For many Christian teens, a highlight of their time in youth ministry is venturing out on youth missionary trips with their friends. And while traveling to another country, state or city is always exciting, the definition of “missions” has expanded greatly in recent years.
No matter your group’s size, budget or ability levels, options are available for youth missionary trips that meet your specific needs. Some creative ideas involve little travel and little-to-no money or planning.
Start smaller with these 9 service ideas—and read on when you’re ready for bigger youth missionary trips:
1. Reach out to people experiencing homelessness.
Homelessness is a huge problem in America, especially in urban areas. Students can meet people’s tangible, day-to-day needs by distributing baggies, backpacks or even water bottles filled with hygiene items and nutritious snacks.
2. Place Scripture-filled sticky notes inside library books.
For an in-town adventure that offers glimpses of hope and cheer, simply write encouraging Bible verses on a bunch of sticky notes. Then visit a local library as a youth group and put the notes on the inside covers of books.
3. Hold a pay-it-forward service day.
Dedicate a day to performing acts of kindness throughout your community. As students serve people, have them hand out cards with a Pay-It-Forward Challenge, encouraging recipients to perform a kind deed for someone else.
4. Bless healthcare workers.
Gather small gifts and homemade goodies, and then deliver them to a nearby hospital or clinic. Buy plain white paper gift bags in bulk and have kids cut out and glue a red paper cross on each bag. Medical workers will be uplifted by this act of care and support.
5. Clean up a local cemetery.
Tending to graves is an unusual but very useful (and touching) act of service. While you and your kids are pulling weeds and picking up trash, you can have interesting Bible-based discussions about life, death, heaven, ancestors and the faith legacies that people pass on to others.
6. Sow seeds of God’s love.
As a youth group, visit a park or public garden and hand out packets of seeds. Beforehand, stick positive messages on the packets, such as “Grow in God’s love” and “Stay rooted in God.”
7. Host a special event.
Have students organize an event for the church or community. Ideas include a carnival, a craft fair, a game night and a sports clinic. Or kids can hold a fundraiser and donate all the proceeds toward a special charity project.
8. Volunteer for VBS.
If your kids aren’t already involved with vacation Bible school, encourage them to volunteer as pairs, teams or large groups. Take this one step further by volunteering to help at other VBS programs in your community, especially at smaller churches. Students with creative skills can take the lead on sets, stages, signs and decorations.
9. Brighten the day for shoppers.
Get permission from a local dollar-store to hide some dollar bills on shelves. With just a little cash, you can produce some big smiles among random shoppers.
When you’re ready for more travel, here are 5 resources for taking Christian youth missionary trips:
Students work together to complete service projects that have a lasting impact on residents and communities. Jesus-centered programs and devotions spark deep conversations that help participants grow in their faith.
This organization turns typical youth missionary trip activities into leadership laboratories. Youth group members gain real-life leadership experience through service projects, relational ministry activities and age-appropriate responsibilities.
For youth missionary trips focused on servanthood and discipleship, this group offers one- to two-week options. The work sites are often “desperate communities” where students can meet tangible needs and, just as importantly, provide love and hope to people.
Teenage disciples of Jesus can travel throughout the world and make more disciples in the process. This group arranges for students to assist with everything from creation care to church planting and community development.
This organization specializes in urban youth missionary trips, immersing teens in cities so they can meet real needs. Young people also learn what city dwellers face and how to overcome challenging circumstances.
What other ideas and resources do you recommend for youth missionary trips? Share your thoughts in the comments below.