DIY Mission Trip or Use a Mission Org? 6 Questions to Ask

Weighing the pros and cons of a DIY mission trip? These questions will help.

Mission trips are an incredible opportunity to invite students into the work of God in communities all across the country and the world. But the way you organize a mission trip can happen in lots of different ways.

Some use a mission organization. Others have a DIY mission trip approach. There are even some that do a combination.

So, which is right for you? These 6 questions will help guide your discernment process.

Since 1994, our YouthWorks team has facilitated mission trips for thousands of teenagers across hundreds of communities. We’re always thrilled to partner with a youth pastor wanting to mobilize their teenagers, but we know there are a lot of churches finding their own way by doing it all themselves. In the end, we want to see churches mobilizing teenagers to serve. That’s the Kingdom work we want to celebrate. So regardless of where these questions take you and your decision, know that we’re cheering you on!

And if you want to jump straight to the resources, here’s a list of FREE resources you can use right away:  

Want to read some more? Let’s dig in.

6 Questions to Ask When Planning a DIY Mission Trip

youth mission trip planning

1: Do you have the time and energy to plan all the logistics of a mission trip?

Planning the logistics of a mission trip is a lot of work. You have to think through every detail from the service opportunities to travel, meals, lodging, free time, programming (worship through teaching and music), small groups, and that’s just the “fun” stuff.

It might be helpful to break down the logistics by category. Here’s a good place to start:

Service Projects

Here are some of the questions you’ll want to think through:

  • Do you have meaningful service opportunities ready for the week?
  • Are they service opportunities that fit the abilities and makeup of your group?
  • Do you have the materials necessary?
  • Do you have “crews” broken out for the service day?
  • What do you have planned as a back-up in case service has to be changed?

Meals / Lodging

Questions you’ll want to answer might include:

  • Do you have meals planned for each day? Snacks included?
  • Are there any dietary needs you have to consider?
  • How will you handle sanitization and food prep safety?
  • Where will you be sleeping and showering?
  • Will you have space in that location for your students to gather in the mornings and evenings?
  • How will you break out sleeping rooms and bathrooms?
  • What sanitization methods will you be using throughout the space?

Programming / Evening Activities

Here’s a quick list of some key questions to consider:

  • Will you do worship as a group?
  • Is there curriculum that you’ll use?
  • How will your students have space to process the day?
  • Will you do any community events to learn about where you’re serving?
  • Are you planning any fun activities outside of the service day?

At YouthWorks, we handle all of these details (and more that aren’t listed). If you go the DIY route, you’ll need to make sure you have the time and energy available to plan and execute these things for your group.

youth mission trip budget

2: Do you have a set budget in mind for your mission trip?

A DIY mission trip takes a ton of energy, but it does potentially help to lower your budget. You’re taking on the work in exchange for the possibility of reducing the cost per student, and if you’re able to do it well, it could be a good boost for your ministry budget.

Here are some key things to consider when it comes to your budget:

  • What are the travel costs involved? Are you flying? Do you need to rent a car? What will you plan for gas? How about rental insurance for each vehicle?
  • If you’re traveling more than 6 hours, will you stop and stay somewhere along the way?
  • What are the costs for food during the week?
  • What costs should you prepare for the service project materials?
  • Are there evening activities that you should prepare for?
  • What is the cost for lodging throughout the week?
  • If showers are not included at your lodging, will you need to pay to get access to a public or private showering facility?
  • What emergency fund should you have prepared?

Most of these costs are built into the cost of a YouthWorks trip. We do have customized trip options where you can pick and choose elements that you want to include for your trip. But regardless if you go a turn-key or custom route for your trip, you’ll want to make sure budget includes all of it.

There is a great budget planning guide in The Ultimate Mission Trip Planning Guidebook >>. It’s a FREE resource, so don’t invent the wheel. Download it and let it support your ministry.

Youth mission trip on-site team

3: Who is going to be your execution team on-site?

All the front-end planning of a DIY mission trip is good and necessary, but it doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t have a team to help execute the details once you’re on-site.

You have to build a team of people (not just 1 other person) who can be responsible for executing all the details, leading when you’re not available, and playing the behind-the-scenes roles that keep everything moving throughout the week.

Our YouthWorks staff take on all those execution pieces. So if you’re doing a DIY mission trip, here are some areas where you’ll want to have your execution team focus on:

Service:

A service leader is someone who will handle all the logistics of service opportunities during the day. If you’re serving in multiple locations, they travel between sites to make sure everyone gets serving and has all the materials they need. They also help problem solve if anything comes up. This is a strong, up-front leader who knows how to plan ahead and think on their feet.

