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Do’s & Dont’s: Following Up An Epic College Ministry Trip

October 6, 2021

We’ve all been there as collegiate leaders. You’ve just finished an inspiring week leading students to serve the Lord during a mission project. Or maybe it was a life-changing discipleship conference. You saw God work in powerful ways in students’ lives…and you’re probably completely exhausted.

But now is the time to capitalize on the momentum of the trip. What you do after your trip is just as important as how you prepare for your trip.

Here’s a list of dos and don’ts to help you maximize the trip’s long-term impact on your ministry. We’ll start with the dos.

DO – Debrief how God has worked in your lives.

People have come to Christ. God has used His Word to speak to individuals and your students are huddled around the bonfire singing in blissful unity. For some reason everyone is crying and you’re not 100% sure why. Capitalize on this moment. Now is the time to bring them together and debrief what God is doing.

At the end of each of our discipleship conferences we take a couple of hours to split into groups of 20 and give everyone a chance to answer these two questions.

  1. What is God doing in your life this week?
  1. How are you going to apply what you are learning when you get back to campus?

We encourage our students to make applications using a version of the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Time-bound.

We take time with them to pray over those commitments and everyone finds a buddy to help keep them accountable to moving forward when the “camp high“ wears off. If your trip doesn’t result in immediate action and long-term obedience it is simply not worthy of the time and effort you put into pulling it off!

Also, we use our first leadership team meeting after the trip to debrief and apply further. Then, we use our one-on-ones and discipleship groups to follow up again on the commitments the students made during the trip.

DO – Celebrate what God did through the trip.

In addition to debriefing with students, we should celebrate what God did with all our stakeholders. This includes financial supporters, church partners, alumni, and even our own staff. I often give our staff a “bonus” of straight up cash after a strategic trip like this. It always seems to go over well. Why not consider doing something out of the ordinary to thank and encourage your ministry partners during this time? You could take a few minutes to have each student call a different one of your supporters and share an experience or learning from the trip. Another idea is that you could make a short video of a student capturing the impact God has made in their life. At the very least make sure to send out an email immediately following the trip highlighting how God worked.

DO – Build on the spiritual momentum in students’ lives.

After an impactful experience, it is essential to encourage students to courageously take the necessary next steps. It’s not enough that they learned a lot during the trip or that they had an emotional experience. Life change only happens when we take obedient steps of faith. C.S. Lewis once said that we have the tendency to think but not to act, and to feel but not to act. If we go on thinking and feeling without acting, someday we will be unable to act.

One common criticism of millennials is that they have passions and wear causes, without putting in the day-to-day discipline necessary to make a difference. Disciples who are high on emotion but low on discipline won’t change the world. It’s our role to challenge and equip them to be able to gain traction. We can’t settle for anything less than what Jesus demands of His followers.

Now is the time to encourage all of your leaders and disciple-makers to start having those difficult Lordship conversations that they may have been waiting around for just the right time to have. Now is the time to motivate and inspire students to take the kingdom risks that they have been dreaming about. Now is the time to start having conversations with students you would like to join your student leadership team next semester. Now is the time to start discussions with solid juniors who are showing potential to join your staff team. Don’t miss this opportunity to call your students forward in their commitment to Jesus! They will respect you for it and thank you later.

DO – Evaluate with your team and start planning for next year.

It’s important to immediately take an honest look at your trip. If you don’t take the time to evaluate now then you risk forgetting many of the details when you plan for next year. Keep the tone of the conversation positive. You want everyone to walk away encouraged by what God has done among you. Highlight what was great about what happened and what needs improving for next time. It is also a great idea to start making plans for next year. Some things to get the ball rolling on are booking the camp, transportation, discussing possible speakers and more.

And now for a few don’ts.

DON’T – Make those who didn’t go feel left out.

Too often at the weekly meeting following a trip the emcees make statements like, “If you didn’t come with us on this trip then you missed out on the best week of your life.” What can be worse is telling inside jokes or showing some tear-jerker video about how everyone bonded together on the trip.

Choices like this make me cringe. Imagine you are the new person who didn’t go on the trip. How would you feel visiting with all the inside jokes and borderline shame being dished out toward those who didn’t come on the trip? One of the purposes of your trip was to build up your ministry so you can effectively reach more and more new people, right? Many ministries shoot themselves in the foot by hyping the trip after the fact. This alienates visitors and anyone who couldn’t go. This principle applies in your small groups and social settings also. Don’t make this “rookie move” that has potential to seriously hurt your momentum in welcoming in new people to your ministry.

DON’T – Let your guard down in your personal walk with God.

If you did your job leading this trip with excellence then you will probably be exhausted. The older you get the more you will understand what I am saying. You will be emotionally, physically, and often spiritually depleted from pulling off endless last minute details, putting out relational fires, and even spiritual warfare.

It is wise to take a few days to rest and recharge, but be careful. It can be easy to take a break from your walk with Jesus also. Let’s be honest, sometimes after a busy season of ministry all we want to do is binge watch something on Netflix. 1 Peter 5:8-9 gives us a important warning “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Don’t be naïve to think that the temptation that you used to struggle with won’t try a full court press on you right at this vulnerable time for you personally and such a strategic time for your ministry. If the enemy can get you slipping up and distracted then he can go to work on your followers trying to steal the seed that was just planted in their hearts.

Be ready to walk students through failures and spiritual warfare following such impactful experiences. Make sure to model to your students what it is like to go to war against your own sinful nature as you continue to help them take steps towards greater freedom in Christ. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10)

DON’T – Put the brakes on when it comes to reaching your campus.

You now have a fresh batch of highly motivated and equipped students ready to take the campus by storm. The worst thing that you can do is tell them, “Wasn’t that great? Let’s all remember to apply these lessons next semester.”

Don’t make them wait! Unleash them on the campus now! Even if it’s not a great time of the semester for heavy outreach, try to capitalize on the momentum!

This semester, our team of 30 leaders have been sowing the gospel broadly on campus using several relational and intentional methods and 35 students have already professed faith in Jesus during a time in the school year that students “aren’t very open.” Next week we are planning a heavy week of outreach activities because our student leaders are the most motivated after our discipleship conference. Nothing trumps a highly motivated team! We are asking the Lord to lead us to many open students who are ready to start following Jesus when we share the gospel with them next week.

John 4:34 comes to mind: “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Don’t wait to mobilize your students to be on mission. You will have missed an opportunity for training them and perhaps missed a harvest. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4)

What other dos and don’ts would you add to the list?

What are the best ways you have fostered long-term impact after an epic college ministry trip?