Even if your bags are barely unpacked from this summer’s trip, it’s time to start planning your next mission trip.

Before you zoom in on the specifics of your next mission trip, zoom out. Spend time with your church’s staff, as well as your youth ministry’s leaders prayerfully considering your ministry’s overall missions strategy. To do this, consider these questions:

1) When a student graduates from your ministry, what do you want him or her to know and understand about missions?
2) When a student graduates from your ministry, what type of mission experiences do you want them to have had and why?
3) How large is your ministry’s budget? How expansive are your ministry’s fundraising capabilities?
4) How does your youth ministry’s mission strategy connect with and relate to your church’s (or denomination’s) missions strategy?

After wrestling with these questions, consider not only planning next summer’s mission trip, but a mission trip cycle.

For example, you might use Jesus’ directives to His disciples in Acts 1:8 as your ministry’s strategy for a missions cycle that takes you first into your Jerusalem (local trip), then into your Judea and Samaria (domestic trip), and finally to the ends of the earth (international trip).

My church does a modified version of this three-year trip cycle, going first to our denomination’s national youth gathering (which includes a justice component) and then on a domestic mission trip before finally venturing on an international mission trip on the third year.

The benefits of such a cycle are many.

First, well-crafted mission cycles enable you to expose your students to different types of mission work before they graduate from your ministry. In this way, students learn that rather than mean one thing, missions incorporates many things. Missions include relationship building, evangelism, community partnerships and development and/or more traditional forms of service and justice work (such as building houses or churches).

Second, mission cycles remove some of the allure of the exotic from your discussion of missions. I mean, let’s face it—if it were up to students, they’d go on an international mission trip every year. By having a mission trip cycle, however, students learn there are needs that need to be met even in their own communities and that sometimes the best opportunities for missions exist right in their own backyards.

Third, mission cycles stretch mission budgets. They give your congregation much-needed breathing room in their fundraising cycle. For example: While my ministry fundraises each year for our summer trip, we only do extensive fundraising the year preceding our international trip. That, in turn, results in a much better response from our congregation members, who know they will see a break in fundraising efforts the following year. In the same way, because students and parents know an international trip happens only once every three years, it gives families the opportunity to prepare and save for international trips.

Finally, mission cycles breed excitement. While trips always generate excitement, having a mission cycle builds additional excitement as students (and parents) begin to anticipate what’s next. In so doing, they also begin to connect missions to each step in the process. They begin to understand mission work at home is connected to mission work abroad.

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About The Author

Jen Bradbury serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. She’s the author of The Jesus Gap. Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal and The Christian Century, and she blogs regularly at ymjen.com. When not doing ministry, she and her husband, Doug, can be found hiking, backpacking, and traveling with their daughter, Hope.

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