5 Most Impactful Youth Mission Trips

Many youth pastors and leaders have had a number of mission trip experiences either as a student or as a leader, so who better to ask about which ones have been the most impactful?

In this blog post, you’ll find:

  1. Local Mission Trips
  2. International Mission Trips
  3. Mission Work in a “Big City”
  4. Youth Summer Camp Missions
  5. Mission Trip to Alaska
  6. Bonus: Words of Advice

1. Local Mission Trips

Local Mission Trip
Local mission “trips” or service projects have recently increased in popularity due to travel restrictions and caution from COVID-19.

Many teens are eager to help where they can, and oftentimes they don’t have to go far. In fact, sometimes working with local communities can be the most impactful mission trip. Being able to see the impact the teens have made in a neighboring community on a day-to-day basis is unforgettable.

The coronavirus pandemic has also lead many churches to only consider domestic mission trips (service trips in their home country). In 2021, ThereforeGo Ministries is only offering domestic mission trips or at-home mission trip opportunities; even though normally, we provide mission trips for teens to destinations in both the USA and Canada.

Student Ministries Director Lucas Johnson from Pillar Church, finds his youth have been most impacted by this type of trip.

“I like to believe all the mission trips we do are impactful. However, two local trips stick out the most: a trip to Detroit, working with Youthworks and a Younglife trip to Timberwolf Lodge, babysitting for teen moms while they got training and time away. It was awesome to see the students making an impact in their own state and feeling led to serve.”

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

2. International Mission Trips

Sometimes it is all too easy to become comfortable in our daily lives, with everything at the tips of our fingers. Many other countries don’t have the same accessibility that we have. This makes international mission trips some of the most humbling experiences.

When it comes to an international trip, the possibilities are endless. So many countries can benefit from the spiritual guidance and efforts of members of the Christian community.

Student Ministries Pastor Chuck Zook from Summit Church, says his trips to build homes in Mexico are the ones that have left an everlasting impact.

International Mission Trip
Sometimes called “overseas mission trips”, the possibilities for these are endless.

“Some of the most impactful trips I have been a part of were with the group ‘Casas por Cristo.’ They are an organization based in Texas that builds homes for those who need them in several locations such as Juarez and Ciudad de Acuna, Mexico. I have been in both communities on a few different trips. Your group builds a home, from the foundation all the way up over four days.

“These trips were impactful for me (as a student and a leader) for a few reasons. First, Casas is efficient and their leaders lead by example – everyone is included in the building project. Second, during the week, you work directly alongside the family who is receiving the house. This last part is incredibly impactful. When you work alongside the family, you see how much this means to them, because they work their fingers to the bone. You also build a relationship with the person you are serving (despite language barriers). This often is overlooked on service/mission trips in my opinion. The emphasis is put on what ‘I’ learn, and what ‘our’ takeaway will be versus the people who need caring for. How can we pour ourselves out to fill up others and not worry about our ‘life change’ or what we are getting from the trip?

“Don’t get me wrong, the learning, perspective change and growth from these trips are important. I just think, if we aren’t careful, we put more emphasis on what’s in it for us then the people we’re serving.”

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

3. Mission Work in a “Big City”

City Mission Trip for Teens
City mission trips are popular for both domestic and international mission trips (or even just a service project within your local area).

Cities across the country are often laden with individuals and families who struggle to make ends meet – many who don’t even have a home. Taking part in a mission trip in a large city can be a real eye-opener and a great opportunity for spiritual growth.

There are tons of opportunities to be part of teen mission trips to cities, such as SERVE with ThereforeGo (formerly Youth Unlimited) or Revolution’s Big City.

Student Ministries Director, Aaron Damjanovich from Eagle Brook Church, says the youth from his church have been deeply impacted by the work they have done in cities over the last few years.

“Every summer for the past five years, we’ve taken around 200 high school students on a mission trip called, “Big City.” We work closely with Rich Gibbs from Cutting Edge Ministries to locate a city and work with the local churches to find how we can best serve them – whether that be VBS or work projects. Every day each group of about 20 students gets sent out to a different site to work, and in the evenings we gather as a large group for worship and a message. This past summer we served in St. Louis. Like every trip, students grow very close in relationships with each other and we see significant impact, spiritual growth and life change.”

