Call me crazy, but I think it’s important to change up your mission trip itinerary every year. I sense I’m in the minority on this topic. Plenty of student ministries regularly travel to the same place to serve the same people in the same way every year.
If that’s you, I won’t pick on you because I know you have good reasons. Visiting the same place lets you form partnerships and connections. Not only do you get to tell how Jesus worked through your group in the past, but you can invest in that story again in the future. Plus, there’s the gift of intentionality. Throughout the year as you plan and raise funds, you can know with confidence and in detail how people will be blessed because of your trip.
A type of legacy is also at play. If you stick with a certain destination long enough, young adults who valued the experience will return from college and sign up to go as leaders. That sets the stage for incredible mentoring to occur.
So why would I suggest tackling something new? The key is to treat a mission trip not as a calendar item but as a spiritual discipline. Just as you connect with Jesus through one avenue more than another during certain seasons of life, mission trips should serve the same purpose for teenagers. That’s where variety within your mission trip organization is super helpful.
I’ve participated in all the opportunities Group Mission Trips provides. Between international opportunities that put me on a team that interacts face to face with another culture to domestic workcamps, weekend home repair, and community service that brings hundreds of teenagers together to transform a town with Jesus’ love, I’ve determined to pray about our options each year with an open spirit to discern what’s best.
Variety nurtures a global mindset. You can expose teenagers to what’s happening in the world in multiple ways, but always going to the same place might limit them to thinking, “This is what it means to be a Christian. I just attend youth group and then take this trip.” How about bringing a workcamp into your area or finding one that places you in a rotation of rural ministry or inner-city projects? You could even visit a city like yours in another state or consider if it’s time for a global opportunity.
Variety levels the playing field. Teenagers who take the same trip every year can begin to feel like been-there-done-that experts. Not only does that prevent them from coming in with fresh eyes, but it can make them a bit superior and sassy in how they talk with newbies. It’s tiring to hear, “Well, last year we did it this way,” so why not get rid of that distraction by exposing kids to other options? I’m a huge fan of rotation, such as “This year we drive a few hours to serve, next year we go to another area of the country, and then the next year we go global.”
Variety keeps you growing. Everyone—even adults—can fall into certain routines and funks. “This is what it means to be a youth worker,” we begin to believe. Meanwhile, an incredible infrastructure is available for us to just lean into. For me, I really enjoy trying each of the unique experiences Group Mission Trips offers. That has helped grow my leadership skills and impacted what I value in service trips.
The bottom line? When it comes to mission trips, teenagers need reliability as well as unpredictability. Just as Jesus is always there for us, we can’t manage him or say with certainty what he’ll do. What if our mission trips reflect this, as we tap into the reliability of the same organization while making the most of the variety it offers? That way we’ll help kids journey with Jesus as disciples on a journey, instead of being trip-goers who feel as if they’ve tamed Jesus because they’ve tamed their trip.
What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear your opinion!