By Doug Franklin
We dream of trips that are intentional and lead to lasting change in the lives of our students. However, to make a trip purposeful, we have to hammer out more than the logistics. We have to design a trip experience that will challenge and stretch our students to grow as both disciples and leaders.
1. Build Student Profiles
Develop a profile of each student that is going on the trip. In three different columns, write your answers to these three questions:
- What is this student’s greatest need?
- How is God currently working in him/her?
- How is God working through him/her?
Under a student’s greatest need, you might write leadership. For how God is currently working in a student, you could note how they are growing in patience. And for how God is working through a student, you might write that they are using their spiritual gift of comforting in their relationship with a struggling friend.
Using this information, identify how the trip could meet a student’s greatest needs or encourage God’s work in and through them. Below each column, make a list of five ways you can encourage that student based on your assessment of where they are. Taking leadership as an example, you could brainstorm five ways to encourage a student to grow as a leader. Your assessment may inspire you to give the student a leadership role on the mission trip, such as leading the work project. Whatever the need, you will have a road map to purposefully speaking truth into each student’s life.
2. Turn Your Adult Chaperones into Trip Mentors
Far from a necessary evil, adult chaperones are critical to the lasting impact of a mission trip. So many of the youth pastors that I meet have the traditional extra adults on hand because the church thought it would be nice to bring a few parents, but more than chaperones, students need relationships with mature and caring believers who want to invest in them. When students get on a bus or plane, something magical takes place, and they are often willing to work harder, be more responsible and sometimes listen to adults—there’s no better opportunity for adults to be purposeful about discipleship!
Please know, however, that adults are often afraid to build relationships with students. Here is my suggestion: Don’t bring those adults. Find adults who want to mentor students and train them to build relationships leading up to the trip. The summer mission trip will give them lots of time to dig deep into students’ lives, and those relationships will likely continue long after the trip.
3. Challenge the Top
Most programs and curriculum available for youth ministries are designed for the lowest common denominator. In other words, they focus on the kids that are not the sharpest, hoping that by meeting their needs the group will grow and develop. Meanwhile, the students that “get it” tend to grow apathetic and disinterested in church. (I personally believe that this has been one of the greatest mistakes of youth ministry.) It has been my experience that by challenging the top students in a youth group, the rest of the students rise to meet them. It’s called positive peer pressure, and it can work to your advantage on this year’s mission trip.
Raise the level of expectation for your top students by finding ways to push them mentally, spiritually, and physically. Give them real leadership roles, allow them to make decisions that lead to success or failure, and let them deal with the consequences of those decisions. Move away from entertaining your students and giving them free time; instead, increase the intensity of the work project or ministry outreach. By challenging from the top, you’ll be more purposeful about growing the team as a whole.
This summer’s trip may be your biggest ministry opportunity this year. Take steps to ensure that you won’t waste it.
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers, www.leadertreks.org.