Student Pastor, Ty Hogue from Overisel Reformed Church, said he is always driven back to ministry work in Chicago because the opportunities in a big city are endless.

“I started going to Chicago in the summer of 1999 and have gone all but two summers since. We have worked with day camps, community gardens, thrift stores, lunch and dinner ministries and food banks and have assisted in upholstery, yard work, basement clean-ups, roofing, plumbing, painting, carpeting and so much more throughout the neighborhood and at several of the ministry buildings. Most of the impact comes from the relationships within our group, with their church and in the community. There has also been the satisfaction of working hard and getting things accomplished, but there’s nothing like relationship building and seeing a more diverse and unique expression of God’s creativity amongst his creation.”

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

4. Youth Summer Camp Missions

Youth Summer Camp
Youth summer camp service projects can be in your own community, elsewhere in your home country, or international.

Every teen looks forward to the summertime and the freedom to break out of their normal routine. This makes summer the perfect time for them to experience the impact of a mission trip – or more specifically, a youth summer camp.

Youth summer mission camps tend to be short-term, one to two weeks long, and teens can make the most of their time by serving those in a new community in a variety of ways.

Paul Galbraith, Pastor of Missions & Student Ministry from Brandywine Church, says of the youth camp his team attends every year:

“We take our youth to Mountain T.O.P. every summer to their Youth Summer Mission Camps. Our kids connect with Christ through service, worship and time away from daily routine. It increases their awareness of needs around them and challenges them to sacrifice for others daily.”

5. Mission Trips To Alaska

Alaska Mission Trip
The culture and landscape of Alaska will make you feel like you’re in another country.

Alaska is a place unto its own, and it is often overlooked. Life is different there – it’s slower, tougher and more unforgiving. For those who have reservations or concerns about international mission trips, Alaska can be a great alternative. The culture and landscape of Alaska will make you feel like you’re in another country, without needing a passport (for US citizens). Alaska is also a popular destination for neighboring Canada.

Youth Pastor Kurtis Ritsema from Graafschap CRC, believes visiting Alaska with his youth team has been the most impactful trip.

“Our trip to Alaska with Eaglecrest Alaska Missions to the community of Sutton has been the most impacting. The work primarily consisted of log splitting (wood as a heat source for winter), basic home repair and landscaping projects. The work was good, but what made this trip most impactful was the location, the weather, the time of year (land of the midnight sun) and the youth group time around an evening campfire each night.”

Words of Advice

Teen mission trip groups
It’s important to remember to keep your mission trip focused on relationships.

Many youth pastors and leaders believe there are two things that are key to having a successful and impactful youth mission trip:

  1. A Relationship Focus
  2. Preparation

Keep Your Trip Relationship Focused

Mission trips are only as valuable as the relationships that are formed and lives that are changed through discipleship. This may be either with the individuals in a community or members of a team.

Student Ministries Pastor Brad Bullock of Pathway Community Church, says:

“Our teams have strong bonds and are well equipped before the trip through mandatory team meetings and a two-night team retreat. And our partners are strategic so we can experience a win-win – ministry that advances the work of the local mission and also advances our students down the road to becoming disciples who make disciples.”

You Can Never Over-Prepare

Preparing for mission trip for teens
7 Things to Do When Planning a Mission Trip for Teens

The destination of your trip is not nearly as important as the time put in prior to leaving. It is necessary to prepare your hearts, minds and even physically prepare. Whatever you will need on an upcoming mission trip, there is no way to over prepare.

Youth Pastor Fig VanderMolen of Messiah CRC, says:

“I think the best advice I could give any leader planning a trip is to not skimp on the prep. No matter where your group is going, no matter what the length, meeting ahead as a team helps with everything from attitude on the trip, knowledge of the work or service, understanding of the people you are going to be working with and so much more.

“We’ve used some material from the book Deep Justice Journeys by Kara Powell and some other team building or strategic planning type activities. I also ask all of our students and adults to attend all fundraisers, even if they have raised enough money for their trip on their own. It helps us get used to working with one another! I’m not sure that specific places matter as much. I think that with good prep and a good group, you can have success at any site.” 

