By Shawn Yingling
Youth mission trips can provide a wealth of benefits to both teen members and the community they choose to serve. However, as with any travel, mission trips bear inherent risks. While extensive planning and research is essential to any trip, there is one other key factor to ensuring a successful outreach program.
In order to have the greatest impact while also minimizing risk, youth groups and worship leaders must commit to clear and comprehensive communication throughout each stage of the journey: before, during and after.
Leading up to the trip, organizers need to routinely communicate to members, parents and the congregation about the various aspects of the trip, from timelines and fundraising to goals and guidelines. Because of the number of logistics and stakeholders involved, you may want to plan on more than one way of communicating important messages, including in-service updates, email announcements and meetings with youth members and parents. Determine the best ways to share important details of your trip, including:
- Written guidelines – Make clear requirements regarding who can attend, as well as what is expected when it comes to behavior and conduct.
- Required training – What safety training will travelers need? Does the destination require cultural sensitivity training?
- Itinerary – Go beyond the basics. Are there pre-approved activities that the group will participate in? Are there certain dates/times that family can expect to hear from members to check in?
- Required documentation – What background checks will chaperones need to complete? When do members need to supply signed liability waivers?
Even before the bags have been packed and the trip has officially begun, a plan for communication during the trip needs to be set in place. This should include a point person not on the trip who can relay updates and messages to family members and the congregation, as well as relevant authorities in case of an emergency. It should also include input from your group’s partner organization or hosts.
The most important component of your mission will be your emergency action plan. Be sure that the following has been communicated clearly to all travelers:
- The location of the nearest embassy, if travelling abroad
- The location volunteers should meet in case of separation
- How to get in touch with other members and emergency personnel if there is no cell or Internet service
- What documents, if any, travelers should have on hand at all times
After the jet lag has worn off, there is still work to be done. Schedule a debriefing with volunteers to discuss what went well, what could be improved upon and how to set up the next trip for even greater success.
For many youth groups, mission trips are a rite of passage. They provide a glimpse into the outside world while enabling teens and young adults to put their faith into action and make a positive impact. With the right planning and communication, these trips can be rewarding, effective and, most importantly, safe.
Shawn Yingling is the president of Glatfelter Religious Practice (GRP), which specializes in insurance and risk management programs for churches and other religious institutions and is a division of Glatfelter Insurance Group (an AIG company), one of the largest program managers in the U.S., www.glatfelterreligiouspractice.com.