Friday, July 27, 2012

Can Small Groups Be Used For Follow-Through?

Perhaps one of the loneliest feelings I have ever felt was upon coming home from a short-term mission trip! Sure there are friends and family who welcome you home, but you are suddenly aware of how little they understand about your trip. You feel all alone in some of
the struggles of American excess in light of your recent experience. On top of it, you want to continue serving as Jesus served, but life seems to always get in the way.

So how do we, as mission leaders and experienced travelers, help those who are coming home from a mission trip with this "fish out of water" feeling? Regardless of the size of your church, it is likely that you alone cannot be each person's mentor, teacher, and counselor.

What if we utilized small groups to see people along their spiritual journey? You can use your participant's current small group with a little coaching, or you can organize a small group specifically for returning short-term missionaries. It is not God’s desire for any of us
to be alone on our spiritual journey. Unfortunately we sometimes think no one can relate and so we push others away just when we should be drawing closer to them.

I’m a big believer in small groups of believers meeting together and walking their spiritual journey together for a few reasons:

  1. Accountability. When you are living life with others, you can’t get away with anything. If you tell your small group how you think God is calling you to change, then you have a group of people to hold you accountable.
  2. Diversity. You probably found out what a great thing diversity is while on your trip. The same is true of small groups. In any group, you will find people with different ideas, strengths, and weaknesses. A good small group emphasizes the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses.
  3. Pool Resources. Small groups are able to do things an individual can’t.
  4. Synergy. A small group working together will keep you going even when the fire starts to dim.
Now that we know small groups are a good thing, what do we do with them? Your focus should be on coaching the group to spend specific time on prayer, education, and action. Here are some ideas of how to do that:

  1. Pray for the world. Get the book Operation World and make a prayer schedule. Pray for the countries of the world in a systematic order. You can do alphabetically or by region.
  2. Learn a little about everything and everything about something. Begin expanding your understanding of the world by learning something about everywhere, but pick a place and focus in on it by learning everything about it. The country, region, or people group you choose to focus on will be the focus of your action. Also look for and provide opportunities for educating people at your church. This could be through a weekly bulletin insert that follows your prayer schedule, a slide during announcements in your church’s powerpoint, or a display somewhere in the church.
  3. Take Action. Look for ways to reach and serve people from your focus group. Don’t just think overseas, but look for those people where you are. College campuses and refugee relocation offices are good places to look.
Change and growth are rarely easy. As we become dangerous in the spiritual realm, we can expect Satan to try to stop us, which is all the more reason for being involved in a strong spiritual community! You can also find help in The Next Mile curriculum or at one of our workshops on debriefing and follow-through.

Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Thursday, July 19, 2012

3 Follow-Through Meetings For When You Come Home

Coming home is always so anticlimactic.  Most teams spend months preparing for two intensive weeks in a foreign country bonding with team members they barely knew. Then they go home to their normal and overly busy life in which they rarely see their former team members.

If you have been involved in short-term mission trips for any length of time, the story is all too familiar. A team comes home excited to share their story and influence their community, but they lose their connection and thus their energy. We all know that we should be doing something for follow-through with our team, but what works?

Follow-through meetings don’t have to last forever, and don’t have to be complicated. I recommend pre-planning the dates for three follow through meetings. Set these up ahead of time so people realize they are important, and will schedule them well ahead of their calendar filling up. Each of these meetings should have a theme, and be planned with the intent of moving the team along a process from debriefing to next steps.

Here are the three meetings I suggest:

1.      Celebration. Schedule this meeting to happen within a week to 10 days of returning home. This can be a pizza party, an ice-cream social, a potluck, or whatever you want. Have everyone bring their pictures, a CD with pictures, or something else by which to remember the trip. Simply sit around telling stories, laughing, and reminiscing. You need this time to connect and remember. You don’t need to get overly spiritual —this meeting is simply to celebrate the trip and connect.

2.      Reflection. This is the meeting where you will get reflective and misty-eyed. We want people to not just remember the stories, but to re-experience the impact. And with the perspective that time and distance gives, to be able to see what God was communicating to them. Here’s the thing though: you can’t simply sit in a circle and expect everyone to share. You need some sort of activity to prompt reflective though. If you need help planning a meeting like this, contact me using the information at the bottom of the article.