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!

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Two key pieces of advice:

  1. Keep a Relationship Focus
  2. Prepare

They certainly can! Here’s just some of the ways mission trips within your own country can be impactful.

ThereforeGo (formerly “YouthUnlimited”) provides opportunities for youth group mission trips in the USA and Canada.

This means we provide both domestic and international youth mission trips (because of COVID-19, all 2021 trips require groups to stay in their own country – learn more).

Specific destinations (we call them “SERVE sites“) include everything from larger cities to smaller towns in rural areas. And in 2021, we even have a mission opportunity for serving your own local community (called SERVE@Home).

Explore trip locations »

SERVE 2021 Theme: The Unshakable Kingdom

THEME: The Unshakable Kingdom: For the King and the Kingdom

THEME PASSAGE: Hebrews 12:25-29

“25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.””

Jesus loved teaching about the Kingdom of God. There are 31 parables in the Gospels. 23 (nearly 75%) of them are about the Kingdom of God! When his disciples asked him how to pray, he taught them to pray for the kingdom of God to come. And after Jesus’ resurrection, before he ascended to heaven, he spent 40 days talking about the Kingdom of God.

This week at SERVE, we are going to dive into learning more about the Kingdom of God that was clearly so important to Jesus and gave fuel to his ministry here on Earth.

In the book of Hebrews, we read that the Kingdom of God is unshakable!

“There are very few things in the world which can accurately be described as unshakable, or unmovable. Today we can dynamite them, blast them into oblivion, or if they are immaterial, we apply pressure to get something or someone to change. There is no such thing as an immovable object meeting an irresistible force so when something is described as unshakable or unmovable, you had better pay attention.”[1]

In a world that can feel so shaky and unstable, we need to be reminded that the God we serve invites us into a Kingdom that is unshakable and secure. This week at SERVE we will learn more about the qualities and habits of those who are called to participate in The Unshakable Kingdom!

The Unshakable Kingdom we receive from God is not just something that affects our future. It affects our here and now as well. It’s not just something we experience when Jesus returns. It is a part of our everyday, mundane life. It’s not just something we participate in on Sunday mornings or at youth group. It shapes our work, our play, our being.

Theme content written by Ashley Patton

Youth Unlimited Becomes ThereforeGo Ministries

Dear Friends,

We wanted to share some exciting news with you about our ministry. As of Tuesday, September 1, 2020, Youth Unlimited has officially changed its name to ThereforeGo Ministries. This announcement is the result of months of prayer and discussion on the board and staff levels of our ministry and we are excited to share with you how we came to this decision.



Clearing Up Confusion and Expanding Our Ministry

There are two significant reasons why we felt called to change the name of our ministry. First, for a number of years, there has been a growing confusion with other ministry initiatives in Canada who were also operating under the name Youth Unlimited. We believe that the transition to ThereforeGo Ministries will provide clarity for our friends and partners in Canada who have faithfully supported us through the years. The second reason is that while we remain committed to our mission of collaborating with local churches in their youth ministries (through SERVE and other programs), in recent years the scope of this work has expanded. Churches are reporting an increasing struggle to remain connected with their students and emerging adults as they move beyond their high school years and into their late teens/early 20s. We are eager to collaborate and resource churches as they minister with this age cohort but increasingly found that having the word “youth” in our ministry’s name created the understanding that our efforts were focused exclusively on individuals under the age of 18.

Based in Scripture

One reason we love the name ThereforeGo Ministries is that it reminds us of two important scripture passages.

Matthew 28:16-20

“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.


The Transitional Reality of Ministry

This name also reminds us of the transitional reality of ministry and the transitional reality of the lives of youth and emerging adults. As a ministry we have a rich 100-year history of working with churches, therefore we have the confidence and expertise to continue creating meaningful experiences and valuable resources. For youth and emerging adults attending ThereforeGo Ministries programming, they are often on the verge of life decisions and changing realities. We want to help them see the confidence they can have in the legacy of faith that generations before them have shown and how that confidence can prompt them to therefore go and follow the calling of Christ on their lives.

