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HOW Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry

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If you haven’t read Part 1 of this post, click here to read WHY Short-Term Mission Trips in Student Ministry.  In that post, we covered why it’s important to do short-term mission trips in Student Ministry.  But how do we plan a trip, especially if we don’t have a large budget?  What if I told you, we do three high school mission trips every year on a budget of $500 total?  It can be done!  It may take a little work, but the payout is well worth it.

1.  Do you want to go through an organization or plan it yourself?

There are many positives and negatives to planning your own mission trip or going through an organization that plans it all for you.  If you decide to go through an organization, you may be tied to only the dates that the organization offers.  The positives of going through an organization are that the details of the trip are planned for you and the elements of the trip are most likely top-notch due to the professionalism and staff of the organization.  Negatives of going through an organization could be pricing – typically mission trips are a lot pricier through organizations due to all they have to pay for, including staffing.  Another negative could be the lack of flexibility – dates and locations are set, schedules are set, not much room for wiggle.  If you do decide to plan your own mission trip, know that it will take more work, but ultimately will be your own experience at a much lower cost.  The rest of this post will pertain more to planning your own trip without going through an organization that plans the trip for you.

2.  When do you want your trip to be?

The next thing you need to do is figure out when is the best time to do a mission trip.  Traditionally, student mission trips are taken during the summer, but they don’t have to be.  Maybe the summer is the best time for your students, but maybe it’s not.  Spring Break could be a great time to do one, especially if you live in a town with one school district or if all of your school districts are on the same Spring Break.  The upsides to a spring mission trip are, you don’t crowd the summer, you space out your big trips (assuming you do summer camp), and you don’t overprice the summer.  I actually do our mission trips over Spring Break, even though we have many school districts on different breaks.  While I realize it may not be convenient for everyone who is not on break, we still try to make it work for them, knowing that, for us, spreading out huge trips during the year is more effective than piling them all up in the summer.  When is the most effective time of the year to focus on a mission trip?

3.  How long do you want your trip to be?

There’s no right answer to this.  Some trips may be better being a week long, some may be better being 4 days.  I think it depends on where you go.  For our out-of-country mission trip, we go for 8 days to get the fullest experience possible.  For our in-country trips, they are 4 days and within a 5-hour drive.  This helps students who are not on Spring Break miss only 2 or 3 days of school max.  We have learned that we can accomplish everything we want to accomplish and experience what we want to experience in that amount of time, and it still is a life-changing trip.

4.  Where do you want to go?

This question will also answer the questions of who do you want to go, and how much do you want it to cost.  Obviously, the further the trip and the longer the trip, the more it will cost.  We take our Seniors overseas, which is more expensive due to flights and the length of the trip, but for everyone else, we try to give them the best missions experience at the lowest cost possible.  So, when deciding where to go, I want to be able to get there within a half a day, so we can use the other half for whatever we want.  We have narrowed our cities within 5 hours to Nashville, Indianapolis, Chicago and Kansas City.  Some great experiences can be had, and some great work can be done in big cities like this.  There are typically a lot of options.

5.  What do you want to do?

What do you want your students to experience?  For me, I usually want our students to get a good mix of both hard work and relational work.  Knowing that we have almost 3 full days in a city, I decide how much of hard work vs. relational work I want them to experience.  You may want all hard, grunt work, or you may want all relational work.  One of the things I also want to do during a trip is experience the city.  We typically carve out a few hours to be tourists.  Eat, shop, whatever!

6.  Call a church in the area to partner with.

The thing about short-term mission trips is, you swoop in and swoop out with little lasting impact.  But if you can find a church in the area you’re going to in order to partner with, there can be lasting impact!  Local churches already have relationships with local ministries and organizations.  Plus local churches are a great place to call base camp for your group.  Sleep on the floor in classrooms and have a place to gather and regroup during the week.

7.  Call local organizations to partner with.

Whether it’s through a local church or local organizations, begin to piece together your schedule by finding places to serve.  For example, you could serve one organization for the entirety of your trip, or you could serve two different places each day.  Monday could be a Food Bank in the morning and an after-school day care in the afternoon.  You could do a homeless shelter in the morning and a disaster relief organization in the afternoon. It definitely takes more leg work on your end to plan a trip like this, but once you’ve done it, it becomes easier to do it year after year.

8.  Put together your schedule and logistics.

Once you have pieced together where you’re serving, free time, etc., you can make a master schedule.  Some logistics to think about: where will all your meals come from?  We will typically take care of all of their breakfasts and lunches, but have them pay for their dinners.  The day we arrive, a couple of leaders will hit up a grocery store to shop for breakfast and lunch food.  It’s amazing how many people you can feed from a store for not very much money!  For dinners, we will typically go out somewhere and enjoy a meal.  The great thing about going through organizations and staying at churches is, it keeps your costs down.  Aside from donations, your main costs are for transportation and meals.  We can easily do a 4-day mission trip to Chicago for $150/person.  If you would like a breakdown of how much we budget for a trip like this and for all the things we spend money on, let me know!

Our ministry takes three simultaneous trips during Spring Break.  There is a Freshman trip to a rural Children’s Home, a Sophomore/Junior trip to a large city, and a Senior trip to Haiti.  Once the week is over, we have a Reflection Night where all teams come together to celebrate and share testimonies of what God did during Mission Week.  Contact me if you want more info on how we do these trips!

What are some mission trips you’ve taken?  Do you typically go through organizations or plan them out yourself?


NickBallardNICK BALLARD is the High School Pastor at Harvester Christian Church in St. Charles, MO, which is outside of St. Louis. Nick has been in full-time student ministry since 2005. He’s been married since 2004, and a father since 2011. Nick loves student ministry, the local church, and believes that God has big plans for this generation of teenagers! You can connect with Nick on Twitter or his website, studentministrylife.com.

This post was previously published by studentministrylife.com.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS. 

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