Planning a Mission Trip: After the Trip

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?

Planning a Mission Trip: Making the Most of Every Opportunity

While most of the heavy lifting in planning a mission trip comes in the “pre-trip” planning stages (picking a location, setting the budget, picking the team, and nailing down the details), the importance of planning what happens ON THE TRIP cannot be overlooked. Some of the most incredible things that have happened on mission trips have been spontaneous and unplanned, but I do think there are some general principles and ideas that can foster an atmosphere where those “God” moments are likely to occur.

What follows is a hodge podge of ideas from my 12 mission trip experiences. Some are general concepts to help you foster a spiritual atmosphere, some are just tips and tricks, and some are just “the way we do it” that may not fit in your context, but my hope is that something here enhances your upcoming trip.

1. Plan ahead and plan again
By planning ahead in every aspect, you will enable yourself to be a better, more engaged, more relational leader and will allow you to deal with problems as they arise.  For more planning tips, check out the other posts in this series.

2. Build spiritual momentum through daily devotions
Spiritual growth SHOULD be the reason you planned a mission trip in the first place, so set the tone by having your students do guided, well-written personal devotions each morning. Through this simple action, you can accomplish so many things. You help students build the habit of reading their Bible, you focus their attention on heavenly matters, and you can use the devos as a part of your evening teaching time. This is one of the most important things I do on each trip. If you need some great mission trip devos to get you started, check out the youthmin.org shop.

3.  Make evening debriefing a priority
Students need a chance to work through the events of the day, to laugh together, and to dig into the Word together. The evening teaching and debriefing time is probably the most important thing you can do to leverage spiritual force. Prioritize accordingly.

4.  Be aware of the “tired” factor. Don’t push too hard
A week of travel, long hours, hard work, and sleeping on air mattresses will take its toll, so be careful. If you push too hard, you may have a group of exhausted students that don’t want to work, have short tempers, and aren’t really open to God’s voice. Make sure you are watchful and vigilant about sleep, including enforcing “lights out.”

5.  Remember what’s most important
I always remind my group throughout the trip that our main purpose is never to build a fence, finish the drywall, or complete the building project. The truth is that if your group doesn’t finish the project, someone else probably will. Don’t neglect the more important, spiritual growth aspects of the trip for work or anything else. Stay focused and attentive to the more important matters, and guard them closely.

6. Give students ownership of daily tasks
One great way to build in ownership on your trip is to involve the students in the daily tasks. We assign roles to all of our students and they always do a great job. Students serve in the areas of food preparation, trash detail, setup and teardown of tables and chairs, clean up, sack lunch prep, and more. Trust your students and watch them flourish.

7. Prayer partners can empower your students spiritually
“Prayer partners” was a tradition that was already in place when I arrived at Hazelwood, but I have continued it because of the great spiritual and unifying benefits. Each student or adult on the trip is assigned the name of another student or adult as a prayer partner. Throughout the week, they are instructed to pray for that person, to give them notes of encouragement, and to give them some little “gifts” secretly. Then, on the last night, we have a “revealing” party so everyone finds out their prayer partner. It’s honestly one of the best things we do, and I encourage you to consider it for your next trip.

8. Don’t be afraid to punt in a tough situation. Plan B is okay
Obviously, every trip hits a speed bump along the way. Plans fall through, communication lines get crossed, and people let you down. Don’t be afraid to move on to Plan B when you need to. Embrace the chaos, just make sure you HAVE a Plan B.

9. Plan fun activities and tourist opportunities
Every trip we take involves some tourist element or another, which provides a great atmosphere for fun and relational growth. Often, we arrive Saturday night, attend church wherever we are with the people we are working with, and then use Sunday afternoon and evening to enjoy some fun together. Talk to your local contact to get some creative ideas, and have a blast!

10. Technology can be your friend
In this day and age, there are lots of technological resources that can enhance your mission trip. We use our facebook group to post pictures and updates throughout the week, which drives parents and students to our group for future events. When students have their cell phones (not every trip, but often in our context), we encourage our students to upload their photos to the group as well. In addition, we use a texting service to make sure our students know what’s happening throughout the trip. With our new texting service (www.sendhub.com), we will also create a parent group for each trip so that I can give text updates throughout the trip. Find yourself some great technological resources, and use them well!

These are just a few of the tricks I’ve learned along the way, but I’d be eager to hear what suggestions you would have from your experiences.