Will You Partner With Us in This New Season?

We ask that you continue to pray for our staff and ThereforeGo Ministries. We remain committed to our mission statement of “helping churches challenge youth and emerging adults to commit their lives to Jesus Christ and transform the world for Him.” We are also committed to continuing to offer SERVE and ask that you continue to pray for this ministry.

ThereforeGo Ministries, history of name changes

COVID-19 Creates Opportunity For New SERVE@Home Outreach Program

Every spring season, Youth Unlimited is preparing to mobilize thousands of teens and volunteers to participate in SERVE – weeklong mission trips across the United States and Canada. SERVE is a unique approach to mission experiences because it allows students to partner with churches in communities and spend a week each summer serving, worshiping, and sharing the love of Christ with the host church’s home community.

However, this summer is going to look quite different for SERVE. Due to the impact of COVID-19, Youth Unlimited has launched a new mission opportunity called SERVE@Home. Rather than sending students across the country to serve, SERVE@Home equips local churches and home congregations to serve in their home communities.

“This certainly isn’t what we thought SERVE 2020 would look like,” says Rick Zomer, Executive Director of Youth Unlimited. “But, that doesn’t mean we’re any less excited for our busy summer season. SERVE@Home is an incredible opportunity for congregations to minister within their own communities, and we believe it will introduce more churches to the work of Youth Unlimited and the impact of SERVE,” he adds.

Groups who participate in SERVE@Home will receive resources from Youth Unlimited to make the week more than just a community service project. “Churches who register will receive everything they typically would on a SERVE trip, including curriculum, t-shirts, and other helpful insights,” says Elizabeth Bosscher, Communications and Events Coordinator for Youth Unlimited. “In addition, we will provide each group with pre-recorded speakers’ sessions, Spotify playlists, tips to develop worksites in their communities, and more,” she adds.

COVID-19 is preventing students from traveling to SERVE sites, but it can’t change the heart and mission of Youth Unlimited. “SERVE@Home aligns perfectly with our mission at Youth Unlimited – to encourage, equip, and partner with local congregations across North America to reach this generation for Christ,” adds Zomer. “That is accomplished whether we travel 3000 miles from home or serve those in need in our own backyards.”

To learn more about SERVE@Home and how your church group can participate, visit thereforego.com/servehome.

Youth Unlimited, headquartered in Grand Rapids, MI, is a non-denominational, non-profit ministry organization with the focus of assisting the Church and its many local congregations with their ministry to our youth. Through events like SERVE mission trips, Youth Unlimited partners with youth leaders to provide faith-forming experiences to middle school, high school, and special needs students. Visit www.thereforego.com for more information.

Go Do Good – Do It

by Angie Klooster

SERVE 2019 was one of the most influential weeks of my life. Seeing the broken state some people live in is one thing but having the opportunity to help them and change their way of life is entirely different. We made a difference, even if all we did was weed a few rows of a community garden or paint the walls of a non-profit organization. And making a difference made a difference in me.

I was cautious to go on this trip. It was very out of my comfort zone. Then, when I found out no one from my church was in my SERVE small group, I was even more discouraged. However, as soon as I met my small group and spent one day with them, I knew I was here for a reason. The people I worked with and got to know were some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met, and I quickly realized God sent me on SERVE to do good.

God sent me to a small church in Muskegon, Michigan both to help people and to grow, myself. I learned more about myself in those seven days than I have in my entire life. I learned to not take things for granted. I learned that God works miracles in the strangest of ways. I learned to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people. And I learned to make friends, even if it’s just for a week and I might never see them again.

With each service project – every time we handed out yogurt at the church or cleaned a lot – we made a difference, and I was so encouraged. It might not have been much, but it was something, and it was hopefully enough to encourage others to follow our footsteps, too.

One little nudge can make a change in someone’s life, like the way my life changed at Muskegon SERVE. If the people of Muskegon saw us planting a garden and growing food, it shows them that it’s possible. If the kids at Muskegon Heights High School saw that people were willing to help them, it shows them they can help people, too.

