We all know that the days and weeks following a trip are brimming with potential. Everyone is excited about what just happened and how they are changed by their experience. However, whenever I ask how that energy is getting captured, focused, or shared, I hear a lot of organizations and churches say things like “Yeah, we really should do this,” but if we are being honest, this is very rarely enacted or done consistently across all teams. Even within your teams, you will find that some teams or team leaders might do this well, while others completely ignore this critical step.
Why are we so inconsistent with this area if we know it’s a valuable part of the Mission Journey?
In my experience, this topic is often overshadowed by the excitement and anticipation of the mission trip itself. Unfortunately, without this key step, we miss an opportunity to cement life change and, I would argue, this results in short-circuiting the potential for discipleship and future engagement with those participants.
We believe what happens after the trip is over is just as integral to the mission journey and a golden opportunity to deepen your impact, both personally and within the community. Here are four ways to better understand our tensions in this area and create a culture within our organizations that stewards well the entire process, including the time after the trip is over.
In the wake of a mission trip, many of us heave a sigh of relief, tempted to say, "Whew… it’s over.” Unfortunately, this mindset can lead us to overlook a critical stage of the journey: post-trip engagement. It's essential to resist viewing these gatherings as simply "nice to have" or as an afterthought. Instead, we must recognize that each trip isn't a standalone event but rather a crucial milestone in a person’s broader missional journey.
By placing the trip within this larger narrative, we begin to grasp the importance of the return home and the subsequent communication about what transpired during their mission. What God has done in their lives during this time is a powerful story that needs to be shared and honored.
Once you capture this larger perspective, it impacts your communication with your team. By providing a reason why and being aware of your own mindset, you can communicate the importance more clearly and help establish the mindset that you want.
Here’s an example of how you may express this mindset via email to your participants. It might sound like this:
“Phew, you're back from your mission trip. Your suitcase may be empty, but your heart's likely full. Now, it's tempting to breathe a sigh of relief and think, ‘All done. The trip's over.’ But wait! There's one crucial part of the journey we often overlook: the post-trip get-togethers.
Let's break the mold and think of these meetings not as an ‘oh-by-the-way’ kind of thing or even just a reunion, but as a significant part of the overall mission. Why? Because a mission trip isn't a one-off. It's a stepping stone on a bigger, beautiful journey. It's a chapter in your unique story of how you're making a difference in the world… and how those moments made a difference in you that you hope to continue to cultivate.
So, don't rush to close the book on this chapter. Savor it, share it, and let's talk about what God's been up to in your life.”
The groundwork for effective post-trip engagement begins even before departure. Ensure that your team understands the expectation for participation in the form of a debrief meeting upon their return. This sets the stage for open communication and active engagement. If anyone misses this meeting, a follow-up should be arranged to communicate the importance of this step, preparing them better for future missions.
By setting these clear expectations and being proactive in your follow-through, you facilitate an environment where individuals feel more involved, heard, and integral to the mission's success. Additionally, you set yourself up for success in the following years. Think of this as a “line in the sand” moment and by establishing and enforcing expectations over the next couple of sending seasons, you will start to see incredible results.
Engaging your participants effectively in their experience of the trip shouldn’t begin once you're home. We believe it should begin while you're still in the field. Encourage your leaders to facilitate a debriefing session regularly, or at least soon before your return home. This simple yet impactful practice presses for the participation of everyone and primes the team for more in-depth conversations when they return home.
Open-ended questions such as, "What was one highlight that encapsulates our time here?" and "What personal challenge, mindset shift, or behavior change did you face during this mission?" can stimulate thoughtful responses. As you wait for your return flight, encourage participants to summarize their experiences into a two-minute account and jot it down on a notecard. On the route home, they can expand this into a detailed journal entry, documenting three key take-aways that profoundly impacted their lives, perspectives, or missional journey.
Back home, the participants' experiences can be a powerful catalyst for drawing others into their journey or alongside your organizational mission. Sharing your stories can inspire others to embark on their own journeys, and maybe even join you on your next adventure! Therefore, encourage participants to share their stories and make it easy for them to do so.
Pro Tip: Find a way to capture those stories, the lessons, and the examples of life change that occurred in your debrief. These details will touch the hearts of your donor base, encourage future participants, and help others feel the impact that was made by the team.
Make it easy for your participants to share information about your organization, field partner, or church. As a small example, as your participants have conversations, you can encourage them to connect those people with your social media. This additional engagement not only grows your potential participant pool but also allows for continual dialogue about missions, further fostering a vibrant community that is engaged, inspired, and ready for more missional opportunities.
The mission trip might be over, but its ripple effects are just starting. It’s an ongoing journey of growth, sharing, and inspiration. So let’s keep the conversation going and continue making a difference together.
What have you found effective in post-trip debriefs? How have you leveraged the stories and insights to improve in your next season?
For 14 quick tips on running a successful post-trip debrief, check out our quick guide here.