How to Plan a Mission Trip

7 Things to Do When Planning a Mission Trip for Teens

How to plan a mission trip with youthIf you’re planning a mission trip for a youth group, it can seem overwhelming. Based on our experience, here are things to consider when planning a mission trip for youth:

  • Check dates with parents early in the process.

Even before October 1 of the year before the summer mission trip, begin asking parents if they have a family vacation planned or know of camps/activities in the summer you should plan around. Don’t just ask the students to ask their parents. Go to the parents directly. This gives you a good contact with them and avoids miscommunication.

  • Consider distance and destination.

How far do you want to travel? Will a long road trip build your group unity for the rest of the year? Does it fit the budget? How does the host church/community fit into the progression or rhythm of your mission strategy? Are you looking to move your students outside their typical environment (rural, urban, suburban, ethnicity, etc.) or teach them how others in a very similar environment love their community? Check out this list of mission trip locations for teens in the US and Canada or this list of 5 different types of impactful teen mission trips.

  • Budget carefully.

Budget for a mission trip to help everyone enjoy their timeIf you do not have a budget worksheet for your mission trips, ask your church treasurer to help you create one or call a youth ministry veteran. This is essential to your planning and fundraising. Raising funds is an important work of missions. Here’s some fundraising ideas for youth mission trips.

  • Raise prayer support.

Every summer there are over 1,500 students and youth leaders who go on SERVE, and we estimate there are more than 5,000 adults who support them in prayer. You might even put your vision, the intended outcomes and a bit about your team and your Host Church in your church bulletin before and after your trip.

  • Plan your post-trip process in three parts:

Debrief, follow up and follow through. This will help students understand what they think and how they feel about the trip and also help them integrate what they learned during the trip into their everyday life. See the SERVE Post-Trip Plan in the Resource Box for this process.

Check into it before you even start promoting. There is a planning timeline, a parents’ letter, pastors’ letter and promotional items to help you cast the vision.

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip

  • Most importantly, change the thought from “Where should we go?” to “Let’s make disciples!”

When thinking about mission trips for teens, don’t get caught in the short-sited thinking of just planning a trip. Start with your heart to disciple your students in missional living that lasts a lifetime. Add to that your desire to serve and submit to the host church or ministry, and consider the 7 standards of excellence.

Youth Group Mission Trip PlanningWhether you’re looking to start a mission trip for teens or organize a service trip for them, as you ponder the mission trip being one aspect of discipleship, consider the following:

A progression:

  • How can your students plug into the existing community outreach of your church or help advance it?
  • What experiences will teach your students how to minister in their own back yard?
  • How can they see the strengths and needs of your own community?

Consider planning a mission trip this summer that will help expand their understanding of how God works through churches to reach a community.

Local Mission TripThen, build toward that trip with some late winter and spring service projects in your own backyard.

Plan to go back to those service projects in August – October to follow up relationally, and perhaps continue through the rest of the school year.

For more help on planning a specific trip, contact us or feel free to call our office (1-616-241-5616).

A rhythm:

You might consider a very local mission trip for your students in middle school, then a regional one for grades 9 and 10, and a longer distance trip for your older students. Or, keep them all together and go local, regional and long distance progressively.

You do not have to leave the country to learn about another culture!

No matter where you live in the United States or Canada, you can find first/second generation immigrants (or possibly first nation people groups) to learn from and serve with. In fact, Youth Unlimited has some customizable mission trip locations in the US and Canada that include cross-cultural learning.

Find Mission Trip Locations for Youth Groups
Get Help Planning Your Youth Group’s Mission Trip

Your teaching:

Preparation for a mission trip begins with teachingYour mission trip and service projects are like fence posts. They won’t do much good without the rails of ongoing mentoring relationships (in missional living) and solid week-to-week Bible teaching.

Add into your curriculum Bible content on missions, missional living and stories of those who live life on mission. The Youth Unlimited Resource Box has suggested pre- and post-trip teaching sessions. Talk about, or even bring in and interview, the business leader who sees their career as missions,\ or the pregnancy center director or the prayer warrior for your missionaries, etc.

Are you planning a youth mission trip?

Get a FREE copy of the Complete Guide to Planning a Youth Mission Trip. This complete guide will help make you plan your youth mission trip from beginning to end!

Get the FREE eBook


For help on planning a specific trip, contact us or feel free to call our office (1-616-241-5616).

SlideShare Version

This post is an edited excerpt from the Youth Unlimited Magazine (Fall 2015).


We believe that whether mission trips help or not depends on the type of mission trip you have. Real lasting impact is never accomplished in a week. This is why we partner with local churches to provide our SERVE mission trips! All our sites are run by volunteers who live and work in these communities all year long.

