Building Excitement for Summer Mission Work

June 9th, 2011

Make no mistake about it: Helping youth get excited about summer mission work is, well, work. Young people have so much to choose from; athletic camps sponsored by famous athletes, cheerleading camps, band camps, exchange programs, and summer sporting events (along with jobs, vacations, or just plain loafing at home), getting youth to commit to a week or more of summer mission work can zap the energy out of any youth leader.

But mission work can be exciting and that's the key word to building a successful summer youth trip. In past years, our high school youth group has participated in work camps in a variety of places, needs, and opportunities.

We have worked with the homeless and the wealthy, with social agencies and inner city missions, with children and the elderly. We have painted houses and repaired roofs, poured soup and made sandwiches, conducted a Bible school and hammered nails.

During this time, our mission group has grown from a handful of participants to many more. Why all the excitement?

As one of our teenagers recently explained to the congregation: "Doing this kind of ministry has taught me much about myself, helped me to grow closer to God and the friends in my group, and given me a joy from knowing that God was working through me to help someone else." That's summer mission work in a nutshell, and it's one of the greatest opportunities for youth to not only talk about their faith but also to share life with one another. Mission work is a wonderful group grower.Having helped organize several mission trips, I can attest to the rewards that a work camp can reap in a youth group and an entire church. Furthermore, there are so many mission opportunities across the country that it is virtually impossible not to find some type of work that your youth would be interested in doing. Youth, even with their busy schedules, can find an amazing excitement for work that involves them fully and emotionally; work that requires stamina and vitality, zest and energy.

Should you be considering a mission trip this summer, these simple guidelines might help you put together a first-class experience. Remember this: begin planning now. Preparation and attention to detail go a long way in assuring that the trip will go smoothly and get off to a great start.

Involve the youth in selecting a location and type of work.

After some initial screening and telephoning, you should be able to locate several mission opportunities (as close to home or as far away as you desire). By composing a description of each opportunity, you can put together a ballot, enabling the youth to vote for their final destination. Most often, youth prefer to have a variety of work experiences at a given location. Hammering nails all week or working with children day after day can become routine and emotionally draining. A mixture of work can keep the youth fresh and excited about each new day.

Give attention to the basics: sleeping, eating, cleaning, and transporting.

Nothing will demoralize youth faster than a mission trip without adequate arrangements. Check and double check the size of the church, dorm, or facility that will house and feed your group. Ask these questions: Are there enough showers for a group of your size? enough space for eating common meals and sleeping at night? How far are these facilities from your work site(s)? Will you need to buy food once you arrive, or will someone else prepare meals for your group? How will your group be transported to and from the work site? Who will transport the group? Leave nothing to chance.

Promote the trip as an extension of your congregation's outreach.

As most youth leaders realize, mission trips cost money . . . sometimes lots of it. You will need plenty of financial support as well as adult chaperones, prayers, and networking. From the beginning, we always made certain that our congregation realized that this trip was their mission. It was not simply another youth trip. Remind the church that they are sending the youth out to do this work. The youth represent to congregation. Toward this end, take up a special offering, have a stock sale, and invite the congregation to pray for the youth during that week. Upon returning, be certain to have the youth share in a worship service, or some other setting, what has been accomplished on behalf of the church.

You're never too small, but you can get too large.

One of the drawbacks to our summer mission trip is that our excitement has produced large numbers of teens;too many, in fact, to be accommodated by many mission agencies. After all, it is not every church or facility that can house, feed, and shower 50 or more teens for an entire week or more. Next year, we plan to scale down so that we will have more opportunities for service. How? Some of our ideas: Having a college trip and a high school trip; having two separate opportunities for service; staying closer to home (Indiana). When it comes to mission work, smaller groups have a distinct advantage. The youth can get to know one another more intimately and quickly, room and board and transportation are not issues, and most agencies prefer several smaller groups to a single large one. Imagine what can be accomplished with three or four teens!

Talk about the mission trip for months prior to departure.

Early planning has great advantages when it comes to promotion. Youth love to talk about summer fun with friends. Give them a chance to get the grapevine of excitement growing. You might even plan a fun day at an amusement park, as you return home from the mission work, as a means of insuring lively and energetic participants. Keep the excitement building, and you'll be certain to have a summer mission trip you'll never forget.

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