Every mission trip is built on a deep truth wrapped in a sticky lie. Although we don’t intend for it to happen, that lie can bury the truth in what we say and hear. For example, try to spot the lie in each of these statements:
- “You need to come be part of this experience, and Jesus will change your life there.”
- “Jesus has lots of important things for us to do this week. Let’s give our best and follow him when we arrive.”
- “Wasn’t that trip incredible? Now that our missions experience is over, let’s discuss doing it again next year.”
Here’s the lie clearly spelled out: “Missions is all about what happens when you go somewhere else.” Obviously that’s not true.
Missions is about responding to Jesus and joining him in what he’s doing wherever we are.Click to tweet
Yet as we plan trips and experiences for teenagers to go serve “somewhere else,” we tend to nurture a destination mentality. It says, “When we get there, then Jesus will work in us. And if we return there every year, he’ll continue to work in us.”
What if you could deflate that concept along your journey? A solution I created involves fun tie-ins called mini-missions. I believe Jesus does amazing things in and through us when we enter situations that involve being stretched and stretching others. I’ve also discovered we need a way to emphasize that this happens not just when we “get there” but while we’re getting there. (After all, isn’t that how life happens?)
So whether I’m planning a trip on my own or using a well-planned and executed program such as Group Mission Trips, here’s the plan:
- Every morning on the trip from day one, our leaders review possible options. It’s a process of prayer and discernment based on where this particular group seems to be and what they’re capable of pulling off that day.
- Each day we ask a different student to pick from three different envelopes with no writing on the outside. Whatever they open and read becomes the group’s mini-mission task for that day.
- The group’s success or failure earns them perks such as extra group grocery money, free time to go shopping, a late-night snack run on us, and so on.
This approach has several advantages. First, it adds a fun relational component that helps the group bond from the ground up. It also opens teenagers to the idea that the missions experience is about more than just going somewhere else to “do good deeds.” Instead, we’re letting Jesus shape something deeper inside us. Through mini-missions, I’ve watched teenagers transform from strangers or mere acquaintances into young people who challenge one another into some really great places.
Mini-missions we’ve used include:
- Silence Day—For a certain number of hours, no one is allowed to talk or make any vocal noises. Teenagers and adults can write things down, use hand signals, or create their own Morse Code type of communication system. Another option is to allow only one person to talk during each hour. Several great lessons can be drawn from this; for example, how challenging it can be to express ourselves and how relationships require intentional investments besides communication.
- Attachment Day—Kids buddy-up with someone of the same gender, and the pair is tied together with a thin string. Let participants determine how long the string is, and have them stay attached except for bathroom time. This will spark some great dialogue about who we attach ourselves to in life, and how they influence us.
- Compliment Day—Every interaction with team members or complete strangers must include at least one compliment. This emphasizes that we’re called to encourage one another.
- Salutation Day—Have team members use Mr., Mrs., or Miss to address each person they interact with throughout the day.
- Trash Day—Wherever you go, look for trash to pick up. We always have opportunities to make a difference by caring for God’s creation.
- No-Shower Day—For 24 hours, no showers are allowed (which is a greater challenge for some people than others). This ties into how we’re sometimes comfortable living with sin rather than letting Jesus cleanse us.
- Carry Someone’s Burdens Day—You can’t carry your own stuff (Bible, backpack, etc.), only someone else’s. This is a great illustration about the body of Christ.
- Letter Home Day—Students must write something meaningful to someone back home, either to be mailed or hand-delivered upon arrival. Set a 200-word minimum and use the honor system.
- Yuck Day—Every meal must include a food that teenagers normally wouldn’t eat, without complaining.
- Gum Day—Team members must chew gum all day long, including during meals. (Provide an alternative for teenagers wearing braces.) This is a great lesson about the “little things” in our lives that affect everything else.
- Dollar Lunch Day—If team members are buying their own food, challenge them to spend only a dollar per meal one day. Compare that to what the average person lives on.
You get the idea. What do you think? What mini-missions would you recommend?
I also recommend Group Mission Trips’ 4-day Weekend Workcamps! These are great “mini-missions” to introduce your teenagers to the concept of meaningful service. You’ll be amazed at the spiritual growth that can happen in one weekend.