Helping Your Volunteers Recover AFTER Your Mission Trip
In high school, I used to compete in the mile. You wouldn’t know from looking at me then—a 210-pound lineman—but I did alright, twice even recording sub-five-minute miles! What I learned is this: The last 300 meters are the hardest and also the most important. The key is to push through and finish well at the end.
That same key is true of mission trips. We can expend enormous effort to prepare and participate in a mission trip, but if we aren’t willing to expend some energy on the last little bit, we’ll fall just short of a meaningful experience for our students and leaders.
Here are a few ways to finish well with your volunteer leaders in those final 300 meters—after you return from the trip.
It’s a small thing. It’s a simple thing. But it’s a thing that often gets missed in the shuffle. Thank the adults who take an entire week (or more!) out of their regular schedule to care for students during a mission trip.
When you thank your volunteers, go out of your way a little. Buy them a keepsake, write them a meaningful note and thank them in front of others. Here are a few specific ideas:
- During the last night of the mission trip, give them a gift of appreciation and recognize their sacrifice in front of the whole team.
- During a church-wide report on the mission trip, have those leaders stand and thank them for coming.
- After the trip is over, take time to write a thank you card with specific ways you were thankful for their contribution to the trip.
- After the trip, ask the leaders out or have them over for a dinner to celebrate a successful mission trip.
- Create fun awards for each leader—like “Most Miles Driven” or “Most Excitable” or “Earliest Riser”—and present certificates during a post-trip team meeting. Accompany each award with an encouraging story and a heartfelt thank you.
However you do it, make thanking leaders an intentional priority after the trip.
Empower leader processing
Don’t miss the fact that leaders can learn and grow from the mission trip experience right alongside students. Ask leaders what this mission trip meant for them and how their lives will be different as a result of going on this trip. Expect some of the same development from leaders after the trip as you do of students.
Here are some great questions to ask leaders (and students too) after the trip:
- Why do you think God wanted you on this trip?
- How did this trip change your perspectives about life, God, yourself, others, etc.?
- How did this trip ignite new passions within you? In other words, what did you notice that you really cared about during this trip?
- How did this trip expose new possibilities in your life, your relationship with God or your relationship with others?
- What specific possibilities is God inviting you to pursue now that the trip is over?
When you expect leaders to make sense of their mission trip experience, you are inviting them to lead students in the same process. Instead of telling leaders to merely point the way forward for students, you are empowering them to walk alongside students into meaningful mission trip follow-up.
Challenge adults toward future leadership
As a result of going on a mission trip, we want students to make service a part of their everyday engagement with the world around them. Why would we expect anything less of adults who went on the trip? In the same way you walked with and prepared your leaders for service before and during the mission trip, walk with them after it’s over. Help them identify what God might be pointing them toward now that they are back home.
Here are a few ways you might point adults forward in their leadership after the mission trip:
- Emphasize the part of processing where you help leaders (and students) commit to a real plan for serving those around them.
- Recognize and affirm leadership qualities you see in leaders and help them think through what’s next.
- Make space for intentional conversations with leaders, asking them to make a plan for at least one change, then hold them accountable to that change. (If possible, set this up as an expectation before the trip, then follow through after the trip.)
- Offer service and leadership opportunities within your church or youth group to adults not already engaged with church ministries. (Inviting prospective leaders on a mission trip could be a great way to vet them for ongoing leadership within the youth ministry.)
Take the time to think through which of these or other steps you could take with your leaders. You’ll multiply the impact of the mission trip when you intentionally point adults forward to new leadership opportunities.
Don’t stop short of the finish line with adult volunteers! Caring for leaders after the trip will complement the way they remember this experience, move them forward in their own faith journey and increase the likelihood that they’ll say yes to next year’s trip.