3.      Planning Next Steps. As an individual and as a team, what are the next steps? “How, then, shall I now live?” should be the theme of this question. Sometimes we consider this too quickly. It is important to have celebrated the trip and deeply reflected before considering what’s next. Hopefully this meeting will lead to next steps for the individual as well as next steps that will help the team impact their community in light of their experience. Again, you can’t expect to sit in a circle and brainstorm to a resolution. Contact me for ideas of how to creatively manage this meeting.

Finishing well can be hard in our fast-paced, high energy world. Our society is quick to move on to the next big thing before the current big thing is resolved and our lives often reflect it. Make sure you finish your short-term mission experience well, for this is how we will see life-long change in our participants. 

Questions for the author? Need help planning these meetings? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Friday, July 13, 2012

Mission Trip Triage Made Simple In 3 Easily Levels

Last week we talked about the idea of triage when it comes to our mission team participants. But what is triage? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines triage as, “the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients, and especially battle and disaster victims, according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors.” Now, we don’t expect to treat injured people, but we should be strategic. Emergency room doctors don’t spend more time with someone who cut their finger than someone who cut their arm off, and they certainly don’t treat them the same way. So why are we trying to treat everyone with a one-size-fits-all follow through strategy?

The Next Mile curriculum divides team members up into three categories. Follow-through should be customized but we have to start somewhere. Here are the three categories:

Level One —Those not likely to do another trip (est. 60%)
Level Two —Those likely to go on another trip (est. 30%)
Level Three —Those who may go onto mid- or long-term ministry (est. 10%)

Next week you will see an article about follow-through meetings. One whole meeting will be dedicated to reflection. By the end of this meeting, each participant should know where to put themselves. These can change, of course, but it provides a starting point for follow-through.

So now that we have categories identified, what are appropriate actions steps for each category?

Level one: Become a mentor to a short-term missionary next time, join the missions committee, pray for missionaries, become a home-country advocate for a missionary, give to missions, get involved in a ministry at the church.

Level two: All of the above, get involved with the particular people group in your area, language classes, be trained to lead the team next time, other classes that may prepare for ministry such as evangelism, Bible, or other practical skills.

Level three: All of the above, connect with missions pastor or missions committee about calling, investigate mission organizations that can help, educational considerations, begin dealing with logistics – pay off debt, downsize material possessions, etc.

This, of course, is not an all-inclusive list. I just want to get you thinking. What else can you come up with? Leave a comment at the bottom of this post with other ways that you have encouraged short-term missionaries in their journey to become more like Christ.

Taking the approach of triage will help you determine what life-change really looks like for each individual. It will also help you know how much time to invest in each individual. Hopefully this will make you more strategic and more confident in interactions with returning team members.

Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

Friday, July 6, 2012

4 Things Every Team Leader Should Do After a Short-term Mission Trip

July is here and you are probably back from your annual short-term mission trip. Or maybe the youth group at your church just returned home. In any case, whether this is your first or 15th trip, you might be wondering what is next. The group got along so well, and vowed to get together, but you just don’t know how to keep everyone connected. Or maybe you have already been home for a couple of months and still haven’t seen everyone.

Here are three things to do:

  1. Get them signed up for The Next Mile E-zine. This is an e-zine automatically delivered through email and is free. You only need a name and en email address to sign up. The e-zine discusses issues associated to returning home and helps the participant process their experience as well seek God’s next steps for them. This should not replace follow-through by the church or team leader, but is meant to enhance it. Click here to sign up.
  1. Mission Trip Triage—You probably feel paralyzed by the fact that you are responsible for so many people. The problem is that we often try to treat everyone the same even though no one is the same. We use the idea of triage to help team leaders determine what and how much is appropriate to invest in each participant. Upon returning, help your team members figure out what level they are and then plan appropriate next steps for living a more Christ-like life. Check back next week to find out what the levels are and how to follow through with each level.
  1. Encourage your team members to continue praying and reading their Bible. We often spend more time than usual praying and reading our Bibles in anticipation of our mission trip or during our mission—and most people like it! Push them not to let that practice end when they come home.
  1. Plan three follow-through team meetings. I know everyone lives a busy life so don’t overdo it. The meeting could be for lunch, after church, or dessert one evening. Look for an article in two weeks with details about these three team meetings.
Following through with your team members is a big job, and an important one! It can be easy to let it go because the trip is over, but God’s work in your team members’ lives is not. For more on following through with your team members, I recommend The Next Mile curriculum.

Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or