Mission Trip Organizations: Finding the Right Partner

This post is all about building healthy partnerships with mission trip organizations.

Mission trip organizations have been incredible resources for mobilizing the church to serve both domestically and internationally. Since 1994, YouthWorks has been a leading voice in the world of short-term missions for teenagers and we’ve learned some hard lessons along the way. This post is a chance for us to share just a few of those lessons that might help any youth pastor, youth worker, church or ministry leader looking to partner with a mission trip organization.

Before we start, here are some helpful links if you’re looking for something slightly different:

Ready to read on? Let’s go…

Mission Trip Organizations

What exactly do mission organizations do?

While every mission trip organization is different, some of the common themes focus on the planning and logistics that go into a creating a mission trip experiences. There are usually two sides to the work that a mission organization does—the community side and the church or volunteer recruitment side.

At YouthWorks, our goal is to be your partner mission trip organization so that you are free to do what you do best. We’ve worked for 26 years to build healthy, long-term relationships in communities that we can trust, and mission trip structures that provide safe and engaging service experiences for students. That’s a lot of logistics that you don’t have to worry about. With those stresses off your shoulders, you can be free to focus on connecting with your youth and being present for the moments when they need your guidance the most.

Here’s a quick list of what mission organizations like YouthWorks do in the communities we serve (this list isn’t exhaustive by any means):

  • Get to know community members and building partnerships in communities.
  • Working with community leaders to understand the greatest needs that an outside group might be able to help meet.
  • Organizing work projects and service opportunities to help meet those greatest needs.
  • Learning the broader history and pivotal stories of the community in order to help communicate those to the outside groups coming to serve.
  • Creating pre-trip educational materials that groups can work through to help prepare their hearts and minds for the communities they’ll be serving.
  • Creating mission trip structures that leave a small footprint in a community so that outside groups don’t distract or prevent local leaders from being able to continue to serve their community as they need to.

At the same time, here’s what mission organizations like YouthWorks do for the youth groups, churches, and volunteer groups coming on a trip (again, this isn’t an exhaustive list):

  • Plan work projects and service opportunities that align with the makeup and passions of the group, while prioritizing direction from community leadership to ensure the service helps meet the greatest needs.
  • Solidify key logistical aspects of a week-long trip, like housing, showers, food, etc.
  • Leading and facilitating on-site details for service, like ensuring all materials are provided, work groups are organized and prepared, safety measures are in place, and problems are solved as quickly as possible.
  • Leading and facilitating on-site details for lodging and food, like meal prep, organizing resources for facilities, thorough cleaning processes, and safety procedures are in place.
  • Providing on-site programming, like large group gatherings, worship, activities, daily devotionals, and small group connection times.
  • Creating pre and post-trip resources for youth pastors and church leaders to help connect their mission trip experience to their broader ministry planning back home.

At YouthWorks, a significant amount of this work takes places year-round. We’re committed to creating a consistent relationship with each of our community partners and we’re committed to be a resource for our churches preparing to serve all year long.

Mission Trip Partner

Which mission trip organizations should I partner with?

Finding the right mission trip organization to partner with comes down to alignment (or close enough alignment) in a few key things like:

  • Theology – What are the core beliefs that drive your ministry?
  • Missiology – How do your core beliefs create your approach to missions and determine its goals?
  • Resource Allocation – How are the resources of time, energy, and finances used throughout the mission experience?

There are certainly more ways you should look to align with a mission trip organization, but if you don’t connect on these three, then you’ll be setting yourself up for frustration.

Also, it’s important to recognize that it’s not always clear cut. Sometimes you have values or goals that compete with each other, and you’ll have to practice discernment as you prioritize what that might mean.

As you start chatting with mission trip organizations, here are some good questions to ask in an initial conversation:

  • What is your goal?
  • Where do you serve and how do you build relationships in those communities?
  • What are your theological perspectives on key issues?
  • What are your safety protocols? How do those protocols protect the community, the staff, and my youth?
  • What is the mission experience like on-site?
  • How do you determine service experience and work projects for our group?
  • What logistics and planning details do you provide?
  • What resources do you provide to help me plan and prepare my group for our mission experience?
  • What is the payment plan and cancellation policy? How are our funds being utilized?

What are the dangers of working with mission organizations?

Honestly, not enough church and ministry leaders think about this question. Mission trip organizations have done some incredible things to support the Gospel but, at the same time, we’ve collectively all had a hand in creating some dangerous ministry models that have damaged communities and those groups who have served with us.

Over the years, we’ve intentionally taken steps to prayerfully examine where YouthWorks has gone wrong and build new systems and structures that help ensure healthy partnerships with our communities and those who serve with us.

We’re not perfect, and we’ve never claimed to be. Instead, we prioritize practicing healthy missions, which means we’re always looking to grow and get better. We call it Respectful Service, and we created this FREE resource to help you embody this as well.

Along the way, we’ve zeroed in on 5 spiritual dangers that come from mission trips:

  1. Seeing everyone’s brokenness but missing your own.
  2. Overlooking the beauty of others.
  3. Seeking people who “deserve” our support.
  4. Thinking that a mission trip fulfills a service requirement.
  5. Making your mission trip story about you instead of God.

Read a bit more about these 5 spiritual dangers of mission trips in this blog post HERE >>

These spiritual dangers are true of both mission trip organizations and churches or groups who come to serve on mission trips. We’ll never be perfect at it, but together, we can get better at how we care for those we serve for the sake of the Gospel. 

Long Term Mission Trip Partnerships

How do I build long-term partnerships with mission trip organizations?

It all comes back to the goals of your ministry and how mission trip organizations might help you achieve those goals. But the key is to create a consistent relationship so that your group knows what to expect and can look forward to it.

There are a couple ways to build that consistency:

  • Some create that consistency by focusing on serving in the same community every year. From 6thgrade through adults, they come back to the same community year after year and get to serve alongside some of the same community leaders. The great thing about this approach is it will give your group a chance to “grow up” with the community, as you see the long-term impact of the work you do each time you come back.
  • Some create that consistency by working the same organization but splitting up where they serve, based on the unique elements of each group. This creates a really good opportunity for younger students to experience some basic aspects of healthy missions through respectful service. It also allows older or more mature students to engage in missions experiences that dive into more difficult topics and issues.

No matter how you create that consistency, intentionally working with a mission trip organization to create that big picture, long-term vision will help make a lasting impact on the lives of your students.  

As a mission trip organization, how can YouthWorks help me?

Youth workers are our heroes. We share a passion for teenagers and the role they play in the bigger story of the Gospel. Because of that, we’ve poured our energy into helping make your job easier, so that you can focus more on what God is doing in the lives of your students.  

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