my worst ever mission trip mistake, mission trip, youth ministry

My Worst-Ever Mission Trip Mistake

By Doug Franklin May 18, 2018

I led my first student mission trip in 1985. What can I say? I’m old, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes.

You wouldn’t believe it, but I once left $2,800 at a McDonalds on a trip to Arizona. Yikes! That one cost me…literally.

I’ve found that my most costly mistakes come when I forget to challenge my own thinking and focus on the why. Maybe, like me, you’ve fallen into one of these three traps before. So let’s talk about how to turn potential failures into great successes.

“If we fail to bring students’ focus to Christ, then the trip loses its potential and becomes an outing, nothing more.”

#FAIL: I focused on the location, not the heart

We’re under a lot of pressure to get students to sign-up for a trip. And we have the challenge of making sure that parents are on board. All in all, we find ourselves talking up “location, location, location,” and we forget to cultivate in our students a heart for mission. If your students more excited about going to ________, consider putting together a team meeting or some kind of pre-trip training to get them talking about why God wants us to have hearts for the lost and the least, no matter where we go. We’ve even put together a Free Pre-Trip Devotional for mission teams.

#FAIL: I prepared for logistics, not spiritual growth

When we’re preparing to lead a mission trip, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by details. And so we drop everything to focus on logistics. Do we have everyone’s forms? Is our housing set up? Do we know our work projects and ministry opportunities? And while these details are important, we’ve got to remember that they aren’t our top priority. We aren’t just taking students on a trip; we are preparing an opportunity for them to live out their faith in Christ. If we fail to bring their focus to Christ, then the trip loses its potential and becomes an outing, nothing more. These days I love to get intentional about spiritual growth in two ways. 1) I build student profiles. (You can check out this idea in my post: Putting Mission Back into Mission Trips.) Essentially, my student profiles give me a way to set individual goals for each of my students. 2) I use tools like a Bible study or a prayer journal to encourage students to spend time with God on the trip and at home.

#FAIL: I had no plan to debrief

How you finish a trip is just as important as how you start, and here again, I’ve made mistakes. Like a lot of other youth workers, I used to return from a mission trip and want nothing more than to start my vacation. Now, however, I think that this is one of the worst mistakes we can make.  Our students are most ready to make applications and life changing commitments when they return home. That means we need to be in town! When you get back from a trip, sit down and write a note to every student about how you saw God work in their lives. Take it to the post office right away and have it delivered by the time they wake up the first morning home. That first morning is when students will decide whether or not they’ll go back to their old lives. We also have a resource called Mission Life that’s designed to help you process and debrief with your whole team.

We all have our moments of failure, but as we approach the summer, I hope you can learn from some of my past mistakes!

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