Four years ago, I went on a mission trip to New York City with a group of Acteens (teen girls) from First Baptist Church of Minden, Louisiana! Beyond all the lights, cameras, and action, we quickly realized that the Big Apple was a place with significant needs and ministry opportunities.
With a population size of over eight million people, New York City’s needs were vastly overwhelming, but God is at work, and He has equipped believers to carry out His mission.
As I prepared for this trip, I discovered ten key ways to plan for and lead a student mission trip.
Always seek God’s guidance and be sure that He is leading you on this trip. Scripture to help prepare your heart is: “Pray without ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and “Put on the full armor of God” Ephesians 5:11-13.
- Choose a Destination
Begin by examining your network. Do you have a connection to a North American Mission Board or International Mission Board missionary? Has a missionary been sent out from your church? Has a team been on a mission trip where they felt a connection to the people? Check out www.peoplegroups.info to find people groups in your potential place of service. Some unreached people group you desire to reach may have a significant population of their kin here in the United States.
- Choose a Project
The most effective short-term mission trip is always in the context of an ongoing, long-term partnership relationship. We see a missions partnership in the book of Philippians.
Mission Partnership models the church body doctrine (unity), offers ownership, and is an expression of being intentional, practical, and strategic. Always seek to be a help and not a hindrance to the missions efforts.
- Identify Mission Team Members
Who are the individuals in your church that have expressed and demonstrated a heart for missions? Invite them to a social and share your vision of a mission team that God can use. Set high standards/requirements and stick to them. Show each potential member what is expected of them and construct a covenant. Is everyone ready for teamwork?
- Develop a Timeline
Know the result of the trip at the very beginning of planning. Make sure that God is glorified in everything that you do. CARRY ON by Libby Quigg (Chapter 2) is an excellent resource to help you pace your trip preparations.
- Train Your Team
When training your team, it is always helpful to cover team member testimonies, practical details, packing, working on-site, being flexible, evangelism preparedness, and trip logistics. CARRY ON by Libby Quigg (Chapter 7) explains how this is done.
- Involve the Whole Church
Invite the entire church to be involved in this mission trip. We know that all members can pray, some give, and some go. Encourage the congregation to pray, collect supplies, prepare ministry materials, and donate things. Develop or download a 30-day prayer guide and enlist a prayer team while you are gone. You can also have a commissioning service for your team.
- Working on the Field
To be most useful to the people that you are trying to reach, always remember to pray continually, have an orientation upon arrival, and stay connected as a mission team. Learn about the culture/language and ask thoughtful questions. Minister to those you meet. Bringing a care package to the missionary or pastor is always sweet.
- Cultural Taboos
Each country is different and unique. It is wise to read about the country or people group before you leave home. Understanding national pride, respecting taboos and customs, and not making promises you cannot keep will help you in the long run.
- Arriving Back at Home
Arriving back at home can be challenging for any group. Always remember to share your experience with the church and recall how you saw God at work. Taking time to debrief and helping team members readjust to life back at home allows them time to process what took place. One way to stay connected with field personnel is through post-trip follow up.
Help leaders to understand that missions have many components and consists of more than just an annual mission trip or mission project. Focusing only on mission trips without ever focusing on praying for or supporting missions would be detrimental to the church’s overall missions education.
Questions that I ask before going on any mission trip are:
- Why do I want to go on a mission trip?
- Do I sense God’s leading in this direction? Are the right doors opening?
- Am I willing to be stretched physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
- Am I willing to give up my rights regarding comfort to serve others?
Throughout Scripture, we are called to be disciple-makers. In the Bible, some things are mandates. We see Jesus give a commission to believers after His resurrection in Matthew 28:19–20. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Jesus has commanded every believer to take the gospel into all the world. That is where we fit in: to make disciples and share the good news of Jesus.