Mission trips can be incredibly rewarding. At the same time, the prospect of coordinating a trip for a local church can be incredibly daunting. At Highland Park United Methodist in Dallas, we take these 10 steps to ensure that mission trips are helpful for the host community, meaningful for participants and safe for all involved:
1. Select a host. The only mission trips we currently pursue are with major, long-term partners.
2. Finalize details. Know basic facts before you advertise: trip leader(s), dates, team size, requirements to serve, type of work, travel arrangements, lodging, cost and travel requirements (passport, visa, vaccinations/medications).
3. Create a personal timeline. Start with the departure date and work backward, making sure to do everything on time: application/registration deadline, payment schedule, paperwork due, trip meetings, team communications, emergency preparations and devotional preparations/reading plans.
4. Invite your congregation and community to participate. Offer ways for non-travelers to be involved (providing financial or in-kind assistance, praying, providing meals for meetings).
5. Communicate goals. Be certain your team members know the goal of the trip! If you do not tell them, they will decide for themselves.
6. Invest in your team. Train participants to serve responsibly. (Include child safety procedures, if working with children.) Educate your team on your host ministry (and country, if serving abroad). Prepare individuals spiritually.
7. Prepare for emergencies. Determine how you will communicate within the team on the ground and with the church at home. We typically take two large first-aid kits and have a GPS tracker. For international trips, purchase two cheap local phones for use on the ground, have at least one U.S. phone activated and have a satellite phone.
8. Determine your next steps. What are your goals for your team after the trip? What do you hope each person will do? Be specific.
9. Tell stories. During and after your trip, use social media, video and photos to communicate what happened. Resist the urge to highlight poverty and suffering; instead, celebrate the wonderful things about the work you are doing together and your host country.
10. Follow up. Evaluate the trip. Send personal notes to each participant, thanking and encouraging them to take a next step. Write your ideas on how to improve for the next trip. Ask your host ministry how you may be a better partner in the future. Celebrate the trip within your congregation.
We constantly refine our processes and welcome the opportunity to collaborate with or be a resource to other churches.
Hillary Owen, firstname.lastname@example.org, is outreach coordinator at Highland Park United Methodist Church, Dallas.
Originally published in Interpreter magazine, March-April 2015.