Summer is mission trip season for many of us in youth ministry and my social media feeds are currently full of pictures and comments celebrating the wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments surrounding short-term mission trips. I love it. It’s awesome.
Strangely, many of the same people fill up my fall and winter social media feeds asking for advice or feedback on options for next summer’s trip. Why submit yourself to the effort, stress, and vision-casting needed to make a new trip happen, when you already have had an experience full of wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments on a short-term mission trip?
So, in a selfish effort to clean up my youth ministry social media feeds this winter, I want to make life easier for you. I want to pass along a youth ministry shortcut that I’m passionate about. A “hack,” if you will, to make sure your mission trip next year is both less stressful to plan, and more honoring of those you serve.
Book the same trip, to the same location, at the same time of year.
I understand the temptation to choose new locations each year for your mission trips.
- Variety keeps things interesting
- Your teens (and you!) enjoy visiting new locations and cultures
- The hope that “maybe this year your teens will be more excited about going to _________ than when hardly anyone signed up last year when you went to __________.”
But each of those reasons are far more about us than they are about honoring those we are serving.
When we choose to invest in the same area, the same city, the same neighborhoods, and the same people we open ourselves, and our teens, up to a consistency that God honors in fruitful ways. The resulting relationships end up being far more mutual, honoring, and formational than what we usually experience on a one-off trip. (You can read a little more about my personal experience with consistent mission trips HERE)
Consistency isn’t valued nearly enough by youth pastors when it comes to mission trips.
Consistency means you get to know and trust an organization more and more while they get the opportunity to know and trust your group.
Consistency means there’s a likelihood of seeing the same folks year after year and actually building meaningful relationships with them, instead of a one-time interaction.
Consistency means you and your church get to see the active, ongoing work of God outside of your normal context at home.
Consistency means that it will be a lot more difficult to fall into the unhelpful, but all too common, trap of swooping in to an area as (likely) white, middle class people playing savior for a week, never to be seen again.
So, if you have already returned from a week of service, love, and community on a short-term mission trip – awesome. Want to know the most important thing you can do in the wake of such a profound experience?
Call up the organization you went through and sign up to do it again next summer. Sign up for the same city, the same community, and, if possible, the same service partners.
Maybe you are still gearing up for you group’s trip, and have high expectations of the wonderful, beautiful, Jesus-led moments that are about to happen. Awesome. Want to know the most important thing you can do if those hopes and dreams are fulfilled?
Call up the organization you went through and sign up to do it again next summer. Sign up for the same city, the same community, the same service partners.
Maybe you recently returned from a mission trip and it went horribly. The organization you worked with was unprepared, disorganized, and dishonoring of the folks you were serving. Don’t sign up with them again! Find a better mission trip option and do that next summer! But then stick with that trip for the coming years.
I truly pray that each and every trip this summer has expanded you and your group’s concept of just how big and how active God is in our world. And how big and active a role they get to play in that world. If that was (or will be) the case for you this summer, go ahead and make the call. And next year go back to the same area, the same city, the same neighborhoods, and the same people. Watch how God honors the work and those relationships and consistency grows year after year.
Brad Hauge is a lifelong resident of the great Pacific Northwest and has survived this youth ministry thing for 15 years in spite of crippling introversion. He is currently the Director of Student Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, where he lives with his wife and daughters- who are far better humans than he is.