Muskegon SERVE was just one week, but the people I worked with have been doing this for years. They have dedicated their lives to helping their community and are very passionate about what they do. They work so hard with so little. I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to see, and talk to, and help these people. It’s changed who I am, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have a similar experience. If you ever get the opportunity to go do good, do it. It will be beyond worth it.  

[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2019 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]

Forever One; SERVE 2020 Theme

Go Do Good Instagram Photo SERVE 2020

 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:5 (NIV)


The Bible is full of stories. These stories, or narratives, give us a glimpse into the nature and character of God, as well as God’s relationship to humanity, in a way that informs how we should live. They tell of people, places, and events from particular times and cultures and yet speak to each of us right where we are at today.

The stories in the Bible are not standalone accounts of people, places, and events though; the Bible is one cohesive grand narrative of the Triune God who created all things, loves all things despite brokenness and sin, came down in flesh to redeem all things, and is weaving a master plan to bring all things back to himself. All stories of all people, places, and events in the Bible are part of this grand narrative. At first read, biblical narratives may seem to tell the story of a prophet, or a country, or a miracle but really Bible stories are only a little bit about these things. They are mostly about God.

It has been almost two thousand years since the most recently penned stories in the Bible were recorded, and no written texts will be added. And yet, the grand narrative of God, the story God is unfolding through time and space, is far from complete for God is still at work in, among, and through God’s people.

In a world where we are so busy and things around us often seem so wrong, it can be easy to miss how our stories are woven into the grand narrative of God. Many days most of us are just trying to do the best we can to get work done and hold things together. We don’t give much thought to where we fit into the overarching story of how and where God is at work in the world because our lives are full and our minds are preoccupied. Together at SERVE mission trips for teens, we have a chance to take a step back and consider the bigger picture of the story of God.

Over the next week, we are going to live deeply into stories from the Old Testament. We are going to learn about interesting characters in the Bible and how God used them to bring about his salvation and the restoration of all creation. We will explore how this hope of restoration was made perfect in Jesus, how Christ was the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. We will witness how the early church faithfully lived into the good news of Jesus. Finally, we will ponder how God is still at work bringing each of us back into relationship with him through Christ, and inviting us to join in the work of the Holy Spirit as participants in the story God continues to write.


Find a 2020 summer mission trip location here!

Registration opens at Noon (EDT) on November 1st, 2019. For more details and to fill out Step One CLICK HERE!


The SERVE 2020 theme was written by Chad Pierce and Jen Rozema in partnership with Youth Unlimited.

A Time For Reflection

This magazine is probably landing in your mailbox in the midst of the beginning of a new ministry year. Youth groups are meeting after summer breaks, fall programs have started back up and summer can seem like a distant memory. As a result, the section of this magazine that might appear to be the most interesting is the preview of the SERVE 2020 theme. Let me encourage you to resist the temptation to jump straight to those sections that focus on next summer and instead, begin by spending some time reading the stories and testimonies from SERVE 2019.

This past year, over 1,400 individuals participated in SERVE at 23 sites across Canada and the United States. Students spent the week considering Paul’s message in Titus 2:14 to “Go Do Good.” They were challenged to reflect on how this verse could impact their life beyond their SERVE experience as they return to their homes, churches and schools. Now, they’re back in their communities and our prayer is that they are trying to discern how a SERVE experience impacts their day-to-day lives.

Many of you know one of these students. You may have encouraged them to attend SERVE, prayed for them before they left, organized a church fundraiser or written a check to cover registration costs. Their experience might not have been possible without the support you provided before their SERVE week.

Now that students are back home, the tendency might be to let their memories of summer 2019 fade into the background. You, too, might spend some time with this magazine, reading SERVE reflections, but the tendency may still be to shift focus to next summer and a new theme. Before that happens, let me encourage you to continue to support students you helped hear the challenge to “Go Do Good.” There are two articles in this magazine that can be used to help students reflect on how their summer mission experience might impact their lives. Look for ways to connect with a 2019 SERVE participant and use these resources to begin a conversation that helps them consider how their experience might deepen their faith in Jesus Christ and his call on their lives.

