Youth Missions: Ideas and Resources

This post is about preparing your youth for a mission that begins on a trip and will last a lifetime.

You have a passion for helping teenagers have a youth mission experience that will open their eyes to all that God is doing in our world. We do to. Since 1996, our focus has been creating life-changing, Christ-centered youth mission experiences that broaden perspectives, ignite new passions, and inspire life-long pursuits. Over the years, we’ve learned how to guide groups through a process that prepares them, both spiritually and practically, for their upcoming youth mission trip and we want to pass those along to you.

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Youth Mission Trips

What is youth missions all about?

Healthy youth missions is all about what we call the “+”, in YOUTH + COMMUNITIES.

That “+” is our way of answering a really complicated question, “What is youth missions all about?”

  • Is it about the youth?
  • Is it about the community?

The answer isn’t an either/or—it’s a both/and.

Mission trips are an opportunity to experience what God is up to, and your youth are an important part of what God is doing.

The problem is that sometimes they don’t realize it. Misplaced expectations, infinite distractions and disconnected values can make youth forget the vital role God is asking them to play in our world. But mission trips help youth to experience their faith through their actions, and they create incredible opportunities for conversations about why service is essential to following Jesus. In a world filled with distractions, a mission experience is an initiation for youth to be fulltime participants in what God’s plan.

Communities are critical participants in that plan as well.

By entering a different town or city as humble listeners and partners, we get an inside view of another context where Jesus is at work. When youth are invited into to come alongside a community, to see that work take place, and even be a part of it, it opens their eyes to the incredible life-long passions and possibilities God is introducing to them.

The “+” creates an opportunity for the bridgebuilding that happens when your youth step out of their comfort zones and enter into a new community. They get a chance to hear stories from people who are similar, yet very different. They can step into the beauty and struggle of a family for a minute and be a part of the movement of God in their lives.

Take a minute to check out this video that shares a bit more about our passionate pursuit of the “+” in YOUTH + COMMUNITIES.

How do you find the right youth mission partner?

Let’s focus on the word “partner.”

At YouthWorks, we don’t sell products or experiences. We partner to create mission trips. There’s a big difference in our intentional language to describe our relationship with each group who comes on a mission trip as a partnership because that partnership truly goes both ways.

Finding the right youth mission partner does take a bit of work, and we’ve found some great questions that help give you an honest perspective of your group and who the ideal partner might be:

What mission experience do you need?  

Ask these kinds of questions to find out…

  • How old are your youth?
  • What mission experience(s) have they had before? What was it like?
  • Have you talked with the parents of your youth about what they’d like their youth to experience?
  • Does your church have a broader vision for missions? If so, what role does your youth mission experience play in that vision?
  • Does your group need to start with a basic experience to lay a healthy foundation?
  • Are they ready for deeper and more difficult conversations?
  • Are they mature enough to engage in social justice conversations?
  • Do you have any limitations on where you can go and what kind of service you can participate in?
  • Do you have any budget related elements that need to be considered?
  • What timeline is best for your group?

What mission partners should you look for?

Ask these kinds of questions of any mission partner you talk to…

  • 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?

After you do some of this investigative work, you’ll start to see where the needs of your youth begin to align (or not) with any potential mission partner you connect with. If not enough of it aligns, use it as an opportunity to learn from the conversation and find another partner that might be a better fit.

PRO-TIP: Don’t do your mission trip planning alone.

That’s why we created FREE Mission Trip Coaching. We’ll guide you through the process of finding the best youth mission experience for your group. Here’s where you can schedule a Mission Trip Coaching session >> 

Mission Trip Planning

How do you plan missions for different ages?

Every mission experience creates an opportunity for an individual to grow, but we also recognize it happens at different stages. The biggest stages of growth are centered around their physical, mental, and spiritual maturity. That’s why we coordinate with our communities to build mission experiences that are designed for the different stages of growth for teenagers from middle school, high school, and into college.

Here are some important things to consider when planning youth mission experiences for different age groups.

  • Middle school missions are an opportunity to introduce students to what healthy mission trips look like. We call it “respectful service”. These mission experiences are designed to help middle school youth discover respectful service and how it creates lasting impact.

