“We don’t need to do anything afterward because the mission trip was so life-changing on its own!”
I had been asking other youth workers what they did after their mission trip to bring the experience home. Some shared about post-trip meetings, some told me about service projects and most everyone had said something about sharing pictures and stories at their church.
This response, though, I didn’t know what to do with. For all of the good intentions of this youth worker, I think it was a little naïve to believe that meaningful mission trip experiences don’t need a post-trip plan!
If we want teenagers to continue to develop the leadership skills they learned during their trip, there are ways we can help them bring the experience back home. Here are three things I want every teenager in my youth group to do when they get home from a mission trip, along with a few ways that you can empower your student leadership team through them.
Process and share their story.
What they just experienced on their mission trip is important! When big stuff happens in our lives, we don’t just leave it alone. We ask questions. We find connections. We think about what’s next. Most of all, we share about it—especially if we saw God at work! We want others to know about the good things God is doing in and through his people.
Ask your students how they will process their mission trip experience and share their story back home. Here are two ways they could do that:
- Find someone who is a great question-asker and listener. Grab coffee or good food and spend some quality time talking about their trip. Think about the ways it connects with life back home and what they think God is inviting them to do as a result of this experience.
For your student leaders, this is a great opportunity for them to set the example and invite anyone along who might be nervous to share their story with others. If they have a mutual friend that both would feel comfortable processing their experience with, then they can plan to meet up and have the conversation altogether. If they don’t, then your student leader can take on the role of a great listener to create an environment where everyone is comfortable sharing.
- Encourage your students to find creative ways to share about their trip. They could write it out as a poem or song, they could retell it through a painting or an Instagram story, or they could find some other creative expression. The important thing is to give them an opportunity to share it one-on-one or tell their story in front of a group. However they decide to do it, make sure they are careful to avoid going on a PR campaign telling people how great they are. Instead, help them focus on sharing the great things God is currently doing in the community they served and in their lives back home after the mission trip.
For your student leaders, give them a chance to think through how they can help create the kind of environment where everyone feels welcome to share. If you have a lot of musicians and artists, your student leaders could orchestrate a night of worship that includes opportunities for everyone to share. If you have a group that is really active on Instagram, your student leaders could coordinate a social media takeover where they celebrate everyone’s stories by posting them on your youth ministry’s account.
Keep deepening their faith.
I know for many of our students, a mission trip experience is where they saw God at work and experienced their faith in a new way. Maybe they want the feeling of that closeness with Jesus to continue. This is a great time to continue a few things they started on the mission trip.
But how will they keep deepening their faith now that the mission trip is over? Here are two things to get them started:
- Help them decide what habits they want to have around devotions and prayer. If they don’t have a devotional, have a few ready for them to use. Encourage them to start small—even if it’s just a few minutes each day. Remind them to “Do something doable.”
For your student leaders, give them an opportunity to share the new habits they are going to make around their own devotions and prayer. They can be a great example for the rest of your crew, especially if anyone is having trouble thinking about the kinds of things they might like to do.
- Help them find an encouraging community. Invite them to plan a meet-up with two or three others who will encourage their faith and all that God is doing in their lives.
For your student leaders, ask them if they’d be willing to help organize the meet-ups. Give them ideas of what to say during the meet-ups, what devotionals they could use to help spark conversations, and how they could pray for each other. And remind them to have fun together, too. Consistent community with other Jesus-followers is big!
Your students served others in some awesome ways during your mission trip! It probably felt pretty good to travel to a community and love on people there. Here’s the thing: There are a lot of those same needs in your own community… in your own church… even in our your students’ own homes! Jesus didn’t invite us to only serve during our mission trip each year—Jesus invited us into a lifestyle of service.
So how do you think Jesus is inviting your students to make service part of their everyday reality? Here are two things that might help get them started:
- Ask them to find a few little ways to serve people they’re already around. At home, they can do the dishes, be generous and say thank you with little deeds. At church, they can volunteer with children, help clean something they didn’t mess up, or have a conversation with someone who seems left out. Help their eyes open to service opportunities all around them.
For your student leaders, remind them that they can help lead by being the first to take initiative when an opportunity to serve someone comes up while they are with other students. Be sure to encourage them to invite others to help too, so that they welcome other students to join them in the opportunity.
- Help them look for service opportunities in their community. Local food shelves, elderly care facilities or children’s ministries are always looking for volunteers. Find a place your students can keep returning to again and again so they can provide steady service and build ongoing relationships.
For your student leaders, this is a great opportunity for them to help decide on the kinds of service your youth ministry can do. Task them with canvassing the community, finding the needs that they could meet, and organizing the times when your crew will go serve.
It takes intentionality to keep developing the leadership skills of your students after the mission trip, but it’s important that we as youth workers do just that! Mission trips are only life-changing when we help students bring the richness of relationships, service and learning back into their everyday lives.