youth ministry, youth worker, mistakes

3 Common Mission Trip Mistakes

By Doug Franklin July 7, 2011

I lead my first student mission trip in 1985 – I am old and I have made lots of mistakes. Trust me, I am qualified to discuss mistakes. One of my best ones was when I left $2,800 at a McDonalds on a trip to Arizona. I find that I most often make mistakes when I don’t challenge my own thinking, when I don’t focus on the why.

Three common mistakes I see most often by youth workers.

        1.       Prepare for logistics not spiritual outcomes
When were preparing to lead a group of students on a mission trip we can feel like all the details are overwhelming and so we focus on logistics. Do we have the forms, housing, work project and ministry set up? This focus is important but it’s not priority. We aren’t just taking students on a trip; we are preparing an opportunity for them to live out their faith in Christ. They need to understand what God’s word says about living a missional lifestyle and living out the power of Christ by serving the least in this world. If we fail to prepare them for this then the trip loses its potential and becomes an outing, nothing more.

        2.       Focus on trip site not heart

I know the pressure of making sure enough students sign-up for a trip and I know the pressure of having to get parents to believe where you’re going is safe. But are your students more excited about going to ________ (your site location of your trip) or serving the God who made them and has redeemed them? Honestly, have you talked more about the site and what they will see or about the heart they will need to serve those that have less than them?

        3.       No plan to debrief
I can’t tell you how many times youth workers have told me that when they return from their mission trip they are going on vacation. It seems odd to me that when your students are most ready to make applications and life changing commitments that we are out of town. When I was a youth pastor, on returning from a two week mission trip the first thing I would do was sit down and write a note to every student on the trip about how I saw God work in their lives. I would then take it to the post office so it could be delivered by the time they woke up the first morning home. That first morning back home students will decide, are they living the same or will they live out the changes they committed to on the trip? If you want help debriefing your mission trip check out Mission Life in the LeaderTreks store. It’s a great curriculum resource.

I want to challenge you to ask yourself WHY. Why are we doing this and what difference will it make? These questions could lead you to make some changes in your missions program that will help your students mature and grow in new ways.

Doug Franklin

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