch
We usually create a texting group for all the students that are on our mission trips. After the trip, this texting group is a great resource for spiritual encouragement. By occasionally sharing a scripture, a word of encouragement, or a challenging question, you can help extend the trip in the mind of the student. This can also be a powerful tool to help you connect with the parents of those students. The sky is the limit!
5. Plan a reunion
One final idea that may help encourage your students to continue growing spiritually is to plan a mission trip reunion. Get together with the group, reminisce about the trip, and ask challenging questions about how their life is different because of it.
I know following up after a mission trip can be hard work, but it can also be very beneficial to your ministry and the students you love. I’m curious, what are some great post-trip things you have done to encourage your students?