How to Plan a Mission Trip

The following is an excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Fall Magazine. To read more, click here.

Changing the Thought From “Where to Go?” to “Let’s Make Disciples”

When thinking about mission trips, don’t get caught in the short-sited thinking of just planning a trip. Start with your heart to disciple your students in missional living that lasts a lifetime. Add to that your desire to serve and submit to the host church or ministry and consider the standards of excellence (see 

As you ponder the trip being one aspect of discipleship, consider these things:

A progression: How can your students plug into the existing community outreach of your church or help advance it? What experiences will teach your students how to minister in their own back yard? How can they see the strengths and needs of your own community? Consider planning a mission trip this summer that will help expand their understanding of how God works through churches to reach a community. Then, build toward that trip with some late winter and spring service projects in your own backyard. Plan to go back to those service projects in August – October to follow up relationally and perhaps continue through the rest of the school year.

A rhythm: You might consider a very local mission trip for your students in middle school, then a regional one for grades 9 and 10 and a longer distance trip for your older students. Or, keep them all together and go local, regional and long distance progressively. You do not have to leave the country to learn about another culture. No matter where you live you can find first/second generation immigrants or possibly first nation people groups to learn from and serve with. In fact, Youth Unlimited has some customizable sites that include cross-cultural learning.

Your teaching: Your mission trip and service projects are like fence posts. They won’t do much good without the rails of ongoing mentoring relationships (in missional living) and solid week-to-week bible teaching. Add into your curriculum Bible content on missions, missional living and stories of those who live life on mission. The Youth Unlimited Resource Box has suggested pre- and post-trip teaching sessions. Talk about or even bring in and interview the business leader who sees their career as missions or the pregnancy center director or the prayer warrior for your missionaries, etc.

For more help on planning a specific trip feel free to call our Mission Director, Jerry Meadows. He has extensive experience and resources in student missions and mission trips, both domestic and international.

If you’re planning a trip and are planning to come to Youth Unlimited’s Serve, keep in mind:

  1. The Resource Box is full of great helps. Check into it before you even start promoting. There is a planning time line, a parents’ letter, pastors’ letter and promotional items to help you cast the vision.
  1. Check dates with parents early in the process. Even before October 1, begin asking parents if they have a family vacation planned or know of camps/activities in the summer you should plan around. Don’t just ask the students to ask their parents. Go to the parents directly. This gives you a good contact with them and avoids miscommunication.
  1. Consider distance and destination. How far do you want to travel? Will a long road trip build your group unity for the rest of the year? Does it fit the budget? How does the host church/community fit into the progression or rhythm of your mission strategy? Are you looking to move your students outside their typical environment (rural, urban, suburban, ethnicity, etc.) or teach them how others in a very similar environment love their community?
  1. Budget carefully. If you do not have a budget worksheet for your mission trips, ask your church treasurer to help you create one or call a youth ministry veteran. This is essential to your planning and fund raising. Raising funds is an important work of missions.
  1. Raise prayer support as well. Every summer there are over 1,500 students and youth leaders who go on Serve, and we estimate there are more than 5,000 adults who support them in prayer. You might even put your vision, the intended outcomes and a bit about your team and your Host Church in your church bulletin before and after your trip.
  1. Plan your post-trip process in three parts: debrief, follow up and follow through. This will help students understand what they think and how they feel about the trip and also help them integrate what they learned during the trip into their everyday life. See the Serve Post-Trip Plan in the Resource Box for this process.