Planning a Mission Trip…Across the Street

It is summer, and summer means mission trips for many church leaders. I have organized a number of mission trips to far flung places over the years. Some of these trips have been more successful than others in terms of making lasting kingdom impact in the hearts of the participants and in the communities we visited. Through these experiences, I have learned a number of things that contribute to a successful mission project. Here are three of the most important things I have learned.

First, you need to have the right kind of project. The vision for the work to be done must be compelling. Second, you need solid ministry partners on the ground who will prepare for the team’s arrival and follow up with the local people touched after the team leaves. Third, it is important that a team go as learners with an attitude of humility and grace.

There are many other such principles that I might share about mission trips, but I suspect many church leaders reading this article already have a good idea about how to plan a global mission project. The reality is that there are many tools and organizations that help leaders to organize such trips. In fact, it can often be harder to organize a team to reach the people in our own communities. I would like to share one tremendous opportunity for kingdom impact in your own community along with a strategy for achieving that impact.

In the United States today, there are approximately 89,000 public elementary schools with about 39 million children attending them. It is common knowledge that children are much more receptive to the gospel than adults. In fact, George Barna’s research suggests that children between the ages of 5 and 13 are four or five times more likely to commit to Christ and become lifelong followers than people at any other age, including teenagers. As well, the population of our public schools is often more diverse than the population of the nation as a whole. I believe this is true because immigrant groups tend to be young populations with young children. Therefore, your neighborhood public school provides your church with an ideal opportunity to reach children from around the world with the Good News of Jesus right inside their public school. There are few projects or visions that I find more compelling than this kind of impact on children who still have their whole lives to live for Christ in front of them.

I mentioned that a compelling vision was the first key ingredient in a mission trip, and the second one is a strong local partner. Although hard numbers are difficult to come by, there are well over 300,000 Christian churches in the United States, which represents about four churches for every public school. It would be a rare public school in America that does not have a congregation of Jesus followers who worship within a mile or two of the school. In more urban and suburban contexts, there are very often churches within a block or two of schools, and some churches may even meet inside of schools. What better ministry partner on the ground than your local church! Your church can reach your neighborhood school by sharing the love and Word of Jesus inside of that school.

Finally, I want to talk about the strategy for reaching a school. As with all mission projects it is important to approach a school with humility and grace. The organization in which I serve, Crossroads Kids Club, has developed a strategy that centers on three “F’s”—Facts, Friends, and Faith. In the first place, it is important to understand the facts about what a legal and healthy separation of church and state means. Contrary to much popular belief, it does not mean that schools must be “religion free.” A school must be “religiously neutral” meaning that it cannot support or endorse one church or faith (or secular viewpoint) over another. Rather, with regard to the use of its space, which is public, it must give equal access to similar groups regardless of their religious viewpoint. Those are the facts as established by the courts.

Simply knowing the facts and asserting rights can be very ugly and in my view quite unlike Jesus’ approach, however. So, our second F is Friends. Schools today (perhaps more than ever before) have great needs. Class sizes are large. Teachers and administrators feel constant pressure due to standardized tests, budget pressures, and a whole host of factors. Church leaders who are willing to come alongside school leaders and provide support and encouragement are very often well received. A Crossroads Kids Club is a first step in developing a presence in a school, but it should not be the last. Once working inside the school, churches will see all kinds of opportunities to support the school and make friends there. Possible opportunities might include volunteering to coach a sports team, leading a chess club, tutoring struggling kids, helping with fundraising or fun events at the school, and chaperoning field trips.

Know the facts. Build friendships, and by all means share your faith. Faith is the third F in Crossroads’ strategy. A few days ago, a ministry colleague told me a story about how a teacher at a middle school came to know Jesus through a club that a local church was hosting at lunch time for the students in the school. This teacher had agreed to let the church-led club meet in her classroom. Through the lessons the students were receiving, this teacher’s curiosity was piqued. She visited the church leading the club and eventually came to know Jesus. She then went on to tell the school’s principal about the positive changes in her life! Our public schools are centers of community. Besides students, there are parents and a whole host of teachers, administrators, and maintenance workers engaged with schools. Your presence—your witness—inside of a school can have unexpected and far-reaching impact.

So, as you go and return from summer mission projects, I would challenge you to consider looking at a local public school—a center of community in your town—as a mission field in which your church can serve to impact your city. You can do this by knowing the facts, making friends, and sharing your faith.