Planning a mission trip for your Teen Youth Group is much different than planning for just any other mission trip. While many people come to church together as a family, they almost never stay in the same place after arriving. Between catching up with friends, snagging a few doughnuts, and heading off to separate Sunday school activities, most families separate by age group except when they sit together in service. Parents choose their favorite Bible study classes, children go to the class with other kids around their age, and teens head to the youth group. But these differentiations aren’t just to give the parents a chance to discuss their faith as adults away from their children. Naturally, it’s also to help the children learn and grow in their own faith in a way that speaks to their developmental level and interests. Mission trips must be planned with these differences in mind.
Teenagers tend to be focused on how they can apply their faith and what the Bible has to say about issues they see in their own lives or think they might have to deal with in the future. As they grow in both faith and personal responsibility, mission trips become a wonderful way to introduce them to the joys of applied faith, show them how they can make a difference in the lives of others, and help them further their spiritual growth.
This is why planning a mission trip for teenagers is very different from planning a trip for adults or other age groups. No matter how mature, spiritual, and eager to do mission work your youth group may be, you must remember that they are still teenagers dealing with typical teenage issues. Simply put, most teens simply are not yet ready for independence when traveling, and that is OK. It just means that you need to plan the trip carefully, chaperone at every step, and coordinate with parents for important decisions the shouldn’t be made without them.
1) Check Dates with Parents
Youth group mission trips almost universally happen either over the summer or over your school district’s Spring Break. However, we encourage you not to go on a teen’s word alone that they’ll be free for these dates. Teens often forget to ask their parents and sometimes they are even ignored if they do ask. Parents will plan things without the knowledge or participation of their teens, and if you want everyone to be able to come along, it’s important to coordinate with the parents, not just the teens.
Don’t just ask your youth group members to speak to their parents about the trip dates, talk to the parents directly. This is not only your chance to find the right trip dates but it’s also your opportunity persuade reluctant parents to allow their eager teens to grow. Explain the mission, how the teens will learn and grow through the work you’ll be doing, and describe how you’ll be making sure everyone is safe and well-chaperoned.
2) Establish a Buddy System
There is nothing more important than the buddy system when it comes to taking a trip with anyone below the age of 18. Even adult mission trips engage the buddy system for practical reasons. Rather than waiting for the usual social politics of choosing buddies at the last minute, get your buddy system worked out the minute you have a final participant list. This gives you plenty of time to make sure everyone’s happy with their buddy and kids who don’t automatically have a best friend are paired with each other amicably. Setting up your buddy system early creates partnerships in planning and may give your kids a chance to make better friends with their buddy before the trip.
3) Target Your Trip’s Mission
When choosing your mission, remember that one great way to help teens learn is to plan the trip around positively impacting the lives of other people their own age. Teens love stories about other teens from movies to autobiographies about young adventures and a mission trip is no different. Show them what it’s like for urban street kids by cleaning up a teen shelter or even partner with another youth group from a very different community to do good works together. The more you make the context about understanding and helping other teenagers, the more invested your youth group will be.
4) Partner with a Local Church
One of the big questions when it comes to moving with large groups of teenagers is where to stay. Hotels are not only expensive, they also create an environment of private rooms, closed doors, and will remind your teens of all those Spring Break movies they’ve likely seen. Instead of having to keep the boys and girls out of each other’s private rooms and apologizing to the hotel for all the running and giggling, partner with a sister church instead, preferably one with a shower. That way, your nights can follow normal church lock-in procedures, there will be no one to bother with running and giggling, and there will be rooms big enough for everyone to gather in for prayer, games, and debriefings.
5) Schedule Pre-Trip Training
How much preparation your youth group needs before departing on the trip will depend on how far you’re going and how different the destination will be from their home environment. If you’re going international or to a very different community, you may want a few pre-trip training sessions and even if you’re just going to another church two cities over, you’ll at least want to cover travel rules.
Make sure your teens understand how to dress, how to be polite, and how to be safe in a new environment and on the road. For example, if you’re flying, covering airport safety and group unity protocols. If you’re going overseas, cover the cultural norms and expectations of the destination. Go through a few drills if you can and ask your participants to repeat back to you the rules. Contact your mission travel specialist for help planning your youth group’s next mission trip!