Short-term mission trips are similar to roller-coaster rides. The planning and fundraising part is the car clicking slowly upward toward the track's peak. It may not be fun, but anticipating the trip keeps enthusiasm high. The trip itself is the actual ride. You hold on for dear life and it's an entirely exhilarating and powerful experience (even though someone inevitably gets sick).
But what happens when it's over? The energy is still high as everyone shares their personal experiences, but then… life returns to normal. How do you maintain that initial zeal? Do you just keep getting back in line to ride the coaster again and again?
Hopefully, the members of your youth group had a profoundly spiritual experience and are proud of the work they did. But make sure you have a plan to channel that post-mission-trip enthusiasm into your congregation. Here are five tips for keeping excitement high after the trip is over.
1. Stay in contact with hosts and friends
Whether you worked in an orphanage in Tijuana or a soup kitchen in Chicago, you've made new friends and contacts. Encourage your students to keep in touch with these people individually, but also as a group.
By maintaining these relationships, your group learns that a mission trip is more than a week-long service activity. It forges a bond and partnership between your team and the host ministry, the people they served, and other teams that they have served alongside. This keeps them emotionally invested in the trip long after it's over.
2. Share your experiences
Almost every youth group spends part of a Sunday sharing highlights of the trip with its church, but don't let the sharing stop there. You want the teens to spend time considering the impact the trip had on them. Sharing their personal stories helps them think through their experiences and impressions.
Before the trip, encourage everyone on your team to take photos and/or keep a journal. You want them to document as much of the trip as possible. This gives them plenty of stuff to share and helps them process the personal significance of the trip after it's over. When they return, they can share pictures and journal entries with each other. These insights can be used to share their thoughts with loved ones, on social media, or in blog posts and podcasts.
3. Keep the mission alive by raising funds
The trip might be over, but the service can continue. Now that your team has seen the work firsthand and feels connected to people in the ministry where they served, they can raise funds to continue blessing and supporting that work. This is a helpful next step because they're learning to sacrificially work and give—even when they don't personally benefit.
If there's a reason why you can't raise funds for that specific mission, you can always raise funds for other ministries doing similar work.
4. Love long-term missionaries
Your team has had a small taste of what it's like to be in a foreign country negotiating different languages and customs. This should give them a clearer understanding of the pressures that long-term missionaries face. Talk to your students about what it must be like to:
- Leave friends and family behind.
- Provide for daily necessities in an unfamiliar environment.
- Share the gospel in a culturally sensitive manner.
If your church supports missionaries abroad, find ways your youth group can serve them as well. This could include things like writing or Skyping them, fundraising, sending presents for major holidays and birthdays, and even connecting with their children. Who knows? You might be helping teens in your group decide to get into long-term mission work themselves.
5. Serve locally
Serving the Lord by traveling to another country is a valuable experience, but ultimately we're all called to be missionaries wherever we are. As you and your group process your mission experience, talk about what it would mean to serve your own community. What would need to change in your youth group's perspective in order for them to see themselves as missionaries to your city?
You don't have to search the globe to find people in need. There are plenty of opportunities to serve in your own backyard. Work with your youth group to research local needs, find organizations and churches who are meeting those needs, and join them. In this way, you take some of that post-mission-trip momentum and aim it at your community.
What happens next?
A short-term mission trip needn't be an end in itself. It can be a springboard into a more mission-oriented worldview. As you prepare for a trip, it's important to ask the question, "What happens next?" The preparations you make for re-entry will prepare your team to make the jump from "mission trip" to "mission perspective."
You can read the first blog in this series called, 10 Ideas to Raise Money for Your Next Mission Trip. Staff members and interns from Jesus Film Mission Trip™ (JFMT) lead international short-term mission trips for volunteers like you who want to make a difference in helping to fulfill the Great Commission. If you'd like to intern or work with the JFMT, you can learn more information at this link.