Planning a Mission Trip: Making the Most of Every Opportunity

While most of the heavy lifting in planning a mission trip comes in the “pre-trip” planning stages (picking a location, setting the budget, picking the team, and nailing down the details), the importance of planning what happens ON THE TRIP cannot be overlooked. Some of the most incredible things that have happened on mission trips have been spontaneous and unplanned, but I do think there are some general principles and ideas that can foster an atmosphere where those “God” moments are likely to occur.

What follows is a hodge podge of ideas from my 12 mission trip experiences. Some are general concepts to help you foster a spiritual atmosphere, some are just tips and tricks, and some are just “the way we do it” that may not fit in your context, but my hope is that something here enhances your upcoming trip.

1. Plan ahead and plan again
By planning ahead in every aspect, you will enable yourself to be a better, more engaged, more relational leader and will allow you to deal with problems as they arise.  For more planning tips, check out the other posts in this series.

2. Build spiritual momentum through daily devotions
Spiritual growth SHOULD be the reason you planned a mission trip in the first place, so set the tone by having your students do guided, well-written personal devotions each morning. Through this simple action, you can accomplish so many things. You help students build the habit of reading their Bible, you focus their attention on heavenly matters, and you can use the devos as a part of your evening teaching time. This is one of the most important things I do on each trip. If you need some great mission trip devos to get you started, check out the youthmin.org shop.

3.  Make evening debriefing a priority
Students need a chance to work through the events of the day, to laugh together, and to dig into the Word together. The evening teaching and debriefing time is probably the most important thing you can do to leverage spiritual force. Prioritize accordingly.

4.  Be aware of the “tired” factor. Don’t push too hard
A week of travel, long hours, hard work, and sleeping on air mattresses will take its toll, so be careful. If you push too hard, you may have a group of exhausted students that don’t want to work, have short tempers, and aren’t really open to God’s voice. Make sure you are watchful and vigilant about sleep, including enforcing “lights out.”

5.  Remember what’s most important
I always remind my group throughout the trip that our main purpose is never to build a fence, finish the drywall, or complete the building project. The truth is that if your group doesn’t finish the project, someone else probably will. Don’t neglect the more important, spiritual growth aspects of the trip for work or anything else. Stay focused and attentive to the more important matters, and guard them closely.

6. Give students ownership of daily tasks
One great way to build in ownership on your trip is to involve the students in the daily tasks. We assign roles to all of our students and they always do a great job. Students serve in the areas of food preparation, trash detail, setup and teardown of tables and chairs, clean up, sack lunch prep, and more. Trust your students and watch them flourish.

7. Prayer partners can empower your students spiritually
“Prayer partners” was a tradition that was already in place when I arrived at Hazelwood, but I have continued it because of the great spiritual and unifying benefits. Each student or adult on the trip is assigned the name of another student or adult as a prayer partner. Throughout the week, they are instructed to pray for that person, to give them notes of encouragement, and to give them some little “gifts” secretly. Then, on the last night, we have a “revealing” party so everyone finds out their prayer partner. It’s honestly one of the best things we do, and I encourage you to consider it for your next trip.

8. Don’t be afraid to punt in a tough situation. Plan B is okay
Obviously, every trip hits a speed bump along the way. Plans fall through, communication lines get crossed, and people let you down. Don’t be afraid to move on to Plan B when you need to. Embrace the chaos, just make sure you HAVE a Plan B.

9. Plan fun activities and tourist opportunities
Every trip we take involves some tourist element or another, which provides a great atmosphere for fun and relational growth. Often, we arrive Saturday night, attend church wherever we are with the people we are working with, and then use Sunday afternoon and evening to enjoy some fun together. Talk to your local contact to get some creative ideas, and have a blast!

10. Technology can be your friend
In this day and age, there are lots of technological resources that can enhance your mission trip. We use our facebook group to post pictures and updates throughout the week, which drives parents and students to our group for future events. When students have their cell phones (not every trip, but often in our context), we encourage our students to upload their photos to the group as well. In addition, we use a texting service to make sure our students know what’s happening throughout the trip. With our new texting service (www.sendhub.com), we will also create a parent group for each trip so that I can give text updates throughout the trip. Find yourself some great technological resources, and use them well!

These are just a few of the tricks I’ve learned along the way, but I’d be eager to hear what suggestions you would have from your experiences.

Planning a Mission Trip: Devil's in the Details

Let’s face it, youth ministers aren’t always known as the best planners. Sometimes, we do a great job of casting the overall vision of our ministry while neglecting the smaller details. A mission trip is not the time to miss the small stuff. Sometimes, missing a minor detail can result in major problems. As you set the wheels in motion for your next mission trip, here are some steps you can take to ensure that you don’t miss the details.

1. Have a great local contact
No matter where you are going, there will always be someone who knows the area better than you. Make sure that you have a great contact at your destination who can help out with the details, with accommodations, with local transportation, and can also be available in an emergency.

