I participated in mission trips as a kid and then worked for a mission trip organization in college. Both ends of the spectrum had a profound impact on my faith. Neither equipped me to plan a trip from start to finish.
My first year in ministry, I floundered, unsure of how to prepare my team for its trip. What would have helped me most that year is what you see below: a detailed mission trip timeline designed to help you confidently plan your trip from start to finish.
Nine Months Before the Trip:
• Work with staff, parents and students to choose the type of mission trip you’ll take. Decide whether you’ll facilitate your own mission trip or partner with a sister church or umbrella organization to handle trip logistics. If applicable, choose which organization you’ll utilize. Choose your destination and dates. Register for your trip.
• Establish a fundraising calendar that disperses fundraisers throughout the year.
• Establish trip expectations: What will be required of those who participate in your trip?
Eight to Nine Months Before the Trip:
• Hold a mission trip meeting for parents and students to announce your trip. Share the trip dates, location and purpose. Discuss who can participate and what will be required of participants. Set a registration deadline approximately one month after your trip meeting. Require trip participants to turn in deposits to reserve their spot.
Seven to Eight Months Before the Trip:
• If you’re working with an umbrella organization, adjust your numbers based on how many deposits you receive.
• Based on the number of deposits you receive, recruit an appropriate number of adult leaders. Meet with adult leaders to explain their job.
• Hold your first trip meeting in order to help team members get to know one another. Determine a schedule for the remainder of your trip meetings.
• Hold your first fundraiser.
• If your team will write support letters, explain this process. Give students a late November/early December deadline so they can ask for support as an alternative to Christmas gifts.
Six Months Before the Trip:
• If traveling internationally, require team members to apply for passports.
• Secure transportation to/from your mission trip destination.
• Prior to booking transportation, collect another payment from trip participants.
Five Months Before the Trip:
• Hold another fundraiser.
Four Months Before the Trip:
• If traveling internationally, require team members to schedule an appointment with a travel clinic for required vaccinations.
• Secure lodging for your trip, including travel to/from your destination.
Three Months Before the Trip:
• Depending on the intensity/duration of your trip, you may already be holding regular trip meetings. If not, schedule another. From this point forward, you’ll want to hold monthly trip meetings.
Two Months Before the Trip:
• Send a mailing to trip participants. Detail the logistics of your trip. Update families on how fundraising is going and on their remaining payment schedule. Enclose and explain any forms you’ll need from trip participants.
• Hold another fundraiser.
One Month Before the Trip:
• Collect all forms/releases from trip participants. If you’re traveling internationally, collect copies of trip participants’ passports.
• Find ways to involve your congregation in your trip. For example: Match up trip participants with prayer buddies or schedule a prayer/commissioning service for your team.
Two Weeks Before the Trip:
• Photocopy forms and passports. Leave copies of all your important documents in your church office. Include copies for each trip leader/vehicle.
• Raise the limit on your credit card. If traveling internationally, alert your credit card company of your destination.
• Go to the bank and get travelers’ checks/cash.
• Confirm trip transportation. If flying, arrange carpool to/from airport.
• Establish a phone tree, hotline or blog as a means of communicating with families during your trip.
• Hold a final trip meeting for parents and students to discuss trip logistics.
• Put together a first-aid kit.
Day Before Departure:
• Pick up rental vans. Get a lock for the spare tire, load first-aid kits and two-way radios, and check air in the tires (including the spare).
Day of Departure:
• Invite your congregation to join your team in prayer immediately before leaving.
• Take a picture of your team.
• Reassure nervous parents you’ll care for their kids.
• Take off!