We believe that SERVE mission trips provide a two-fold impact:

  1. On the individual involved in SERVE. We hope that each student and adult:
    • Become doers of the Word and not hearers only
    • Become justice conscious, meeting needs while being introduced to the root causes and concerns
    • Grow in their personal faith
    • Continue serving others when they return to their home church and community
  2. On the relationship between the church and the community. We hope that the week of SERVE helps them to:
    • Identify community assets and needs
    • Provide an infusion of energy to their mission, vision, and outreach efforts
    • Help deepen personal relationships and partnerships within their local community. Our host sites are encouraged to partner with ministries that they have an existing relationship with and allow this group of teenagers to bring energy and excitement to the long-term partnership.

Keep It Safe: Make photocopies of your passport’s identification page and/or of your identification cards, and keep the copies separate from the original when you travel. For added security, leave a copy with a friend or relative at home.

Traveling with Minors: Any adult who is not a parent or guardian should have written permission to supervise the child from the parent or guardian, as well as the child’s identification, and carry it with them. A letter would also facilitate entry for any one parent traveling with their children. This permission letter should contain addresses and telephone numbers where the parent or guardian can be reached. (Example Consent to Travel Form – find more forms and resources hereIt is strongly recommended that the letter is notarized.

There are numerous resources for your church to use in the planning and preparation for your trip. Visit our online Resource Box!

What’s New In 2019?

Registration for the SERVE 2019 teen mission trip season is about to open NOW OPEN and we wanted to let you know about some new things!

If you ever have any questions don’t hesitate to contact us.

  1. New SERVE Youth Mission Trip Sites for 2019
  2. New Background Check Policy
    • In year’s past, we have required that all Adult Leaders (21 and over), as well as host team members, have a background check on file with their church. This year, in order to have better accountability and peace of mind at our sites, we are requiring that a copy of each background check be sent directly to our office.
    • We are also changing our definition of “current” to three years instead of five. (For the 2019 season the background check must have been completed after June 15, 2016)
    • For more information and details on how to get a background check CLICK HERE.
  3. The Cost of SERVE
    • For many years, we have been able to keep the cost of SERVE steady at $360 USD. Because the cost of living continues to increase we have raised our price to $375 USD* for 2019 youth mission trips. This price increase will allow us to continue providing you with quality experiences as well as increase the amount our host teams receive in order to cover their costs for the week. *These reflect the cost of a high school SERVE site before April 1st. Please double-check the site description page of the site you are attending to confirm the price.
  4. Revised 3 Step Registration Process
    • Step One: Save Your Spots!
    • Step Two: Complete Your Online Paperwork. This must be done by March 31, 2019, or there will be late fee charges.
    • Step Three: Payment Due. Payment in full for all SERVE Sites is due on May 15, 2019.
    • Learn more and complete step one HERE.
  5. Sending Leader Training
    • We are excited to be piloting a sending church leader training program for the 2019 season. These short videos will help your Adult Leaders prepare for the SERVE week, covering topics such as what it means to be a small group leader, leading with integrity and modeling a safe culture.
    • More details about this program will be released later. Make sure to follow along with our monthly newsletter and social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) for details.

Faces of ThereforeGo – Kandace Brands, Barry Foster and Dawn Klein

Faces of ThereforeGo – Planning Team Member Edition

Kandace Brands

Q. Serving and volunteering on a ThereforeGo planning team is a huge commitment, why do you do it?

A. For the lives being touched for Christ! I know this is the obvious answer, but truly it is our heart of the planning team. It is not about the work that we accomplish through the week. It is about relationships. It is about seeing people in their humanness. It is about reaching out to the needs of people right here around us. It is about just being with others and learning from each other, growing together in life.

Q. If your fellow planning team members described you in five words or less, what would they say?

A. Organized, committed, timely, planner, willing

Q. Why should a youth worker take students to your event?

A. We truly believe that our event has nothing to do with us as a planning team, organizing the event, but about what God wants to do through us at our event. This last year, we thought we had the best event planned, and then God just completely changed it. It turned out better than what we could ever imagine! We were so blessed and blown away by our meager offering. We felt like the little boy who offered two small fish and five loaves and bread and it fed the multitudes. So if your group would like to join some humble people who are hoping to serve others in our community with the help of the Holy Spirit, come on out to Prairie Serve 2015!

Q. What’s your favorite part of the event?

A. Hands down, my favorite part of Prairie Serve is the last night worship time. It was such a blessing to hear the student’s and leader’s testimonies from the week. So many lives were touched and blessed through our week. It was so great to hear the end result of all the work put into planning, and it was so worth all the time and effort!

