Monday, May 21, 2007

    What If? The End of Youth Mission Trips...

    What if we stopped organizing youth mission trips? How long have youth mission trips been a must-have ingredient to successful youth programs? Certainly as long as I've been in youth ministry. In fact, one of my most memorable experiences of youth group as a teen was a mission trip my senior year of high school. Every summer, youth groups spread out across the country to travel to places they have never been to sample an experience of hands-on mission. For many groups, these trips are seen as great ways to draw members closer together, build lasting memories, and provide youth with a chance to see what it is like to help those in need. But...are these trips actually helpful in launching youth into lifelong mission? Consider the downside of youth mission trips:

    • Since these trips are generally attended by youth, with a few adult leaders, they encourage age segregation within the Church, and further distance young people from the wider church family. Such trips may also create an understanding in the minds of youth and adults that these types of mission efforts are only for the young.
    • Summer mission trips, usually a week or two in length, actually may encourage an understanding of mission as a once-a-year effort, something that happens far from home, rather than a constant attitude and awareness of the mission we are called to be part of everyday, wherever we may be.
    • Many churches entice youth on mission trips with promises of detours to amusement parks, tourist sites, shopping malls, and a fancy dinner out at the end of the week (an attempt to leave behind "the least of these" and reintegrate ourselves back into middle class culture?). Such enticements distract youth from the true purpose of mission and feed into the consumerist mentality of feeling we must get something in return for our efforts to help others.
    • Finally, there is a stewardship issue inherent in youth mission trips. Depending on the acutal amount of work that youth will really do over the course of the trip, the costs of such trips can be quite expensive. In some cases, it would be a better act of stewardship to forgo spending funds on travel, food, and lodging and instead donate it all to the mission organization or effort you wish to support.
    What if we put a moratorium on this staple of youth ministry? What if we moved from "youth mission trips" to mission experiences that are cross-generational (inviting all age groups within the congregation to participate)? What if for every trip across the country or to Mexico, youth groups organized local mission efforts, right in their "backyard?" What if instead of these short bursts of mission work in the summer, youth ministries adopted long-term mission projects, such as working regularly in local homeless shelters or volunteering weekly time in nursing homes or organizing on-going peace and justice efforts?

    What if...? (Oh, and for those of you wondering: Yes, I am taking my youth on a mission trip this summer!)



    travisconnick said...

    A lot of what you're suggesting is what we do, and it's beautiful. Our mission trips are now opened to the entire Body, and we hope to get as many adults as students going. During the fall, I will sit down with our missions pastor and discuss where and when we want to go, and make it a full church mission trip.
    I've found that if you want to have students and adults working together, you must get the youth pastor on board with the trip. Once you have the youth pastor on board the students will follow, as will the adults.
    Also, our trips are straight work trips, no parks, or shopping days, or big dinners out. We're there to bless the people and be used by the Lord...and the kids are responding to it.

    Brian said...

    Hi Travis. Thanks for posting. Glad to hear you've had success with this approach to mission trips. It gives me hope that I will be able to make the same sort of changes in our church in the coming year as I bring our outreach team onboard to help plan an all-church mission experience.

    I too have found that youth don't need the inducements of amusement parks, et al, to get them involved in mission. When you remove those distractions, the youth discover that the best parts of the trip are focusing on the gathered community and on the opportunity to serve.

    Cyclops said...

    Yeah. I've wondered the same thing too. I'm wondering if reaching the local community would be a greater use of our time. And I don't like the idea of everything being so seperate.

    This has been a staple at the church I just moved to, but I am trying to rethink what we do. Have you heard of "A Beautiful Day"? They do it in San Jose, and I think it's something I want to bring to my town.

    And, although it is controversial, Evan Almighty is sparking a campaign to get into the community and serve called Ark Almighty. I don't know. Something tells me, I would dig local a whole lot more than the fancy Mexico trip.

    Cyclops said...

    Sorry...screwed up the link...