By Brian Frye
If you’ve grown up in the church, you’ve likely been on and heard about all kinds of mission trips. If you’re new to following Christ, mission trips are a great way to grow in your faith, to develop confidence in sharing Christ and to grow deeper in community with other believers. Here are a few pointers on planning and leading a high-impact mission trip:
1. Do a pre-trip visit
Before you go on a mission trip, be sure to have leaders in your church or ministry do homework on the ministry you’ll be working with and the “mission” you’ll be doing. Whether you are working with a ministry, a church plant, an agency or just doing your own trip, a scout team to the mission trip destination will be extremely helpful. During the visit, meet as many people as you can. Ask questions of any ministry leaders you’ll be working with in the field, and work through the logistics for the trip. Most importantly, spend some time prayer walking the areas where you’ll be doing your work.
2. Cultivate the team in the gospel before departure
Way too many mission trips happen with little focus on team building and even less focus on gospel preparation. Plan around two to three times, before the trip, to get to know each other. Personality tests and problem-solving scenarios help the individuals move from a “me-based” toward a “we-based” mindset. It is also critical to teach the gospel to the group, and teach them how to share the gospel. Our recommendation is that you share the gospel, have them share the gospel with family and friends, and then take them out sharing before you make the trip. Team connect and gospel reps, equals missional success.
3. Pre-plan the trip as a team
Two to four weeks before the trip begins, bring the team together for a trip-planning meeting. During the meeting, create a play-by-play for the trip. Have key activities mapped and field contacts available (e.g., housing, ministry leaders, rental companies, meal planning) so team members can own the process of planning and orchestrating a trip. We’ve found it extremely helpful to create the schedule collaboratively in Google docs so team members have accessibility to the document.
4. Do a devotion time with focused content each morning
Devotions times should be the most valuable and deliberate times of every mission trip, every morning. They give clarity to the mission, and serve as the catalyst for spiritual development in your team and fuel for gospel expansion. You can use excerpts of a course like Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, a Bible study built on a missionaries biography or even something you’ve created on your own. The key is to ensure team members are reading Scripture, mediating on what they’ve read, sharing with team member and praying for God’s. Teaching and modeling communion with God is one of the most important things a mission team leader can ever instill in his or her team.
5. Share the gospel at least three times daily
Mission trips are about “the mission” and the mission is about sharing the gospel. If we don’t model, teach and require mission trip participants to share the gospel regularly during trips, can we expect them to be a fruit-bearing disciple-making believer back home? Three circles, The Bridge, Soularium, Gospel Appointments, Soularium and T4T are a few of the many tools you can use. Whatever you choose, make sure you teach and model the gospel to your students. Budget time each day daily for each student to share the gospel. Few actions will benefit your ministry culture more than repeated gospel sharing on mission trips and normalizing the practice upon returning home.
6. End the day with family time
If you are doing devotions in the morning and sharing Christ throughout the day, there will be much to talk about that night. Take an hour each night to allow the group to discuss their daily highlights and lowlight, and how they saw God at work. Leading a group to process their experience verbally draws the team closer, guides them to rely upon the Father and provides the leader prime opportunities for affirmation and instruction. Have the team pray 1) for God to guide the next day’s activity, 2) for an awareness/readiness to obey God’s prompting and 3) for divine appointments where people can hear and accept Christ.
7. Select a daily team leader
In all that we do, especially in leading mission trips, leaders should be lead with a “next man (or woman) up” mindset. You should ask: “What can I do now to ensure every person on this team leads a mission team of their own in the future?” We have found the best way to make this happen is assigning one person to be the point person for the team each day. While the mission team leader maintains overall leadership or the trip, the point person calls all the shots for the day (e.g., where to eat, what to do, where to share Christ, when to pray, etc.). When problems arise or decisions need to be made, the team also goes to the point person for answers.
8. Interact with the best kingdom multipliers you can find
One of the best steps to ensuring you pull off high-impact mission trips is spending time with ministry leaders and ministries having significant impact in their context. On first exposure to missions, students need to spend time where they can grow the most. When instilling a healthy concept of missions in students, they need exposure to health, fruit and growth. Don’t confuse health with easy. They need to see and face the challenge of missions, too.
9. Select strategic trip locations where you can plant
Most churches and ministries chose mission trip locations with minimal strategic thinking involved. What if you chose mission trips based on where your church could support, sponsor or send people to help start or accelerate church planting? Think about it for a moment. The natural outcome of sharing Christ is seeing people accept Christ and become disciples. The outcome of making disciples is starting new groups. Ultimately, the outcome of new believers making disciples and building new groups is starting new churches. Nothing will invigorate your church and students more than seeing this type of kingdom expansion take place.
10. Extend the trip with remembrance tools
Even the best short-term mission trips have a limited shelf life in the memories of participants. A phenomenal way to extend the impact of the trip is to budget time on the last day for trip extending activities. Have students write a letter of remembrance about what God is teaching them during the trip. Or, have the team formulate a plan to engage people with Christ back home. The driving goal here is to give the team tangible action steps for after the trip.
11. Take a hard ask to the mission field
It is important to call your team members to the mission field. This idea may seem radical, counterintuitive and costly, but you cannot miss this step. With the influence and authority that God has given you, you are obligated to beseech your team to leverage their lives for the gospel and return to this mission field for two years post-college to share the gospel, make disciples and accelerate church planting. Does this sound big and audacious? Sure! But consider the alternative. Whether or not any individual on your team moves to the mission field, at the end of the trip you have an opportunity to put it all on the table for them.