Mission trips are typically a brand new and foreign thing for youth groups, and it takes a little extra help to get students ready for their first mission trip! We asked youth leaders from across the U.S. to give us their top 3 tricks for preparing their teams, and here's what they had to say!

1. Have a Team Contract

"Basically we want our team to be on the same page before we go on our summer mission trip." Explains Jay, a church leader in Wisconsin. "Certainly knowing our team's gifts are important, but we focus one full session on writing out what we hope to accomplish on our trip. We support everything with scripture. So when we are done we have a document, like a contract, that we have all signed that outlines the goals of the week, how we will hold each other accountable, and a commitment to continue the mission trip when we get home."

Jay uses Mission Discovery's "Team Covenant" outline with his youth. "Several years ago we came home and immediately adopted a project to renovate a home for a very poor lady living near the church after we returned from our Mission Discovery Mexico mission trip. It was sparked by a kid asking why we couldn't do this at home!"

We found that most youth leaders agreed with Jay that a Team Contract or Team Covenant is in the top three most important elements of team preparation. "It's my favorite part of our team preparation." Jay says, "It simply puts in writing 1) Why we are going on the summer mission trip, 2) What we will be doing, and 3) How we will do it."

2. Preparing to tell our testimonies

Kevin is from a church in the northeast United States. "We are a church who loves telling the story of Jesus. But most of our middle school students going on a summer mission trip find themselves in new territory sharing their faith." Kevin likes the Mission Discovery training approach. "Because we are having to communicate through a translator, sharing our Jesus story has to be a bit different, shorter. And shorter is perfect for a middle schooler who might be a bit shy."

Kevin has each student write out his testimony and bring that story to their meeting a week later. Each student reads his story to one other student, then the next week condenses his/her story to an outline and tells it to another student from the outline. "By the end of the next week we want them to know it by heart. We simply ask each student to think about the question, 'What difference Christ makes in a life?'" And Kevin was in agreement that helping his team effectively communicate God's love is in the top 3 most important elements of team preparation.

3. Learning the culture

We were surprised at the next topic falling into the top 3 category. "Since the beginning of my work with youth, I have heard, 'Know your audience.' It's important for me to know youth and their culture, so I've taken that same approach in preparing our team for our summer mission trip." Becky is a 10 year veteran of youth ministry and works in Florida. "We ask every student to write a 3 page research paper on the culture we will serve. We divide into groups, and ask groups to focus on certain aspects of that culture."

After the group brings back the reports and listens to the findings of each group, they brainstorm ideas of reaching out to people in that culture. "If we can find a person in our area who is from that country, we will have them come one night and talk about their culture, and then we verify our research by asking them questions." Becky says the questions are excellent and almost always center on clarifying the research that took place weeks before. Some leaders called this final research paper a "Culture Gram." And so it rounds out the top 3 most important elements of summer mission trip prep topics.

Every team is different, so your ways to prepare your youth group may be different, but if this is your first time leading a youth group on a mission trip, this may be a good start! It's a great way to disciple your students and assist them in truly understanding what their relationship with Christ means. Use this time in preparation to demonstrate the love of Christ with your students, and remember that this could be exactly what leads your students to Christ! We can't wait to see you and your group on your next Mission Discovery mission trip!