2. Pre-trip or no pre-trip?
If you are unfamiliar with the area where you are going, or don’t know your local contact very well, it might be a good idea to take a pre-trip to check out your destination. It might cost some money, but consider it an investment to save you a lot of headaches in the future. While on the pre-trip, make sure to see all of the work projects, where you will sleep, the kitchen where food will be prepared, and get the lay of the land. Make sure to meet up with your contacts and have them around to answer all of your questions.

3. Plan with a team
You’ve probably heard the old saying that “two heads are better than one.” This is totally true when it comes to planning a mission trip. Throughout the planning process, I will have conversations with all of the key players, including my local contact, my kitchen guru, my work project coordinator, and those who are driving the buses. Since all of these people are coming at the trip from a different perspective, they can often ask a question or point something out that I had never before considered. You might even consider running the details of the trip by some parents just to see what questions they ask. This will help prepare you for the parent meeting later on.

4. Day by day
The last advice I will share is to go through each day of your mission trip on a piece of paper and write down exactly what you think it will look like from breakfast to lights out. As you process each day individually, it will help you formulate the questions that have not yet been answered. I often make a phone call about a week or two prior to the mission trip to seek answers to these questions and confirm that everything is still smooth sailing.

I hope this has been insightful, and can help you as you plan the details and logistics of your next mission trip. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, and make sure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted. In the end, planning ahead will allow you to be a better youth minister on the trip.

What has been the most helpful bit of advice you have ever received when it comes to planning a trip? What questions might you add to my list? Have you ever been burned because you failed to plan?

Planning a Mission Trip: Picking the Team

Once you have the location picked out and the budget set, the next step is to get the team you want in place. This can be a crucial part of the mission trip planning process. These will be the people that your students will interact with, work with, and learn from throughout the week, so choose wisely. Here are some practical things to think through as you set your team for your upcoming trip.

1. Handpick, don’t Cattle-call.
It can be easy to overreact and panic when it comes to getting your team in place. But this is too important for the standard ministry call-out. Posting the need for adults to go on a mission trip in your weekly bulletin is probably going to lead to some awkward conversations later on. Start planning early enough that you can hand pick the people that you most want on the trip. By asking them early, you will have time to go to Plan B instead of just having to settle for whoever is “available.”

2. Recognize there are certain roles you need to fill with qualified people.
On every trip, there will always be certain jobs that need a face to go with them. For instance, since we drive large buses to all of our destinations, I know that I will need at least 2 to 3 qualified, CDL licensed, passenger-endorsed bus drivers. Typically, you want someone who is very comfortable cooking for large groups to make your meals throughout the week as well. You may also need to identify key people who can help you complete the work projects that you will be doing. Write down the specific people that you need, and go get them!

3. Prioritize the people you want interacting with your students.
Having the right adults on your trip can make a world of difference.  Often, I have more issues dealing with the adults on a trip than I do the students.  Prioritize the people you want to be with you on your mission trip, and go after them. My priority list always starts with my normal adult leaders.  Having these trusted leaders with you can stave off a lot of headaches.  Plus, it will give them great opportunities to connect on a deeper level with students.  Secondly, I go after the skilled leaders I need.  Maybe I need a bus driver, an electrician, a contractor, or someone who has experience with drywall.  Look for people who can meet a need, and make it clear to them that they have the skills you need for this trip.  Usually, when you show them they bring something valuable to the table, they are more likely to go.  Finally, I pursue parents or other great people that I know will do well with our students.  By prioritizing and communicating, you can have a great team in place quickly, which can help you avoid awkward conversations with people you don’t really want to come along.

4.  Don’t fear parents.
I know parents can sometimes be a drain, and sometimes they can be very critical, but most parents want the exact same thing you do.  Most parents want their student’s life to be changed by the message of Christ.  If you truly want to partner with parents in ministry, consider taking a few of them along with you on your next trip.  It might be good to set a few guidelines before the trip, but with some clear communication, you might gain some great allies by bringing them along and letting them see your ministry up close.

5.  What “new” people is God putting before you?
Sometimes, before a trip, I will be approached by someone I would have NEVER considered as a potential mission trip leader.  Before I turn them away, I commit to pray over it and think about how they might fit.  Sometimes, God may lay someone at your feet that you would have never picked on your own, but they end up being a great fit.  So don’t forget to be open to the Lord’s movement when it comes to picking your team.

Setting the team can be one of the most important parts of planning a mission trip.  What challenges have you faced when getting your adult leaders in place?  What does your priority list look like?  Who do you seek out first?

