Written by: Aaron Helman

You go on a mission trip, and a kid who is only tangentially involved with your church or youth group has an incredible experience. They worship with abandon, have their hearts softened to serve others, and they come back on fire for God…

…and then you never see them again.

It’s a phenomenon that’s as old as youth ministry, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it forever, but there are some things you can do to make it better. I’ll start an incomplete list here, but I welcome and encourage YOU to add your own idea in the comments below.

Your kids loved serving. Let them serve more.

At the end of the mission trip, we’re always excited to invite students back to rocking worship, to fun movie parties, to beach trips, or to ride some roller coasters with us at Cedar Point.

But hold on a minute. The same kids who never showed up to one of those fun events before loved serving on the mission trip. Maybe give them more of what they love?

Try scheduling a day or weekend of service a week or two after your mission trip and see if you can continue to kindle their flame for service.

Start planning next year’s mission trip now.

Better yet, let your students start planning next year’s mission trip now.

I’m serious. Meet with those students who really came to life during mission trip week and give them real, actual leadership roles; such that others would be let down if they didn’t fulfill their end of the deal. It might seem scary. That’s okay. Let them surprise you.

One of the reason students love mission trips is because they feel like a valued and integral part of a team. Keep that feeling going by making them a valued and integral part of your team going forward.

They got to know you. Go meet with them.

I’m in a larger ministry setting, but the same applies to any ministry with more than about twelve students. The fringier students don’t know you (or another key leader) well, but they will feel that connection by the end of the mission trip. Leverage that. Go get ice cream and talk about life and use that time to encourage them to find their own ways to plug in.

I have worked with dozens of students who wouldn’t come near a youth group event filled with free pizza and ice cream sundaes, but who would never turn down a chance to spend an hour with me one-on-one.

If there are students on the mission trip who always seemed to want to talk to you, it’s likely that there’s still more they’d like to say when it’s over.

Talk to their parents.

I don’t mean that you should send their parents a postcard or a brochure about your youth ministry. I mean that you should talk to them.

Tell parents – individually – about the growth, potential, and opportunity that you saw in their student during the week. Talk to parents about the next steps that you’d like to see for their student and ask them how you can help make those steps happen for their family.

Change the job description for your volunteer leaders.

Help your leaders understand that volunteering for the mission trip is more than just a one-week commitment with a long van ride on either end. Teach them that the impact they make needs to continue into the next week and beyond, particularly if they’re bonding with students.

Your students will fade away from their group if the adults they bonded with fade away from them. Don’t let that happen.

It’s probably unrealistic to expect your adult leaders to be mentors forever, but it’s fair to ask them to remain in relationship at least until the student has developed a handful of other strong relationships within your youth group.

Make this easy for your adult leaders. Give them postcards with postage applied. If it’s appropriate, give them Starbucks gift cards so they can arrange a meeting with a  handful of their students after they get home.

(And it doesn’t go without saying: Do everything in your power to pick the best volunteer leaders you can find.)

That’s my list. What’s on yours? How do you stoke the flame after the mission trip is over? Leave a commment below.

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