Mission trips are a great tool to reach across cultural and geographical boundaries with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They can also be one of the most powerful ways to challenge people in your church about the need for missions and to expose them to the mission field first hand. I went on my first mission trip the summer after I graduated from high school. Before that trip, I really had no idea what biblical missions was all about. When I saw missionary presentations in my church, I never gave any thought to the possibility that God could or would use me as a missionary. It just wasn’t personal to me. During that first trip, I began to see the need for the Gospel in a way I had never understood before. It was at that point that God began to speak to my heart about missions. In the years to follow, I went on many more mission trips and God used each one in a unique way to change the course of my life.
As someone who has been privileged to take mission trips as a young person, lead a mission trip as a youth pastor, and host mission groups as a foreign missionary, I want to share seven practical steps to planning a mission trip that you and your group will never forget.
Step 1: Propose the Plan
Before you begin making arrangements for your trip you need to be sure that you have a solid plan. Putting together a proposal allows you to think through some basic but important details of your proposed endeavor. This is the starting point and will set the direction for the rest of your preparation. More importantly, it is an easy way to determine and then communicate the major components of your trip to your pastor or church. If possible, I recommend you submit this a year in advance of the actual mission trip. Your proposal should answer four main questions:
When will we go?
There are several factors to consider when deciding when you should take your trip. If you are leading a group of young people, it might be wise to plan your trip during the summer when students are out of school. Perhaps there is a special event or conference held by a missionary or ministry you wish to visit. Plan your trip around the dates of that event. Some countries experience severe weather during certain months of the year. For example, in the Philippines we have a rainy season during which we can experience torrential rains and severe flooding or mudslides, sometimes on a regular basis. In addition, there are certain illnesses that accompany the rainy season like Dengue Fever and Typhoid. It is a good idea to be mindful of these considerations as it might interfere with your travel plans, as well as jeopardize the health and safety of you and your group while abroad.
How long will the trip last?
The length of your trip is very important. A trip that is too long is not only expensive, but will wear out your group and those hosting you. On the other hand, having a trip that is too short is like buying tickets to a playoff game and leaving at half time—you feel like you missed something and wonder why you spent the time and money to go in the first place! With that in mind, it is important to remember that the length of the trip should reflect the nature of the trip. If you are going somewhere within the United States or across the border into Canada or Mexico, taking a 2–3 day trip over a weekend might be fine. However, if you are traveling halfway across the globe to engage in ministry, a longer timeframe is needed. Generally, around a week to ten days in the country you are visiting, plus travel, time is a good rule to follow. I do not recommend a trip longer than two weeks if you plan to take a group.
Where will we go?
In many cases the pastor will decide this. If you are an assistant pastor or a layman serving in ministry, I suggest picking two or three possible locations for your mission trip and put them in the proposal that will be presented to your pastor. Giving several options to choose from is always helpful in narrowing down the decision of where to go.
How much will it cost?
This is the question of all questions! This portion of your proposal could either make or break your aspirations of taking a mission trip. Don’t forget that this will only be an estimation of what the trip will cost. You will fine-tune the budget a little later. The major things you need to examine as you make this figure are: travel expenses (especially if you’re flying), lodging and meals. It is wise to guess on the high side and work the figure down as you make preparations. If you are too optimistic with your estimate you will lose some of your group members when the cost increases.
Step 2: Determine the Destination
After you have outlined some key components of your trip in your proposal, the next step is to solidify what the destination of your trip will be. Here are four elements to consider:
Distance to the field
How long it takes for you to get to where you are going must be considered. A trip from Southern California to Tijuana, Mexico will certainly have less travel time than a trip from Seattle, Washington to St. Petersburg, Russia. It will be much less expensive too. Visiting Asian countries are the most expensive since they are the greatest distance from the United States. If you are trying to stay on a low budget, stay closer to home!
Safety on the field
There are some places that might seem nice or exciting to visit, but they are simply not safe. You should never put yourself or others in harm’s way unnecessarily. Please know the social, religious and political climate of the place you are thinking of visiting. A good starting point for finding information on a particular country or region is to visit the U.S. State Department’s website and look up the current travel advisories for the countries in question.
Spiritual climate of the field
Since it is probable that your mission trip will be the first glimpse of the mission field for some in your group, consider a field where your group can be exposed to as many ministries and opportunities to serve as possible. This would be especially beneficial if you are taking your church’s first mission trip. Although there is certainly no place without need of the Gospel, there is no denying the fact that some countries have a greater openness to the Word of God than others. For example, Mexico and other countries throughout Central and South America have a great open door to spread the Word of God and see people accept Christ as their Saviour. In contrast, many countries in Europe have become cold and hardened to the Word of God. Missionaries in those regions can work for long periods of time and see few souls saved. Ask yourself the question, “Which place will have the biggest impact for the cause of Christ and on the individuals participating in the trip?” The key is to be aware of the spiritual climate of the countries you are considering visiting and choose the field to which the Lord directs you.
Missionaries in the field
A great approach to planning a mission trip is identifying a missionary that your church supports and visiting him. It is a wonderful blessing to see the work of God through missions in a tangible and personal way. In some instances, there might be several missionaries in the same country that your church supports. Whenever there are multiple Independent Baptist missionaries in the same region, it is a great opportunity to be exposed to a variety of different mission works and, more importantly, to compound the impact of the Gospel in that area as your team serves alongside the missionaries. Another approach is to visit a missionary who you believe is clearly experiencing the blessing of God on his work. Visiting a missionary who is being used of God in an extraordinary way will leave a lasting impression on your heart that you won’t forget. If you are having a hard time deciding where to go on a mission trip, don’t think in terms of countries; think in terms of missionaries.