Planning a Mission Trip: Setting the Budget

After you have picked the perfect location for your mission trip, the next thing you need to do is to figure out the financial part.  Setting the budget can be one of the most important steps in this process, because a few errors or oversights can mean thousands of dollars that your budget wasn’t expecting.  Since there are so many things to consider when it comes to finances, let me just share with you a list of questions you should consider as you set your budget.

  1. What is the ceiling for what I charge students?  At what point do I lose students because the cost is too high?
  2. What will it cost to travel to this location?  We drive to all our locations, so I figure out mileage to and from, gas prices, gas mileage of our bus, and how many students I think will attend to get a cost per student number for my budget.  You also have to take into account any vehicle costs, toll roads, etc.
  3. What will the materials cost for this project?  We typically try to “pay” for whatever work we will be doing.  That way, we can be both a physical blessing and a financial blessing at the same time.  Ask your contact to give you an honest assessment of what they need financially.
  4. What will it cost to feed your group as well as “extras?”  Food is a pretty large expense that can sometimes be overlooked.  We have a “pro” cook who does an amazing job with our food, and I trust her implicitly.  She usually budgets about $1500 for our group of around 50 to eat for a week.  In addition, she always makes extra food, because often people you’ve been working with will join you, sometimes unexpectedly.
  5. What are some expenses you might incur while you are there?  Over the years, we have spent a lot of money on crazy things.  Bus repairs on the road, additional food when plans change, fees to shower at a fitness center, cost of tools we didn’t know we’d need until we got there, additional travel and tolls we didn’t foresee, and more.  Give yourself a cushion, and give generously.
  6. What will it cost to take my adults without charging them?  I don’t know if this is a “norm” in your ministry, but we never charge our adults to go on a trip.  They are already taking a week off from work, sometimes costing them a week’s pay.  We usually ask them to pay for their meals while we travel, but that’s about it.
  7. How can I be a blessing to those who helped make the trip a success? Often, we will try to bless the people who blessed us.  If a church hosts us, we will leave a “love offering” to cover additional electricity they are paying for, additional cost of heating the building, and so on.  If I can leave some money with the ministry we are working with, I will.  Factor that in when you plan so that you don’t find yourself in a pinch later and incapable of being generous.

 

IMG_1979With those questions in mind, here are some great ways you can cut cost on your own mission trip.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the most I’ve ever charged for a high school Spring Break mission trip is $225.  Here are a few ways you can make that happen in your ministry as well.

  1. Plan your own trip from top to bottom.  Don’t rely on an organization or agency to plan your trip.  You plan it, answer the detail questions from top to bottom, and put in the hard work.  It’s worth it, and your students will gain a lot from it.
  2. Travel cheap.  We happen to own our own buses, which makes the transportation question easy to answer.  We drive everywhere we go, which saves a great deal of money.  Airfare is REALLY expensive.  We spend a LOT of hours on a bus, but honestly, our students look forward to the trip.  It’s a great bonding time, so use it wisely.
  3. Eat cheap.  Find someone who knows their way around a kitchen, and has some leadership skills.  Luanne Reitzel is our kitchen guru.  I give her $1500 for the week, and she handles the rest.  Breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day are cooked with love.  This year, she did meals for $2.85 per person roughly.
  4. Stay cheap.  Hotels are expensive, and so are retreat centers.  Plan to rough it by staying in a church nearby.  Air mattresses and sleeping bags will work just fine.  Don’t forget to figure out showers.
  5. Plan ahead.  Know the scope of your project, and send money ahead of time.  For our most recent trip, I sent $2000 ahead to help pay for the drywall we would hang and materials we would need.  This enables our contact to get the materials ahead of time, but also helps you gauge your budget.  Also, by planning ahead, you can take most of the things you need instead of having to pay for them when you arrive.  I always take about $500 in cash just in case something comes up.
  6. Invest in what matters.  For our most recent trip, I spent the most on transportation, meals, and building materials.  I spent considerably less on T-shirts (thanks www.amb3r.com), booklets, sightseeing opportunities, and “fun stuff.”  Put your money where it has the most impact.
  7. Ask boldly when budget time rolls around.  I had about $2000 set aside out of our budget for this mission trip.  This helps us to pay for our adults, to pay for students who cannot afford to attend, and to cover unexpected expenses.  Your leadership will never know your need if you don’t ask.

I hope this post will help you make the most of your next mission trip financially.  No matter what your budget size, these tips will help you to make a great, affordable trip that your students will not soon forget.

What budgeting issues have you had when it comes to planning mission trips?  How have you cut costs for your mission trips?