Youth Ministry Mission Trips: Part One

Apr 30, 2019 7:00:00 AM / by Erik Ullestad


I used to run the mile in track. Four laps around in a circle. My coach used to talk about the race in this way: Lap 1, establish your position among the other runners - Lap 2, establish a consistent pace - Lap 3, try to keep the pace and not lose ground - Lap 4, give whatever you have left until you cross the finish line.  

And then you collapse. 

It’s been over 20 years since I last ran a competitive mile, but I still think of that strategy every time I’m at a track meet. Furthermore, I believe planning and leading Mission Trips are much like running a mile (and not just because they make you sweaty). There’s a rhythm to the entire process which requires months of preparation and will test your mental, physical, and spiritual stamina.   

Here are what I call the four laps of a Mission Trips: 

  • Lap 1 - Choosing the location, projects, dates, and costs related to the trip. 
  • Lap 2 - Getting youth and adults to register and make initial payments. 
  • Lap 3 - Fundraising and informational meetings with parents and participants. 
  • Lap 4 - The Mission Trip Week.

And then you collapse. 

At this time of year, it’s likely you’ve completed the first two laps, which is no small accomplishment. You have the who, what, when, where, how, and (hopefully) the why of this trip pulled together. Congratulations! But now it’s time for the third lap, which is usually the slowest and most painful lap in the mile, and a deceivingly challenging lap in Mission Trip planning. You’ll be spending the next few weeks make sure you have enough money to pay for everything and keep everyone informed of the expectations. 



Hopefully you already have some money in the trip account through participant payments, congregational budget contributions, and fundraisers. However, a month or two before the trip leaders may discover that they need a little extra money. Perhaps a student needs some financial assistance, or fuel/material costs increased, or your fundraisers werent as successful as you had hoped. Its okay, these things happen. Here are a few suggestions for how to generate some money on short-notice. 


  • Personal Request - Talk with your pastor or other leaders to see if there are some people in the congregation who can be approached individually to consider a one-time financial gift to support the trip. 
  • Quick Project - An impromptu car wash or bake sale just might generate enough money to put you over the top. 
  • Social Media - Invite youth to ask their friends and family to donate to their experience via social media. There are several apps or crowd-funding sites that can help you with this. 
  • Parents - if all else fails, go back to the parents and ask for an additional participant payment. 


It’s important to ensure that parents and participants (youth and adults) have everything they need before embarking on the trip. You’ll need to come at them multiple times with the same information. It’s annoying, but it’s the only way to make sure everyone is on the same page. Here are some items to make sure you’re communicating in person and online. 


  • Covenant - This should clearly articulate the expected code of conduct and consequences for violation of those expectations.  
  • Packing List - Give this to the participants and their parents more than once. 
  • Permission Forms - Check with all the service organizations youre partnering with to see if they require a separate liability release form. 
  • Itinerary - You won’t be able to predict everything that will happen during the trip but give people a general idea of how they’ll be spending their time. 
  • Cell Phone Policy - Make sure parents know when/if theyll be able to be in touch with their child during the week. This will alleviate anxiety for everyone if you communicate this before the trip. 

 **Check out the PART TWO and PART THREE as well, for the full mission cycle**

These are just a few things to keep in mind as youre running the Mission Trip race. Next week, Ill share my thoughts on Lap 4, and the following week Ill explain what the collapse looks like after you get home. 


Topics: Youth Ministry

Erik Ullestad

Written by Erik Ullestad

Erik Ullestad is a certified youth minister with 20 years of congregational experience. He's served on a variety of national boards, spoken at youth conferences, and contributed to more than a dozen youth ministry resources. He lives in Iowa with his wife and three teenage children.


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