Kitchen:

A kitchen lead is someone who focuses on keeping your group fed and hydrated. They also lead sanitization efforts while prepping and serving meals. This person is definitely comfortable behind-the-scenes and they keep things moving.

Programming:

This role is actually shared by all of our YW summer staff. If you’re doing a DIY mission trip, you can choose to have this role be shared by multiple people or have it be the singular focus of one person. Either way, this includes planning and prep work for setting up the worship space, executing the curriculum, leading worship, facilitating small group discussions, and anything else you might want to dream up.

Safety:

This is a key space where you need to have someone available to focus on keeping your space and your teenagers safe. You’ll want to include the obvious things like fire hazards and keeping creepers away, but you’ll also want to have a process in place for handling emergencies or injuries.

Team Lead:

This is someone who pulls all of it together. They can make sure decisions are made quickly, that transitions are smooth, and that any unfinished pieces are covered. This is a leadership role, but it also happens more behind-the-scenes than anything else. They float behind everything with a watchful eye for any elements that need additional support or potential problems that need to be addressed quickly.

youth mission trip options

4: What are your “Plan B” options on-site?  

“Plan B” options are used regularly on a mission trip. Your service opportunity might have to change the moment you arrive. Maybe your lodging falls through or isn’t safe. Your evening activity could bomb and you need something else. If you’re building a DIY mission trip, you need to think through all of these details.

The YouthWorks summer staff has plenty of experience thinking through “plan B” options. Part of the benefit we have is that we have a long-term relationship with our communities, going back year after year and staying all summer. So, it’s easier for us to imagine a plan B option because we know what’s available to us.  

For a DIY mission trip, make sure your execution team has a plan B ready to go at all times. They may never have to use it, but at least you’d have it available when you need it.

engaging students on youth mission trips

5: How will you engage with every student on your mission trip?

Along with all the logistics, you have to also intentionally plan ways to help every student engage during the mission trip. It’s not an easy task and putting a plan in place doesn’t guarantee that every student will actually engage. But it does make sure you’ve invested some energy into creating the right atmosphere that every student can feel invited to engage.

This is another space where our YouthWorks team can help. We partnered with Fresh Ministry Consulting to put together this really solid resource that can get you started: Engage, Equip and Empower Every Student on a Mission Trip >>.

Here are the 5 types of students you should plan for:

The “Care-Less” or Apathetic Student:

This student doesn’t seem to care much about anything. They might seem as if they were forced to go on the mission trip. You need to create spaces where they can be on the outer edge but always feel invited (not pressured) to join in whatever way is comfortable for them.

The “Curious” Student:

This student might still feel most comfortable on the periphery, but they are also dipping their toe in. They need spaces where they can question (silently or verbally) and feel welcome regardless of how they respond to the answers.

The “Caught” Student:

These students had a light-bulb moment. They caught on to what God was doing in the life and have made a shift. These students need space to share about what God is doing and feel like they are supported in a healthy way through it all.

The “Committed” Student:

These students are the ones who already take their faith more seriously, and probably attend most mission trips, camps, and youth group events that you have. These students need space to be challenged to grow and to take on even greater ownership of their role in the movements of God around them.

The “Contagious” Student:

These students are all-in, and they have a tendency to be magnets for others. Their magnetic nature needs space where their leadership (whether it’s up-front or behind-the-scenes) can be encouraged and strengthened throughout the week.

serve respectfully on youth mission trips

6: How will you make sure your DIY mission trip doesn’t harm the community you serve?  

This might be the last question but it’s the most important for your DIY mission trip

If you don’t focus on this and take it seriously, your mission trip can end up doing far more harm in the community (and for the name of Christ) than any good you hoped to create. Thankfully there have been a lot of resources created recently that help churches think critically about their mission trips. One of our favorites is When Helping Hurts.

Throughout our years as an organization, we’ve had to learn from some critical mistakes and have framed our healthy approach to missions through what we call “Respectful Service.” It’s the lens through which we understand our role in every community as a listener first, a humble servant, and a support to what God is already doing in the community. It saves us from our own savior complex and keeps us in check if we drift into areas of unhealth.

Download a FREE guidebook on Respectful Service HERE >>

There are several other questions you should ask about your DIY mission trip, but at these should be enough to get you started.

So, now we’re curious…

How can YouthWorks help, whether you’re doing a DIY mission trip or looking to partner with a mission org?

No matter what, we want to help churches mobilize teenagers to serve.

If we can partner with you for a YouthWorks mission trip, we’ll be thrilled (click HERE to see all of our trip options).

If that’s on a DIY mission trip, we’re be just as excited to cheer you on.

Don’t let barriers keep you and your students from experiencing all that God has for you at the intersection of discipleship and service. We’re ready to partner together in any way you need it.

 

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