I love the youth minister at my church. She’s great. The students and the parents love her, too. She’s affected many lives in her ministry.
She leads three mission trips each summer. One with the junior high, one with the senior high, and one with young adults. She knows first-hand how powerful mission trips are in shaping faith in people. She knows how valuable it is to take people away for a week of service.
But there’s one thing she does I don’t get. She does all those mission trips on her own.
She organizes the home repair projects (in out-of-state communities). She manages the purchase and delivery of building materials. She arranges the lodging. She figures out the meals and gets someone to get the food and prepare it. She develops all the faith-building content. She does everything.
Plus she recruits students to participate. She gets adult chaperones. She arranges the transportation. She budgets the trips and collects the money. She oversees the fundraising. She trains her adult volunteers. She does everything else.
I asked her about this one time, and she said she really enjoys managing all those details. It energizes her to figure out all the pieces and make it happen.
I was a youth minister for fourteen years before I started working here four years ago. And trying to figure out all those issues would have driven me to an early retirement from youth ministry…or worse.
For that reason I used a missions provider every year. Some were better than others, but they all managed the important details that happened once I got my kids there. That freed me up so I could deal with the things I knew how to deal with: working with students.
There are good reasons why using a third party missions provider is the way to go in youth mission trips. I’m worried this is going to sound incredibly self-serving since I work for a missions provider now. I don’t think there’s anything I can do to avoid that perception given my position, but you should know I said these things when I was serving in the church, too. This is what I believe deep down, and not just something I’m saying to get your business. Here they are.
1. Missions providers manage the myriad of details on the service end. Whether you do a domestic trip or international trip, figuring out all the projects and logistics and all the local details is a big deal–a huge deal! If you don’t have to find the service projects, work through all the red tape to get everything set up, figure out the lodging and meals, and all the other specifics, all with an eye to you and your students’ safety, it takes a huge load off your shoulders. You have enough to do getting everyone signed up, collecting their money, raising funds, and all that. It’s better to hire someone else who’s better positioned to get everything ready on the ground. You have a ton to do as it is just to get everyone there.
2. Missions providers can assure you’re doing work that’s genuinely needed. Sure you might think it’s great to swoop into an area and lead a Vacation Bible School, but perhaps what the area really needs is to reduce the backlog of low-income housing projects such as painting or weatherization. Working with folks who have connections locally can mean you’re providing better service to the community.
3. The best missions providers have experience dealing with outside youth groups that come in. There are some things that youth can do very well–maybe even better than adults. And there are some things that youth can’t do very well–such as advanced construction. A good missions provider will recognize this and help the people receiving the service understand better what’s going to happen, and they can work with you and your group to help you understand the culture and other local issues. That makes for a more satisfying experience for everyone. An outsider like you or me probably wouldn’t know all that.
4. Missions providers for youth provide growth experiences for teenagers. In other words, they “plus” the mission trip for you so it makes a good experience great. Your students aren’t just free labor. Not that that’s bad, but they’re also at an age where they’re figuring out what mature faith looks like for adulthood. Mission trips are huge at helping make faith in Jesus real to kids. And good missions providers recognize that and provide the opportunity to connect the service experience to faith in Jesus. They have the professional skill to craft content that helps your kids get it.
Sure, you might be good at managing all those details, and maybe you even enjoy it. If you’re not, I’d recommend investing in a mission provider for youth groups. Yes, you could save some money if you try to do it on your own, but for the expertise and logistics management, it’s money well spent in my opinion. And it enables you to do what you do best…minister to your students.
Doc Newcomb is a pastor, youth pastor, and Program Manager for Group Workcamps Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides a variety of short-term mission opportunities for church youth groups. www.GroupWorkcamps.com