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youth worker, student ministry, youth ministry

10 Keys to Leading a Great Mission Trip

By Doug Franklin June 5, 2013

For the past few months, I have been making presentations to adult volunteers who will be going on summer mission trips with LeaderTreks. I do this every year, but this year I wanted to focus on helping adult volunteers really understand the purpose for student missions. So I created this presentation called 10 Keys to Leading a Great Mission Trip. Ten things may seem like a lot, but all of these things are important.

Just a quick note: I wanted to focus on this because for the past few years I have noticed that one group of people who don’t seem to get what students can do are the adult volunteers. The truth is we seldom have any problems on mission trips with students, but we often butt heads with adult volunteers. While there are different reasons why, I’ve found most fall into two categories: 1) Adults want logistical roles and not relationships with students (they are afraid of students), and 2) Adults want to rescue students and not challenge them. It is very difficult to train adults on the actual trip, so I focused the pre-trip training on helping volunteers have more impact with students through the experience.

The 10 keys are:

1. Going is not enough

We must be intentional with a student’s mission experience in order to see transformational change happen. Often we think that it’s great the kids are doing a service project. This is shortsighted; we don’t just want them to go, we want them to grow. By being intentional with the mission trip, we could see students return with a desire for a daily quiet time, or we could see them want to spend their whole lives in service to the needy. God can do so much through our students; let’s not sell Him short.

2. Be a trip mentor

A trip is a great place to develop a long-term, life-changing relationship with a student. We must be more than chaperones. Most adults go on trips with students to keep them out of trouble and drive the van. If adults used the trip to develop deep relationships that led to mentoring, then the trip could be more than a mountain top experience for students. Challenge and train adults to look for opportunities to become a mentor while on the trip.

3. Have a purpose for the trip

What do you want your students to look like when they return? How do you want them to be different? Once you have answered this question, work backward from that goal to where you are now. What kind of experiences do your students need to have to look and think like your goal? Share your plan with the other adults going on the trip. Cast the vision for your plan to parents and get them on board. Inspire the students with how their world will be different because they have changed. All of these activities will be positive reinforcement of the purpose of the trip.

4. Inspire spiritual growth

A mission trip is a great place for a student to encounter God. Students will feel a need for God while on the trip, and this is a great opportunity for you to introduce them to spiritual disciplines. Set aside time on the trip for devotions and prayer. Provide a tool like a Bible study guide or prayer journal that students can use. Encourage students to continue with spending time with God even as they return home. Don’t miss this golden opportunity to inspire spiritual growth.

5. Find teachable moments

Teachable moments happen when you mix a student’s experience with the truth of God’s Word. On mission trips, students will encounter many different experiences, and they will be challenged to think in new ways. Look for the moments to help them make applications for changing their lives back home. We have the opportunity to help them connect the dots between real life and God’s Word.

6. Challenge students

Challenging students starts with challenging the top performing students. Usually, we want to challenge the students who don’t “get it.” But challenging the student who does is much more productive since it gives those who are struggling a model to follow. Challenge can be as simple as asking students: Is there a better way? How can we improve tomorrow? These questions will require students to think about their performance and how they can grow.

7. Get sleep

Trips become increasingly ineffective as team members become tired. I am amazed by how many teams come on trips with the idea they are going to stay up all night. Years of experience have proven this to be true: Students can’t be challenged or learn if they haven’t had enough sleep.

8. Add value to your adult volunteers

I have led over 200 student mission trips, and the number one problem I see over and over again is adult volunteers who have no idea what they are doing on the trip. They come because youth trips need adults, but beyond that, they are not sure why they are there. We can change this by offering pre-trip training, by providing clear roles, and by having a clear purpose for the adults being on the trip (As mentioned above, my purpose would be mentoring relationships that lead to life change.). Another way to add value to adult volunteers is to write a note to their spouse thanking them for their sacrifice.

9. Remember Boundaries = Love

Don’t give students what they want; give them what they need. If you raise the level of expectation, your students will rise to meet it. If we have low expectations for our students, they will meet that as well. Start now before the trip and ask more of students than you think possible. Challenge their potential and see what happens.

10. Stay connected to God

You can’t impart what you do not have. If your spiritual tank is empty, you can’t expect students to fill theirs. We must work first and foremost to have intimacy with Christ. Acts 20:28 says, “So guard yourself and God’s people.” Giving to others starts with having something to give; it starts with you having a deep, personal relationship with God.

Focusing on these keys, you will lead to great mission trips this summer!

About the Author

Doug Franklin

Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners  who never leave their side. Doug grew up in…  Read More