If no one asks a student about a significant experience in their life, they might assume it doesn’t matter and move on.

Rick Zomer

Executive Director

This is an excerpt from the Fall 2019 magazine

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!

The Sacrifice of Service

by Andrew Rennie, Lynden SERVE Host Team Member

My second year on the Host Team of Lynden SERVE felt different from the first. The first year left me wishing I could have done more or been more involved. I was inspired by the work of the students, by witnessing their comradery and unity, and by watching our church come together and work purposefully to the glory of God. Still, it seemed to me that my part in this sacrifice of service was missing something.

Reflecting on the old sacrificial system, I realize pleasing sacrifices are rarely spontaneous. The spotless lamb doesn’t walk up to the alter on its own. The firewood must first be collected and seasoned before it’s burned, and the poetry of praise doesn’t just float in on the wind. Each sacrifice is created through availability and intentionality.

For me, the biggest stumbling blocks to serving were having the time to do it (the idolatry of availability) and only wanting to serve in ways I was comfortable with (the idolatry of success).

I know, deep down, that I must say “Here I am, Lord,” and then be willing to listen to his calling.

This year I decided to plan ahead and take the week of SERVE off work. By giving this sacrifice, it kept me available, freeing my mind from work worries and letting me focus on SERVE. I could cheerfully give my time flexibly, offering help wherever it was needed. Being willing to listen to his calling beautified the sacrifice.

As a Christian, I no longer rely on the old sacrificial system our Heavenly Father instituted for his people to enable and restore their relationship with himself. I know Christ accomplished it all on the cross. There is literally nothing I can add to his highest and most holy sacrifice, and yet, I am still called and compelled to live my life as a fragrant offering before his throne.

I want to bring a sacrifice of praise and I want to bring a sacrifice of service. I desire to love God more wholly and abide in him more deeply. Approaching SERVE as a love offering to the Lord this year made all of the difference.

“Here I am, Lord.”

[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2018 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE]

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.

Middle School: A Key Age

Interview with Scott Post

“I would say youth who have participated in SERVE go on to be more regularly involved in local service opportunities, both while they are in high school and beyond.”

In a cultural climate which tells us our youth are leaving the church and faith in God is declining, Scott believes middle school is a key age to engage students in faith formation.

During the year, Scott encourages his middle schoolers to go past just reading their Bibles and praying every day. “We’ve spent a lot of time in the context of our community intentionally building spiritual practices that help us live out the gospel.” SERVE, for his group, becomes an extension of that goal. “SERVE is a spiritual practice of trying on, for a short period of time, what it means to live out the gospel. Because they had a good feeling or a good experience serving people in these other contexts, they have an easier time thinking, oh, maybe it would be ok to spend my time and my life serving people here, right where I live.”

The students on these trips cannot always see for themselves the impact SERVE has. “[If this is their first time signing up], they are expecting this is going to be an enjoyable trip, most likely with their friends, where they are going to meet new people, learn about God, serve some people and probably have a lot of fun. In the process of reflection [after the trip], they start to see how the experience of SERVE is deeply connected to what they believe about God or what we believe about Jesus or what it means to live out the gospel story.”

There is no doubt in Scott’s mind that bringing both middle schoolers and high schoolers on SERVE is valuable and worth it. He encourages others to “trust the results” and says, “Our church has seen the fruit of [SERVE] play out in these kids’ lives and years down the road. Easily.”

Scott is the Youth Pastor at CrossPoint CRC in Brampton, ON
[This is an excerpt from the Fall 2018 Magazine. To read more stories CLICK HERE.]

110 Youth Mission Trip Fundraising Ideas (FREE LIST)

Looking for fundraising ideas for a short-term mission trip or church youth group?

Your church group is going on a mission trip. That’s exciting! But, it can sometimes be difficult for leaders to brainstorm ways for your group as a whole (or individuals going on the mission trip) to raise enough money to go.

We’d like to help you easily come up with some ideas.

Here’s a free list of 110 creative fundraising ideas for youth mission trips or other church group mission trips to get you started.

