3 Student Leadership Opportunities BEFORE Your Mission Trip

I love the economy of ice cream cones. Their function is simple: Carry a delicious experience to my mouth. But a great cone—a freshly baked crispy waffle cone—goes a step further: It melds with the ice cream to become a valuable part of the experience. And in the end, no part is wasted.


Mission trip prep can be like that if we use it to empower student. More than merely carrying the experience forward, mission trip prep can become a valuable part of the experience for every student and it’s filled with opportunities for your student leaders to begin to take ownership of your mission trip long before you pack the van.


As I think about our youth group’s upcoming mission trip, I don’t want to discard a single moment! So here are three ways I’m going to make the most of our service experience before it even begins.

  1. Empower students to catch the vision and purpose of your mission trip.

Mission trips are life-changing experiences for everyone. While you may be making the final decisions about WHERE you go, WHAT you do, and HOW you serve, don’t miss the chance for your student leaders to play a key role in explaining WHY they go and why it matters for your ministry.


Once you have your mission trip plans finalized, spend some time intentionally gathering with your student leaders to walk through a few key things:

  • Cast the vision of the true purpose of mission trips in your youth ministry.
  • Guide your student leaders through exercises that allow them to put their own words and expressions around the vision and purpose of this year’s mission trip.
  • Help your student leaders dream of ways that they can translate that vision and purpose so their peers and the rest of the church catch the excitement for this summer’s mission trip.

For a little extra help getting started, the vision for my youth ministry is centered around service that is rooted in our desire to respectfully serve others, to learn about what God is doing in other communities, and to grow together through deeply meaningful experiences. It will be something like this: “to Love, to Learn, to Grow: Together.” (Go ahead and steal that if you want! Or come up with your own.)

  1. Empower students with opportunities to share why your mission trip matters.

It’s a win-win when our students are the ones communicating the vision and purpose of our mission trips. Whether it’s in front of your church or on social media, when your student leaders are empowered to share, it helps win people over who are on the fence and it gives those leaders an opportunity to develop language around why service is important to their story.


As students prepare to share, we can help them do a few things:

  • Communicate respectfully about the people they have or will serve in the community
  • Identify a meaningful moment during a past service experience
  • Express how that mission trip moment carried back into their everyday life

Don’t miss this opportunity to help your student leaders build their own narrative for why service matters.

  1. Empower students with real responsibilities.

As leaders, we could pull together all the details of the trip on our own, but imagine the impact and ownership we could create by inviting students into some of those processes. It’s true! It might take extra time and effort to walk teenagers into new territories of leadership, but that’s what mission trips are all about!


What might teenagers take ownership of? Choosing the destination, hosting a fundraiser, driving the van, leading a prayer gathering, mapping the route, buying the snacks and more! …OK. Maybe not driving the van. But get creative with how you hand off mission trip duties to teenagers.


Empowering students with real responsibilities gives the opportunity to own their mission trip and their faith.

Preparation matters!

Not just that we do it but how we do it. That’s why empowering students is on our agenda as we prepare this spring—because we don’t want to waste a single part of this incredible service experience. Also on the agenda for our upcoming mission trip: ice cream cones.


Sam Townsend loves wooded trails on warm summer days, full conversations over half-price apps and puns that could make a grown man groan. He is a writer, a third-generation footlong hotdog salesman and the Senior High Ministry Pastor at Calvary Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. He’s also a big fan of YouthWorks, where he contributes to theme material creation and blog production.