Over my past 12 years of youth ministry I’ve done a lot of youth missions trips, both domestically and internationally. Some were pretty good, some were absolutely miserable. Some contributed to long-term life-change, some of them didn’t. There’s a lot of different variables that contribute to that, of course (more on that next week), but overall I’ve been more and more discontent with the lack of transformation and outcomes from youth-based mission trips.
This past April when I returned to Haiti for the second time I stumbled into something very significant, something I probably already knew but didn’t know how valuable it was until I actually witnessed it.
When I felt like I needed to return to Haiti, I announced I was willing to take whoever wanted to come with me. I worked with Adventures In Missions and together we put together a custom trip and soon teens, parents, single adults, my brother, and a bunch of “random people” all jumped on board. That intergenerational mix turned out to be so healthy — I never would’ve imagined it to be so incredible. In fact, our summer Mexico trip and then this past Haiti trip we did just last month were also family-based, intergenerational trips. I’m convinced that is absolutely the best way to do short-term missions. Every student and parent who participated will tell you the exact same thing, even the ones who were skeptical.
While I have nothing against youth missions trips, we may never do one again.
Why? Here are just a couple reasons why the intergenerational trips seem to be so much more effective both on the mission field and at home.
- There’s built-in accountability for both the kids and the parents when they return home.
- The spiritual high doesn’t wear off nearly as quickly when both the parent and the student are living with someone who knows what the other just went through..
- They return to a home to live with someone who “gets it.” There’s no conversations like, “How was your trip?” “Good.” “What did you do?” “Nothing.”
- The perception of missions in the church moves away from “something cute the youth do” and becomes something the church takes ownership over.
- The shared experience is something the teens and parents will have in common for the rest of their lives. It’s fun to watch that special bond form. The “remember when” stories will never end.
- When both the student and parent are uncomfortable and stretched physically, spiritually, and emotionally, they tend to cling to each other while depending on God. That dynamic is absolutely invaluable.
- Every teen needs to see their parent stretched and vulnerable. Missions (when done well) has a tendency to do that. When the kid sees that vulnerability in their parent, a connection takes place that is amazing to watch.
- It’s a significant opportunity to integrate teens into the life of the church body as a whole. It helps break down the youth ministry silo.
- Parents develop a deep respect for their kids when they watch them serving so selflessly.
- And so much more, like relationships between parents and single young adults, young adults on the teens, and more. I even gained some committed youth leaders who normally would never have attended a trip except that it was a church trip and not a youth trip.
“I don’t want my mom to go!”
My answer: “Suck it up. Jesus didn’t want to die for your bad attitude either, but He did anyway.” j/k! The truth is, there are several teens who decided not to go on our missions trips because it wasn’t a “youth trip,” and that’s okay. It was invaluable for the ones who did go, and two trips later, several of the teens who bowed out are seeing just what they missed from the teens who went. It looks like many of these teens are looking forward to going on a future trip with their parents now.
Just to clarify, we require that junior highers have a parent on the trip, but high school students are still free to come by themselves, although we strongly encourage them to bring a parent if possible.
“What about the kids who don’t have Christian parents?”
For the high school students who have come on our trips without parents, it’s been admittedly tough for some of them to see a spiritual bond taking place between other teens and parents, especially when the parent they live with at home is not a believer. What ended up happening for us is that the other parents on the trip stepped in and became surrogate parents for those teens. It ended up being a really positive thing because it gave those teens an opportunity to witness what a healthy, godly relationship could look like with a parent when they have kids themselves.
“Kids need space away from their parents to experience things on their own.”
Yes, and many of them have way too much space. It’s healthy for them to do something together once in a while.
“So-and-so’s dad is way too controlling. He’ll ruin the trip.”
Maybe, but maybe not. A missions trip can transform some pretty intense people. But, of course, this is a judgement call you’ll have to make. It’s quite possible there’s a parent who wants to attend that you have concerns about exposing to minors for a prolonged period of time. That’s not something we’ve had to deal with, but it could definitely be a legitimate concern.
“Where do we start? There’s no organization running family-based missions trips.”
We set up custom trips through Adventures In Missions. They do a great job at it, too! See more about my experience with their custom trips in Tuesday’s post, “Choose my adventure, and then your own!”
QUESTION: Has anyone else done an intergenerational missions trip? How does it compare to the youth missions trips you’ve done?
Posted on November 18, 2010