Q. What is one website that you visit every day?

A. I know my answer should be something about youth ministry, but honestly it is probably Facebook.

Barry Foster

Q. What does a typical weekday look like when you’re not leading or planning for a YU event?

A. Weekends are packed with outreach Saturday events and three worship services on Sunday. Although I don’t preach on a regular basis I do take part in worship leadership. A big part of what I do on weekends is make sure all our “systems” are functioning well for our many community guests. From greeters in the parking lot to the time people leave worship and head home we strive to make their worship experience as memorable, meaningful and God-honoring as possible.

Q. What’s your favorite part of a Serve experience?

A. I love the testimonies – hearing what God is doing in the lives of the students as they venture into experiences out of their comfort zone. So often they come to Serve somewhat reserved and afraid to jump in. By Wednesday, you start hearing stories of what God is doing in their lives.

Q. Serving and volunteering on a ThereforeGo planning team is a huge commitment, why do you do it?

A. I do it because it’s through events like Serve that God can touch the lives of students and impact their lives for eternity.

Q. Why should a youth worker take students to your event?

A. Roselawn Serve will be ready to maximize your student’s mission trip experience. Our team focuses on helping students grow their faith while serving others. We strive to find work projects that our meaningful and allow the students to connect with local residents.

Q. Where would you like to travel someday?

A. Nature and animal photography is my thing so I love the national parks. Hope to visit Alaska on a photography adventure some day.

Dawn Klein

Q. What does a typical weekday look like when you’re not leading or planning for a YU event?

A. Well, I am up early to get my kids off to school. Then I make a cup of coffee and spend some time in Gods word & in prayer. As a youth group leader this is also the time that I organize bible lessons and events for our church youth group. Next are house chores & errands. Then, once the kids are home from school and settled it’s off to work for me. I am a dance teacher & choreographer. I teach & choreograph for children from the age of 2-18. I am very blessed to be able to use my God given talents and make a living doing something I love to do!

Q. Why should a youth worker take students to your event?

A. Live It is a powerful, life-changing event. Your youth groupers will grow in their relationship with God. They will learn to use their talents to serve him. They will make lasting friendships with fellow Christians from across the United States. Their hearts and souls will be filled with the love of Christ. Their lights will burn brighter than ever before!

Q. What’s your favorite part of the event?

A. When all of the teens and their leaders are together for worship. It is an awesome experience. You can feel the holy spirits presence just washing over them. It is so powerful and real that it has brought me to tears in the past.

Q. I’m never without __________________ while the event is happening?

A. My Bible, my phone, a cup of coffee, a smile and a hug to share.

Q. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for the sake of youth or youth ministry?

A. Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that though I enjoy singing, I am not very good at it! I have never let the quality of my voice hold me back. I sing loud and proud with joy in my heart, all for the glory of our Lord. It is also not unusual to see me break out into a little dance while singing every now and then. Some may think I am being foolish, but I want our youth groupers to know that you don’t need an angelic voice to worship our Lord with song. He knows what’s in our heart and simply wants us to worship him. I believe that ff they can see (and hear) me singing then maybe they will loose their inhibitions and worship our Lord and Savior with that same joy!

Riding the Wave, Part 3 of 3

Paddling out into the waves is necessary, hard work. Setting an environment for students to make the most of the momentum they gain at a faith-forming experience is very similar to this. Here are some tips/reminders for your faith-forming experience preparation:

  • Be sure to emphasize “life transformation”, not “behavior modification”. A transformation is lasting, where a modification is not always so.
  • Use language that communicates that this faith-forming experience is not the end all, but is a “life changing experience” and there will be more life changing experiences. (This is just one of many.)
  • Just like parents have a hard time understanding that they are the primary influence in a teen’s life, a lot of church youth leaders think that the guest speaker or the counselor at camp is the one that built the momentum. We all know that the glory is God’s alone, but he is also using you as a key factor in the transformation. Don’t overestimate an event/excursion/experience and don’t underestimate it. It is part of the life journey and is made more effective with your planning for each stage.
  • Set up non-attenders for inclusion and growth too. If a student chooses to forego their youth group’s event, consider that it may be part of their calling. Release them from false guilt and bless their ministry wherever they may be during that time. Let them share in youth group when they get back. If you cannot bless where they are going then at least bless what God is doing in their life.In addition to the students who are unable to attend, figure out how to involve the adults, children and the rest of the congregation as well beyond the final trip report.
  • Outline your desired outcomes—your expectations and measuring points for the Host Receiver, the Senders and the Goers, etc. and communicate those to parents and prayer partners.
  • Plant seeds of the theme or concepts of the event 8-10 weeks before and 4-6 weeks after to aid in the process of progressive life change.
  • Never work alone. Jesus sent disciples out two by two even to get a donkey tied to a tree! Ask veterans who’ve planned similar events in the past for suggestions, tips and tricks. Get members of your congregation involved as prayer partners or assisting in other areas of need.


