We’ve reposted from the the Small Church Youth Ministry blog before. Stephanie Caro writes that blog and is really good friend of ours. The other day she posted another gem and wanted to share it with you.
I’m kind of a planner. That might actually be an understatement to some in my church. I start planning for trips at least a year out. When we returned from our mission trip last year, I was online signing us up to early registration a week after we returned.
Planning early comes in handy at some points and other times makes for great jokes…or maybe just jokes at my expense.
After preparing groups to attend mission trips for the past few years, I have found it helpful to:
- Plan ahead. Really. Get the information out to parents and youth over the summer to be prepared to put their deposits in by as early as possible. The summer can prove difficult to get information to parents and teens as many are thinking of that summer, not the following summer when they are making their plans. I begin before we go to on the current year’s mission trip by telling people to expect the information about next year’s camp sometime in July or August.
- Make room for the new kid. Inevitably we always have new kids that come over the summer and into the fall and don’t know about the crazy-planner-youth-director who has been preparing for a trip 365 days out. Plan for the new kids and communicate with new parents about the opportunities for the mission experience the next summer.
- Allow God to work. Each year I am praying and fretting (I know, those two shouldn’t go together-no fretting!) about the adult leaders, numbers on the wait list and how much money we will be asking for to support the youth. What I’ve learned (and keep learning!) is that God knows who is supposed to be on which trip. God knows the adults that are good to bring and those that would be a detriment to the ministry. God knows the money figure and since He is Lord of all, He will provide in His time and in His way.
There are many more things I have learned over the past few trips. However these are my top 3 as I begin to prepare…a year and a half out from the trip. To God be the glory!
Tara Wolf has been in youth ministry for the past 12 years and lives in Williamsburg, VA with her amazing husband and Hungarian hunting dogs. Her first youth mission experience was in 2006 and she continues to encourage the youth and adults in her congregation to connect with God and His people through mission trips.
For the past several months I’ve been writing posts about the struggles youth leaders are facing getting students to commit to the mission trip. So far the focus has been on things like the business of students and the failure of parents to understand. We received another take on this issue last week.
The quote below is from a student to their youth leader about their friend who signed up for the mission trip:
“I was talking to my friend about the mission trip this summer, and as he was talking about it with his parents, they brought up the point of how he would miss some baseball practices and a tournament. If I was him, I would skip the baseball stuff and go to work camp in a heartbeat! But, he’s not as committed to this as I am, and this is also a baseball team that him and his parents pay some amount of money for. I was really hoping he could come and experience what I have had the chance to go through twice, because its more than words to try and explain how connected it makes me to God. I really hope someday he will get the chance to feel as close to God as I do. I’m really sorry that you had to go through all that trouble and he won’t be able to go. I really appreciate what you did for me and for him! I’m really looking forward to another great summer on our mission trip!”
For this student, the frustration is very real. He wants his friend to attend the mission trip because he knows how much of an impact it can have on his friends life. Going on a mission trip brought the student closer to God than he ever was before. This student wants his friend to have the same opportunity to experience that closeness – just like he did. But baseball wins out. The money his friend and his friend’s parents have “invested” in the baseball is something they just can’t give up.
Here’s the thing… We know that nothing impacts a students like a mission trip. The mission trip experience changes teenagers in so many ways. Realizing there is need outside of themselves. The opportunity to serve someone else. Leadership experience in the context of service and devotion. Real life skills like construction and leading VBS. Transformational spiritual growth. And those were just the ones I could think of quickly!
The only way I know to overcome this issue is to engage parents in conversation and tell them how their child will benefit directly from the experience. We’re fearful of approaching mission trips from a “what we get out of it” perspective but that’s the perspective of any parent. What will my kid “get” from this experience? My advice – tell them. Tell the what amazing experiences their child will have. Don’t be afraid to “sell” the mission trip experience to parents.
Over the last week we’ve been meeting with youth workers and hearing from them about their ministries. It’s been fun and rewarding to hear what God is doing in ministries all over the country. I posted about some great things happening here. I’ve also heard some stories of things that are painful and frustrating. Here’s a few of the most consistent points of pain we’ve been hearing:
- Finding resources can be difficult: many youth leaders express frustration with finding a resource (curriculum, lesson plans, games, activities, etc.). It’s very difficult to find something that they felt met all their needs. The common response was to find and use several resources that added together to what they needed.
- Parents just don’t understand (just like The Fresh Prince): youth leaders everywhere are struggling with parents not viewing youth ministry as important to their kids life as school, sports, music, whatever. We blogged about this issue here. Parents don’t believe a Bible study, Sunday school class, youth group meeting, retreat, mission trip, or service experience is as important in the life of their child as those other things. It’s almost universal in youth ministry right now.
- Students are over-committed: nearly every conversation I’ve had in the last 2 years with youth workers involves this topic. Kids just have so much (too much) going on. Between school, jobs, sports, family commitments, boyfriend/girlfriend, and whatever else their is youth group can barely be fit into their lives. They have to be here, do that, finish this, attend whatever and then try to make it to youth group if they can. It’s really hard to develop deep relationships with students you don’t see very often.
- Money: it’s a fact of ministry life right now. There isn’t as many dollars available for ministry as there used to be for many people in ministry. And yet great youth ministry is still happening. People fundraise, do less, choose less expensive programs but they are still doing ministry.
What about you? What’s the big pain for you in ministry right now? We’d love see if we could help.
I know that we just mailed the individual participant forms for everyone going on a mission trip with our ministry this summer. So… if you’re going with Group Mission Trips this year, check your mail they should be there by now.
Regardless who you’re serving with this summer, it is time to start gathering the info necessary to organize and provide a safe mission trip for every person attending. Here’s some helpful tips to help you do that well.