P.S. Want to print this list or read it as an eBook on your Kindle?
Download our entire list of mission trip fundraising ideas as a free PDF here Download as PDF »

1. Online Fundraising

Sign up on an online fundraising website. Numerous sites allow potential donors to conveniently contribute to your cause. Example: GoFundMe.com.

2. T-Shirt Sale

Design a t-shirt and host a sale for your friends, family and members of your church community.

3. Movie Night

Host a movie night at your church and encourage admission by donation.

4. Use Social Media & Email

Online social media (ex. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), blogs and email (yes, really!) are great ways to not only increase awareness of your efforts but also many of these outlets provide their own ways to raise funds or contribute to your cause.

5. Partner with a Restaurant

Many local restaurants offer fundraising opportunities, with a portion of the sales going to your cause.

6. Garage Sale

Ask friends, family members and members of your church community to donate items and host a garage sale (yard sale). You could host this in your church’s gym or fellowship area.

7. Hold a Competition

Sporting events are great ways to get the community and youth involved in an exciting way. Small prizes for the winners can foster the competitive spirit.

Car wash fundraiser for mission trips

8. Car Wash

Get permission to host your car wash in a safe, moderately trafficked area. Buy supplies and make signs to promote the event.

9. Wall of Giving

Using index cards, fill a wall with numbered cards for people to select and donate the amount from the card.

10. Wrap Christmas Presents

During the Christmas season, some stores will allow you to set up a gift-wrapping table by donation.

11. Loose Change Collection

Contact local businesses and ask permission to set up a change collection jar near the checkout area.

12. Host a Party

Themed parties are a fun way to attract large audiences.  An entrance fee is all you would need to aid in your fundraising goals.

13. Silent Auction

Ask members of your church community or local business to donate items to be auctioned off. Each item has a sign-up sheet, where bidders walk up and place their bids on the sheets.

Writing support letter for mission trip14. Support Letter

Writing a letter asking for support is a classic fundraising idea. Be sure to answer the 5 most important questions: who, what, when, where and why.

15. Partner with Other Local Organizations

Animal shelters, fire departments, your local YMCA and other local organizations are often good places to coordinate fundraising efforts with.

16. Coffee House

Host a coffee house in your church, or pair with a local coffee house to have part of the proceeds go to your fundraiser.

17. Valentines Dinner

Host a Valentine’s dinner open to members of the community and charge an admission fee.

Spaghetti dinner fundraiser for youth mission trip18. Spaghetti Dinner

Who doesn’t love spaghetti? Hosting a spaghetti dinner is a great way to raise money and provide a meal for the community.

19. Recycle

Set up bags for collecting cans and bottles at your church, school or sporting events. Take the recycled items to a center and collect the refund.

20. Host a Charity Concert

Find a talented band or bands that are willing to play for free or cheap and host a charity concert. Charge an admission fee and sell concessions during the event.

P.S. Want to print this list or read it as an eBook on your Kindle?
Download our entire list of mission trip fundraising ideas as a free PDF here Download as PDF »

21. Hair Cut-a-Thon

If you know any hairdressers, hosting a cut-a-thon is a great way to raise funds. Ask him or her to donate a day to volunteering to cut hair for donations.

22. Pancake Breakfast

Host a pancake breakfast at your church for the community to come to, and have the funds contribute to your cause.

Yard work fundraiser idea for youth mission trips23. Service Board Day

Create a service board, where church members can post jobs they need done, with the price they are willing to pay. Other church members can then select and complete the jobs, with the proceeds going to your fundraiser.

24. Dodgeball Tournament

Host a dodgeball tournament with a small fee, and have your youth students invite their friends to it, for an enjoyable and exciting activity.

25. Talent Show

Encourage the members of your church to come forward with their various talents, and put on a show for the community to raise funds.

5K race fundraiser for youth group mission trips26. 5k Run

5k Runs and Fun Walks are great ways to raise money for your cause while also encouraging the church body and local community to stay active.

27. Chili Cookoff

Host a chili cookoff, with members of your congregation competing for the title of best chili chef! Make sure they cook extra, as the remaining chili can be sold off for more proceeds.

28. Mystery Dinner Theatre

Have your youth students put on a performance, while hosting a dinner for the guests. The dinner-and-a-show combination can even double as a great outreach to your community.