  • High school missions are designed to take students deeper. These mission experiences are created to immerse high school youth in the stories of communities through impactful service that reveals the effects of systemic barriers.

  • Mixed age group missions are a combination of experiences for students across middle school and high school. Some of the experiences will be focused on creating that foundation of “respectful service” for younger youth, with some experiences that provided added layers of depth for older youth.

  • College age missions and summer staff positions intentionally add key elements of leadership development. These experiences are built for young adults to expand their passion for service, develop leadership skills, and gain practical ministry experience as they live and work within a new community for the summer.

Each youth mission experience is incredibly meaningful, and if you plan it right, you’ll be able to build on the momentum as your students serve year after year.

Mission Trip Budget

How do you plan a budget?

A lot of factors can impact your youth mission budget. Here is a quick list of questions that will get you started thinking about those details:

  • How much should you fundraise? Some ministries serve families that can pay most or all the cost of their youth going on trip, so they may not need to fundraise much. Others don’t have those kinds of resources and need to fundraise 50-100% of the cost of their missions. Either way, knowing what your families and ministry are able to cover and are willing to fundraise for will help guide you to a beginning top-end of a budget that you don’t want to exceed.

  • How far do you want to travel? Most people want a mission trip experience that is a one-day drive, usually eight hours tops. Know, if you choose a trip further from home, you will need to plan more logistics and for a larger budget.

  • What type of service do you want to do? Do you want your mission trip to include more relational ministry, working with kids, elderly or homeless populations? Do you want your mission trip to include more work projects? Or a mix of both?

  • Are you looking for a specific type of learning experience? What type of cultural or community experience would be most educational or meaningful for your group? Do you want to serve a population that is similar or different than your own community back home? Is your group mature enough to unpack systemic issues related to poverty, food insecurity, or racial injustice?

  • How much are you willing to “rough it”? Some mission trip locations have fewer amenities than others. It is so powerful to push students out of their comfort zone, but not everyone is ready to go all out on their mission trip and that is OK. Is your group wiling to sleep on air mattresses? Are you willing to sleep somewhere without air conditioning? Would you be OK taking a cold shower? Be sure to know your deal breakers ahead of time, and we’ll help you find the right fit.

If you need more help creating your mission trip budget, be sure to download the free Mission Trip Planning Guidebook.

Can youth missions create a passion to serve back home?

A mission experience is an opportunity to join the movements of God happening all around us, even in the most unlikely people and places. As youth workers, we can use those experiences as a catalyst for helping our group see that these kinds of service opportunities exist back home in their own community. But it takes intentional planning.

Here are a few key things you can plan to help youth bring their new passion for missions back home:

  • Tie the youth mission experience into the next few weeks back home. Whether it’s a celebration service to share a few stories from their trip, a daily devotional challenge for the week after your trip, or even a multi-week series on “Loving Your Neighbor”, give your youth space to process the experience back home.
  • Make an “attitude of service” part of the DNA of your group. This is your chance to reassess who you are and what you care about. Creating an attitude of service is an ongoing practice, and with time, you can integrate it into the expectation of your group. Take little steps by inviting youth to serve in other areas of your church, and work with other ministry leaders in your church to see it as an opportunity to integrate youth into other areas of leadership as well.
  • Get to know your neighborhood and look for opportunities to serve. Have your students do some U.S. Census Data research on your county. What do they learn about their neighbors? What common themes or struggles rise to the top for their area? How can your group help?
  • Do a “Day of Service” with local service opportunities similar to those on your mission experience. Did you serve elderly populations or those experiencing homelessness? Did you volunteer in food pantries, community gardens, or distribution centers? Were you a part of work projects? All of those opportunities exist in nearly every community. Download this FREE Day of Service Planning Guide to get started and create 1-2 opportunities each semester where your youth can engage in that same kind of work back home.

Youth mission planning is hard work, but it’s a key way you can help your students begin to see themselves as a critical part of the story of the Gospel. Commit to doing it in a healthy way for your group, for the community you serve, and for the long-term missional goals of your church. And we’re here to help along the way if you need it.

Schedule a FREE Mission Trip Coaching session >> 

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