Take time to get it right. If the organization that needs your forms will be scanning them, they could require blue or black ink, writing in all caps within the boxes, or filling in the circles completely. Spend a few moments before you hand them out so kids and parents know what’s required. Remind them. And give them the right color pen. Most organizations require the original forms with original signatures—not faxes or photocopies.
Know the due dates…then back-track two weeks. There are good reasons why organizations need your paperwork by a particular time. If you fail to do that, you might not be able to participate. Try telling THAT to your kids and parents: “Um, we can’t go because I didn’t send our stuff in on time.” So play it safe. Whatever date the forms are due to the organization, require your young people to give them to YOU two weeks before. That allows a little grace period for that one family that ALWAYS misses the deadline. It also gives you a last chance to look through them to make sure everyone filled out all the required places and signed in all the right places.
Remember privacy laws regarding medical information. HIPPA laws require health and medical information to be kept locked up and viewed only by those who need to know it. While it’s important for you and other adult leaders to know one of your students has a certain medical condition, it’s not allowed for you to share that with any of the students or other parents—even as a prayer request. Under the Health Information Privacy Portability Act (HIPPA), you can be sued for sharing such information with the wrong people. And this HAS happened in churches before. Shred these forms when you’re finished with them.
Have a forms and information night…that everyone must attend. If you’re going on a mission trip or other major excursion, you’ll likely need to distribute and collect a small forest of paperwork. If so, announce several months in advance—so everyone can get it on the calendar—the date of the required “Parents and Youth” night to talk about the trip. Announce this several times so it sinks in. Tell people to bring their insurance cards, birth certificates, passports…or whatever it is you have to have. As people arrive, hand them the paperwork to fill it out right there. If forms need to be notarized, have a notary available. Have another adult collect the paperwork and double-check that everything is filled out properly and all the signatures are included. If something’s missing, hand it back to the person to make the corrections. You should also talk about other important aspects of the trip while you have everyone there. Have this well in advance of when the forms are all due…because I guarantee a youth won’t show up, or a parent won’t show up (“I didn’t hear about this!”), or things will happen.
Make copies for your own records. Before you send everything off in the mail (so it arrives on time), make a copy for your own records. You might need to know the information during the trip, or you might need to have a back-up in case it gets lost in the mail or something. I always kept all these forms in an accordion file that I could take with me on the trip. I had everything I needed from forms to vendor agreements to hotel reservations to everyone’s T-shirt size. If we needed it, I had it. Right then. Right there. You’d be amazed how much easier this makes your life.
Hope this makes dealing with the mountain of paperwork associated with taking your group on a mission trip just a little easier.
We’ve recently posted about the difficulty of getting students to commit to a mission trip here and here. But it’s an issue that many of you face as you try to finalize the people who will attend your mission trip this summer. Let’s address one more of the reasons kids don’t commit – Parents not letting go.
I have a teenager that calls my house “home”. I make him wear pads when he rides his skateboard. I make him wear shin guards even when he’s just playing a pick-up game of soccer. He takes his cell phone with him to school “just in case” he needs us. We (parents of teenagers “we”) are a protective group of people. I never did or had any of the things I just listed I do for/to my son. And yet… I “make” him. However, I consider myself a pretty “easy-going” parent. I don’t make my kids wear helmets when they ride bikes. Only my teenager has a cell phone not his two younger brothers. Etc…
But all of us in youth ministry have dealt with or are dealing with a parent who just can’t seem to let their child go on the mission trip. It doesn’t really matter what the reasons are. They simply don’t think it’s a good idea or safe for their child to go with you.
Here’s how you can help them feel more comfortable.
1) Be Professional: I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Parents can’t possibly trust you or put their kids in your hands if you come across to them as a sloppy, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along leader. Why would they trust you with their child? Here’s a couple specific ways you can appear to be professional (even if you’re not really there yet).
- Plan as far in advance as you can. Most mission trips take 6 – 9 months to plan really well. You can do it in less but it just compresses the schedule.
- Make sure you know the details of your mission trip. Parents care about the big stuff – the “major” basics. Where you’re going. Where you’re staying. What you’re doing. Who you’re serving. Be as specific as you can about these big things.
- Bring along other great adults leaders with you on the trip. This is especially important if you are a younger youth leader. Parents will like the fact that you understand the importance of mature leadership.
2) Have an end result in mind: Parents that are reluctant to let go of their kids will be more likely to let them go if they see a concrete benefit for their child. Be sure to to spell out exactly what you believe students will receive as a result of attending the mission trip. A new perspective on life. Leadership experience. Less materialistic. A closer relationship with Jesus. Tell parents what their kid gets by going with you on the mission trip.
3) Have a safety plan: This should be basic but it’s very important to a protective parent. Have plans, back-up plans, and “then what” plans. Here’s some basic things to include in a safety plan.
- Supervision: what’s your adult to student ratio. 1 to 5 is good but no less than 1 to 7. How many adults will be serving with the youth when your at the project.
- Driving: How do you chose drivers? Do you charter buses with professional drivers? What about insurance?
- Medical Issues: Release forms. Insurance information. Nearest hospital or urgent care to your mission location. Make sure you cover these things.
4) A “What-If” List: Another name for this is the “worst-case scenario list”. The best way to plan this list is to think through everything that could possibly go wrong on your mission trip and what you’d do about it – step by step. Vehicle breakdown. Food issues. Serious injury. No supplies for projects. Death. Take the time, in advance, so you won’t have to think if something like this happens. You’ll have a plan.
None of these four steps are going to guarantee that a parent who struggles with letting their kid go will suddenly let them. But it will take you four big steps in that direction. Overcoming the fears of parents is not a easy or one time thing. It will take time. You’ll be proving yourself over and over again to them. These ideas will help.