I believe pre-trip training for mission trips is very important. It’s important to remember that not all teams need the same training. To really prepare for a trip you need to understand what the team is going to struggle with. I like starting training by doing a series of team building activities so I can see what the issues are. During the team building activity I am going to watch for communication, care for each team member and how the team encourages each other. These clues will tell me a lot about this team and what we need to work on to have a successful trip.
How teams can differ
I recently worked with two very different teams from two different churches. The first team I worked with was going on its first leadership mission trip and the second team was on its fourth. Many of the students on the second trip were going for the second and third times. These teams are very different but pre-trip training is making a difference for both. The team that was going on its first leadership mission trip was learning how to effectively communicate with each other. They were also learning about focus and completing the mission God has given each of them. The second team was focused on challenge and stretching themselves beyond what they think they can do. Their training had focused mainly on styles of leadership and developing leadership skills sets. Even though these teams are at different places of development, the benefits of training remain the same. Both teams have a greater understanding of each member and how each member of the team operates. Both teams are able to see where the problem areas are and what can be done to strengthen the team. Both teams have made goals that will help them define success and failure. Pre-trip training has brought the mission home. These students now understand what God has called them to and the effort it will take to reach their goals.
Three Key Principles for Training
Sell the Mission
When students are going on a mission trip, I want them to understand how the work or ministry they are doing connects with the goals of the universal church. I want them to understand that as a Christ follower they have the power to change the world. I believe that when students see how their work is connected to the work of the church, they will see their mission as being bigger than themselves.
At a recent training, I explained to the students how the construction of one home at this orphanage in the DR would allow 8 at-risk children to be rescued and placed in a Christian home, raised by a loving and caring Christian mom and dad. I reminded the students that at adulthood, these children would be released into the country to be salt and light for Jesus Christ. As well trained and educated disciples of Christ, these 8 children would be a powerful tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Countless numbers of Dominicans would hear about the good news of Jesus Christ because a group of high school students were willing to be part of a team that helped rescue children at risk.
There is nothing worse than being on a mission trip where students don’t want to serve. When I do a good job of selling the mission, I never have trouble getting students to give it their all. Help them see the big picture of what God is doing by connecting the mission to the work of the church.
Many of the students that sign up for missions trips know each other but that doesn’t mean they trust each other or have any idea of how to work together. Team building games are great for working through these issues. Youth workers have known about team building games for years but what I have noticed is that youth workers don’t know how to get the most out of a team building game. The problem is most youth workers think team building games are just games, so they set them up to see who will win and who will lose. The truth is, team building games are designed to teach teams about themselves and how they deal with different situations. Start by planning games that will deal with specific problems your team has. Second, create goals for each game so you will know what you want to debrief about after the game. This will help you stay focused on using the games for team building.
Share and Prayer
I believe that the greater the communication the greater the trip. What I mean is that the more communication students have with one another and with God, the better the trip will be. Getting students to share with each other is vital to having a great trip. On every trip I go on, I do every team meetings in a circle. It doesn’t matter if it’s an hour long meeting or a quick 30 second one. I run training the same way. Every time I want to communicate with the team I get them in a circle. I often times will have them share by going around the circle. This gives them a sense of safety and develops a willingness for them to share.