29. Christmas Tree Lighting

Have a tree-lighting event at Christmastime, with a by-donation entrance fee.

30. Craft Sale

Every community has their fair share of craftsmen! Have members of your church body put on a craft show, with the proceeds from the items sold going to your cause.

31. Trivia Night

Host a trivia night at your church, with snacks and refreshment s. It can be Bible trivia, general trivia or whatever category of trivia you prefer! A small entrance fee and charges for refreshments could make a very successful night.

Book sale youth group fundraising idea32. Book Sale

Ask members of your congregation to donate books and then host a book sale, open to the community, at your church.

33. Karaoke Night

Host a karaoke night at your church and charge an admission fee or ask for a donation. This is a great event to pair with a raffle.

34. Envelope Fundraising

Set up a display of envelopes numbered 1 – 100. People choose an envelope and put that amount of money into the envelope

35. Lemonade Stand

Set up some lemonade stands in your local community for those hot summer days, with youth members rotating shifts. Encourage homemade lemonade for a more meaningful experience.

Caroling youth mission trip fundraising idea36. Carol Sing

Have your church choir, youth worship band or various church members organize a caroling group around Christmastime and carol through your local community. Ask for a small donation after each house you stop at. Or, host a Christmas carol sing-along at church.

37. Recipe Book Sale

Collect a list of recipes from friends, family members and your congregation. Compile the list into a recipe book and sell to members of your community.

38. Sub Sale

Hosting a sub sale is a great idea for around the Super Bowl! Take orders from members of your congregation and your group can make and deliver pre-ordered subs.

Yard waste cleanup youth mission trip fundraiser idea39. Rake Leaves

When fall comes around, offer to rake leaves for local homes, and contribute the proceeds to your fundraiser.

40. Work For It!

Have youth members look for part-time or full-time employment, with part of their wages going towards the outreach.

41. Thanksgiving Dinner

Host a Thanksgiving dinner open to members of the community and charge an admission fee.

P.S. Want to print this list or read it as an eBook on your Kindle?
Download our entire list of mission trip fundraising ideas as a free PDF here Download as PDF »

42. Mow Lawns

Offer to mow local properties in the spring and summer to raise funds.

Ice cream social fundraising idea for youth groups43. Ice-Cream Social

Host an ice-cream social at your church, with a small entrance fee.

44. Gift Card Raffle

Host a raffle, with the prizes being gift cards to local establishments.

45. Parent’s Night Out

Parents can drop their kids off at the church for a night out. The mission’s team members plan activities and snacks for the kids. Participation in this night can either be donation based or an amount per child.

46. Online Shopping Fundraiser

Consider using an online shopping fundraiser. Certain sites will offer deals and bargains for online shoppers, with a percentage of sales going to your cause.

Dog walking youth mission trip fundraising idea47. Dog Walking

Have youth members offer to walk dogs in your area, and contribute the proceeds to your cause. Similarly, when someone goes on vacation, offer to be a dog sitter.

48. Fun Fair

Host a fun fair, with food, drinks, stands and games! Advertise through your local community, and use it as a local outreach.

49. Pledge A Mile

Divide the cost of your missions trip by the number of miles to your destination, and have church and community members pledge to buy a length of the trip.

50. Sports Concession Stand

Ask to set up a concession stand at your local high school, college or professional sporting events, and contribute part of the proceeds to your cause.

For more fundraising ideas, download our FREE complete list of 110 Fundraising Ideas for Youth Mission Trips below!

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Two key pieces of advice:

  1. Keep a Relationship Focus
  2. Prepare

They certainly can! Here’s just some of the ways mission trips within your own country can be impactful.

ThereforeGo (formerly “YouthUnlimited”) provides opportunities for youth group mission trips in the USA and Canada.

This means we provide both domestic and international youth mission trips (because of COVID-19, all 2021 trips require groups to stay in their own country – learn more).

Specific destinations (we call them “SERVE sites“) include everything from larger cities to smaller towns in rural areas. And in 2021, we even have a mission opportunity for serving your own local community (called SERVE@Home).

Explore trip locations »