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Plan now, go later: Important questions when planning mission trips in our new norm

Photo courtesy of Caroline Selfors from Unsplash.
Photo courtesy of Caroline Selfors from Unsplash.

Nearly 2 million Americans participate in mission trips each year. They’re a valuable source of global encouragement, growth and help to everyone involved. 

When the pandemic swept the world in 2020, mission trips were cancelled or postponed indefinitely. If your church is thinking about a mission trip in the post-pandemic future, here are a few questions to consider.


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Why do you want to go?

You can probably list many inspiring reasons to go on a mission trip. Of course, the primary reason is to spread the gospel. However, there are a lot of secondary reasons as well. It’s important to know clearly why your church wants to participate in the great commission in this way. 

Look at the age, interests and talents of the group that will be participating as well as the needs of the mission group you’re considering. For example, if a mission organization is in dire need of medical services, a group of high school students is unlikely to be much help. If you’re sending a group of skilled medical professionals, building a new church won’t be a good use of their skills. As you begin to investigate potential trips, match the needs of the missionary or group to your talent pool to do short-term missions the right way to make the greatest impact.

Where do you want to go?

First verify that you opt for locations that are in keeping with recommended health and safety protocols. Ensure that the destination doesn't have travel restrictions, limited vaccinations or costly visa requirements. Only after these things have been evaluated should you add a location to the consideration list.

There are a lot of great places to go on a mission trip. If this is your first mission trip, and you aren’t sure where to begin, contact other United Methodist churches with established relationships and/or your local annual conference director for suggestions. If you simply can’t decide, you may want to check out a mission trip assessment tool to help focus your concentration.

Even if you’ve partnered with a group before, make sure to contact them before getting too far into the planning and promotion of your trip. Current needs of missionaries as well as the changing protocols may affect what has traditionally been a given. 

What are you going to do?

A successful mission trip will appropriately pair the right people with needs. Make sure to speak with the local church or mission directors as soon as possible in the process. Before you promote a trip and recruit volunteers, it’s important to know exactly what purpose you’ll serve when you hit the ground. In addition, you should have a good idea of what kind of volunteers you’ll gather — teenagers, professionals, families, teachers, etc. Knowing what you’re going to do plays an important part in how you prepare and pack for your trip.

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When are you going?

Work with the mission organization to create a timeline. Start with the dates of the trip and work backward to the present. Outline a plan for your trip that includes all relevant steps toward the big day, including promotion, recruitment, meetings, spiritual preparation, specific training, the purchase of tickets and/passports and appropriate reservations. Attach each step to a date to ensure that nothing is skipped over or left out. A mission trip planning guide or checklist may be helpful for you and for your team.

If current health concerns make planning a date difficult, consider a further out date or having a tentative date without locking in non-refundable purchases.

How are you going to get there?

Once you have a destination and a date in mind, consider how you are going to get there. Safety considerations should be weighed carefully as should the cost of travel and accommodations. Finally, make sure to consider CDC recommendations for safe travel.

Who’s going?

When your plans are in hand, it’s time to start recruiting volunteers. Not every mission trip will be for everybody. Target the volunteers that you want. If the group is going to meet traditional church needs, such as providing workers for vacation Bible school or unloading food deliveries, you may be able to cast a larger net or recruit families for mission trips. If your trip is aimed at providing physical and mental health screenings, make that known in all promotional materials. Promote the trip in the most logical places to garner the types of volunteers you need.

  • Send information via email to individuals.
  • Share details with appropriate small group leaders.
  • Post recruitment information on social media accounts.
  • Announce meetings and garner interest through video clips or picture reels of previous trips.

Are you aware The United Methodist Church has volunteer opportunities?

Your support helps to ensure we transform the world one project at a time. Check with your annual conference for volunteer options in your conference. 

What if you can’t go?

After investigating potential trips, you may discover that a mission trip isn’t a good idea for your church. The cost may be too high, the risk too great or the areas in which you normally serve may be off limits. If so, don’t rule out virtual mission trips or non-traditional ways to do missions.

The year of 2020 was a year of change. Nothing is exactly the same as it was. Be creative and rethink missions to discover ways that you can have a global impact without leaving your church. In addition, consider all the mission opportunities that abound in your own community.


Tricia Brown

Tricia K. Brown is a writer, editor, keynote speaker and Bible teacher. In addition to being a wife and mother of four sons, she is the sole proprietor of The Girls Get Together, where she and her team provide women's event programs for churches and other organizations. Her latest book, A Year of Yearning: A 12-Month Devotional to Help You Study God's Word More, is available from Amazon.