Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brainstorm: Summer Missions

In the "Brainstorm" category on this blog, I will share some ideas that I have stumbled across that demonstrated some success and could potentially be replicated by you. I don't promise anything earth-shattering here, and by no means do I claim to have original ideas. These are just things that I have found to be good in ministry.

Summer missions can be a somewhat tricky subject. Often, the benefit is solely for the students participating, especially with some of the more poorly-run youth missions organizations. It ends up being very expensive, very time-consuming discipleship ministry for your kids. Missions trips can be a waste of time, money, and effort if you are not too careful.

But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Missions trips CAN be a good thing, both for the participants and those they are serving. While youth missions organizations can be great (I worked for a summer for YouthWorks!; they are good at what they do), one idea I stumbled upon this past year was to partner with a church plant within my denomination and partner with them in their on-going mission work in their community. My church is in a fairly prosperous region of New England, and our partner church for this week was doing some awesome mission work in a poorer city in New England. We only had to drive an hour and a half away to serve for a week in a design-it-yourself missions trip. We helped out at a center for disabled children, a homeless shelter, helped rehab a community center and garden, and put on an afternoon fun camp for the children in the neighborhood. Everything we did was something the church plant did already; we just brought more workers and more energy than they were used to. We had a great impact on the community and helped make a better name for our partner church in that community.

By essentially doing the trip on our own and not using an organization, by staying close to home, we were able to do this week-long missions trip for well under $200 per student. But the financial benefit was not the only one:

1) Because it was so close to home, and because we partnered with a church with whom we already have close ties, students were able to dream about what they could CONTINUE to do for the people in that community beyond just the one week.

2) Because it was so close to home, students were able to better see that they didn't need to travel far away to do mission work, and they were able to see better that their own hometown and surrounding areas were a mission field.

3) We didn't have to do a lot of fundraising. People didn't get sick of us asking for money. Trust me, this is a good thing when the youth ministry doesn't become known as the group always looking for a handout. Most families paid for the trip out of pocket. Plus, a lot of money was saved because we didn't fly or drive across country. We based our decision based on what was the best mission for us, not the most interesting location.

4) It will be easy to form a long-term, on-going relationship with this mission field. We can easily come back next summer, or even spin it off into a family mission trip. We can take day trips up there and do something positive for the community. The mission won't die once all the kids are back from the trip.

So this is something that has worked for my group and I think it could be something worth looking into for most youth groups. There are certainly quite a few benefits to going through a youth missions organization, but partnering with a fellow church and forming on-going relationships with people in the context of mission is a worthwhile way of doing summer missions with youth.

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