If your church takes family ministry seriously (and I’m sure you do if you’re reading this article!), then you’ve likely had conversations about integrating missions into your kids and student programming. Should you start by watching videos about missionaries? Reading missionary biographies? Creating a new weekly program? Maybe. But perhaps the best way to introduce the families in your church to what God is doing around the world is by developing a healthy family mission trip strategy.
What do healthy family mission trips look like, and how can we work towards establishing them in our church? In my experience, healthy family mission trips grow out of a culture of family discipleship, prioritize field partners, and focus on families before and after the trip. No matter what role you currently play in your church family–Lead Pastor, Kids Director, volunteer, or anything in between–you can influence the culture of your church in these three areas as you develop and carry out your family mission trip strategy.
A Healthy Family Mission Trip Grows out of a Culture of Family Discipleship
Each church community shares a common truth: their greatest mission field is the home. The largest unreached people group in America sits in our Sunday School classes and small groups, and they’re usually the shortest ones poking their heads up from our pews each week. I’m talking about our kids and students! In classic family ministry passages like Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6, we see clearly that parents are given the primary responsibility of discipleship at home, and we also see how the Church can play a crucial role in supporting and partnering with families in this monumental task. Your kids and student ministries cannot aim primarily for entertainment and still produce a biblical culture of family discipleship, but we don’t want them to be places our kids and students dread going to every week either. We want to create ministries our families want to be a part of. We want to grow a love for the Church in our kids and students. We want to stuff our kids so full of Scripture that they bleed God’s Word when life cuts them. And as we support our parents by maintaining an intentional presence in their kids’ lives, we also want to challenge them to live on mission at home, in our community, and around the world. When your church cultivates a culture of family discipleship and helps parents see their home as their primary mission field, you will give them a firm foundation from which to see other mission fields that are ripe for harvest.
A Healthy Family Mission Trip Prioritizes Field Partners
If you are committed to promoting and supporting family discipleship and are challenging your parents to take a family mission trip, your next step will be settling on a field partner you can send your team to work with. The secret sauce of a healthy family mission trip is utilizing and strengthening the relationships your church has with long-term workers who have given their life to loving, learning from, and sharing the gospel with the culture you will be entering. Ideally, you would lean on a relationship that already exists by planning a trip with one of your church’s existing partners. If your church doesn’t have these types of partnerships, then I would encourage you to approach senior leadership and ask them to pray through what country or region of the world they would like to see one begin in. Our church has sent the vast majority of our field partners through the IMB (for more information on how to form partnerships through the IMB, click here).
When your church cultivates a culture of family discipleship and helps parents see their home as their primary mission field, you will give them a firm foundation from which to see other mission fields that are ripe for harvest.
It might seem counterintuitive, but this point is of utmost importance: leading a healthy family mission trip requires prioritizing the needs of your field partner over the needs of your families. Have an honest conversation with your partner and ask if having kids or students in their community would be a help to their ministry–and be ready for honest answers. The end goal of a healthy family mission trip is not getting our families to accomplish as much as possible in one week; the end goal is to support and multiply the work that long-term workers are already doing to spread the gospel in their communities. To accomplish this goal, we have to prioritize our field partners.
A Healthy Family Mission Trip Focuses on Families Before and After the Trip
Finally, a healthy family mission trip should include an intentional focus on the spiritual growth of the parents and students who are going with you, both before and after the trip. What happens in the life of your families before they take off and after they land is just as important as what happens in between.
We have three priorities for every adult, student, and kid that goes on a mission trip in our church: love God, serve others, and serve the nations. These priorities can serve as a framework for your pre- and post-trip meetings as you discuss how the trip will help you accomplish each of these goals. Plan at least two meetings prior to your trip to gather as a team and discuss what ministry is like where you are going, who you are going to support, and how you are going to support them. Bring your kids and students with you to these meetings, make them engaging and a little silly, and let them see you come before God together as a team. And always schedule a debriefing meeting after the trip to let families talk about their experience with each other and how it has changed the way they view their own community. Be ready to encourage families to shift their thinking from missions happening “over there” to missions happening “right here.” Help them see that the life of a Christian is a life on mission wherever we find ourselves–at home, in our community, and around the world.
What happens in the life of your families before they take off and after they land is just as important as what happens in between.
Of course, we want the trip itself to be beneficial for them as well, so we organize trips where everyone will have opportunities to serve and grow. In our context, we advise families to begin planning international trips when their kids reach fifth grade, but for kids younger than that, we encourage parents to take them on trips a little closer to home. We have had great success bringing younger elementary kids with us on domestic trips to assist North American church plants. They get the chance to “serve” (even if they’re mostly just participating) in VBS events and community outreach block parties or gatherings. With clear communication and appropriate expectations, it can add huge value to the receiving church if you supply six adults to volunteer and six kids to attend their VBS. In addition, by bringing them with you to these events, your kids will get to see God working in a place other than your own local church and community while also making memories along the way. To a gospel-driven parent, showing your kids that it’s worth sacrificing time, effort, and money to go and serve other people for the sake of the gospel is a worthwhile goal. By involving both parents and children in these trips, our hope is that the whole family will grow in their love for Jesus and for the world He has called us to reach. (Just don’t let these lofty ideals get in the way of reality, because these trips will be messy. But isn’t everything just a little messy with a seven-year-old? Yes. The answer is yes!)
Building healthy family mission trips can be an invaluable part of your family ministry plan and strategy for discipling parents, students, and kids. As you plan these trips for your church, let them grow out of a heart that desires to partner with parents, prioritize field partners, and pursue relationships with your families that continue long after the trip is over.
Josh is the All-Campus Kids Pastor at the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, where he has served since 2010. He and his wife, Amy, have 4 kids all under the age of 10. This stage of life involves dreaming about how the gospel shapes families...and naps.