The wave is spiritual momentum for growth and development. It’s important to work toward setting the right environment for this to take place at all stages of the event process from planning to execution to post-trip.


Riding the Wave, Part 2 of 3

Recognizing some myths youth leaders and/or students believe about faith-forming experiences can be a big help in not hindering the work of God within extended events, and instead keeping the momentum going, or helping students ride the wave.


The following three myths often come to the forefront of faith-forming experiences:

  1. The big waves matter most: Sometimes we set ourselves, our church, and/or our students up for disappointment because we put so much emphasis on the event. We minimize our week-to-week programming and relationships when that is the very thing that props up the extended event.
  2. High tide only comes a couple times per year: We think big churches with lots of resources and staff or parachurch ministries that specialize in wave making are the ones that help our students most. This is false. It’s the youth leader who is there day after day in the students’ lives and the church community.
  3. Ride as much as you like, you’ll end up in the same place: Have you seen your high school Seniors or Juniors abandon an annual event? Sometimes they don’t have an interest in going after they’ve been there 2-3 years, because it feels like nothing new. Some become loyal fans and love it and others despise it. No two events are the same whether they are meant to be similar or not.


In addition to recognizing the myths, you also need to focus on what you are trying to accomplish. Here are a few primary purposes to help build confidence in riding the waves God gives us through extended faith-forming experiences. Most likely, your retreat/camp/conference/trip has one of these as its primary purpose:

  • Growth: Similar to farming, growth is a process. You plant seeds, water them, wait, cultivate (remove hindrances), wait some more, eventually harvest and repeat.
  • Training: Sports training is also a process. You have to work out, to hurt a little bit, to eat right, and to cross train, and still, no one increases weights by 25 lbs. at a time, but rather 1-2 lbs.
  • Leadership development: It seems that Ministry Training and Leadership Development may need a longer, more detailed post-trip plan than spiritual growth. Typically, our ongoing programming is focused on spiritual growth so you can weave the experience into that programming very simply after returning home. Ministry training and leadership development may take a much more intentionally structured post-trip plan.


Therefore, your church relationships and ongoing programming are the key to developing spiritual growth and it’s important to stray away from the myths or pre-conceived notions that might hold you or your students back. It might not be a bad idea to reflect on your own faith-forming experiences. How did they play a positive part in your spiritual growth or development as a student? 


To be continued…


Riding the Wave, Part 1 of 3

There’s nothing quite like the sound of waves. We typically like to think of that sound as soothing, but in some situations, it could send your fight or flight mechanism into chaos.


When you view a big wave from a distance and you are ready for it as it approaches, you can get lost in a sense of awe and appreciation, taking it in with your whole being: seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and tasting, for a truly amazing experience. On the other hand, if a wave catches you off guard, you might remember the tossing, scraping, churning, choking, sand-in-every-crevice feeling for a long time. Waves can be a great blessing or a brutal reminder. With their power and majesty they can cause appreciation or disillusionment.


Similar to that image, a youth event of two or more days can cause a wave of impact that reaches a student emotionally, socially, physically and intellectually. When we send a student home from what they thought was a weekend or one-week event, they may feel like a huge wave has come. It can be full of spiritual adrenalin, but will an environment have been set for them to make the most of that momentum?


Though we realize we cannot create spiritual momentum, we can set an environment for God to stir the hearts of students. We can follow best practices while planning so we don’t hinder the work of God, but we really can’t make it last or keep it going after the immediate situation is over. Once students go back to their day-to-day lives, we cannot keep that ongoing fire for them.


What we can do is plan with excellence. We all realize that it’s possible to have a bad retreat, camp, mission trip, etc., so let’s start with a few questions to ponder:

  • If you were the enemy of the Kingdom of God and knew that churches were going to keep sending kids to youth events or faith-forming experiences, how would you attempt to mess it up? What could you want the churches or students to believe that would do more harm than good?
  • Do we set students up for difficult transitions back into “real life”? Have you seen students respond both ways (spiritually thriving and crashing and burning) a week or month after going home? Is it possible for even great retreats, camps or mission trips to have a negative effect on students in the long run?


To be continued…