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How to Keep Youth Focused During a Mission Trip

By: Chase Snyder

The sun was shining full blast and the humidity was 90 percent on this particular day in Palin, Guatemala. This was the first year I led our student ministry on an international mission trip with one of our church’s ministry partners. While I was still getting acclimated to the village, ministry opportunities in Guatemala, and how our student ministry could continue our ongoing support, I noticed something disturbing about my team.

Some of our students were taking more pictures of the people in Guatemala than serving the people of Guatemala.

These pictures would eventually end up on Instagram with a memory of the accomplished ministry. In an effort to capture the moment for Instagram, some of our students missed a moment to spread the Gospel of Jesus.

Short term mission trips are an incredible way for your students to grow as followers of Jesus and to build up the local church around the globe. But there is also the potential of some students viewing the mission trip as a vacation week or summer camp. In Guatemala, some of our students were not prepared to serve during the week-long mission trip.

If you are planning to serve locally, nationally, or internationally, it is your responsibility to make sure your mission trip doesn’t become a vacation for the students. Mission trips have one purpose – to share the Gospel with the nations. That is much different than a vacation, where your goals may include rest, fun, adventure, and more.

And these days, when we can easily see our friends’ travel adventures because they are posted online, it is difficult not to jump at the chance to go on an international mission trip. Getting to go somewhere far away and exotic and have the perk of serving too is just too good to pass up for many of our students.

If we aren’t careful, our students can focus their attention on the fun and adventurous aspects of the trip instead of preparing for the potential impact God will make during the week. Does that mean students should work 14-hour days? Of course not! But there is a fine line between serving people and serving your own agenda.

Here are six ways you can prepare students for your upcoming mission trip.

Clearly Lay Out The Expectations For The Mission Trip

The difference between packing for a vacation versus a mission trip is the goal once we arrive at our destination. Students will spend tons of time and energy on raising support and resources for the trip. It is natural to become consumed with getting to the ministry site itself and lose sight of what God is going to do once you are on the ground.

Prioritize time in your planning meetings to prepare your students spiritually. Don’t forget to pray, study God’s Word, and worship with your team before you leave for the mission trip.

Walk Through A Bible Reading Plan During The Mission Trip

Many ministry sites will have a Bible study guide for each team member to walk through during the mission trip. This is not just some tradition for mission trips – it’s essential for spiritual vitality. The temptation to rush through personal devotions so that you can get more work done must be anticipated and avoided. Remember that your ministry impact is based on God’s provisions, not your efforts. Lead your students to Jesus as they lead other people to Him.

Record A Daily Video Blog

Take a video with your phone talking about what God has done that day, sharing stories from students and voicing prayer requests. Keep the videos short and shoot them when everyone arrives home from the ministry site that evening. The simpler video, the better. This is a great way to let the students’ family and the church know how God is working while you are on a mission and inform them of what it is like for a student to serve on a mission trip. It also keeps your students focused on God and the stories of life change happening around them while they are there.

Daily Prayer Time With Your Group

You need to spend time with your ministry team debriefing the day and praying. This will energize the team and keep you focused on ministry. The meetings shouldn’t last more than 30 minutes so that everyone can get adequate rest. We ask four simple questions: How did Jesus show up today? What went well? What was confusing? What was missing?

Share The Gospel Each Day

You went on a mission trip to be the hands and feet of Jesus and to share the Gospel. Students will meet physical needs, but you are also there to address spiritual needs. Mission trips are different from humanitarian efforts. Christians must actively build up local churches and missionaries, encourage the locals, and share the Gospel while on the mission.

This will look different based on the mission trip that you take. Have plenty of conversations with the partner ministry about how your team can make a spiritual impact and support local churches before you arrive on site.

Stay Connected To The Ministry Site When You Return Home

Whether you served with a non-profit, missionary, church, or camp, chances are they have social media accounts and blogs you can follow. Make those connections and gather information before you leave so your student ministry can interact with them throughout the upcoming year.

Reminder: Always ask the ministry leaders and missionaries what is acceptable when it comes to social media engagement. Contact may be limited in some areas of persecution. Always default to the ministry’s guidelines.