fridea: the unplanned mission trip

As you may have noticed the “Frideas” bucket is full of some crazy ideas for college ministry. But like I’ve been seeing all year, thinking outside of the box gets some great creativity juices a’flowing. (The first two Frideas were here and here.)

And isn’t summer a great time to try out some random things? Everybody’s so bored anyway, so why not spice it up a bit?

Anyway, this week’s Fridea is the “Unplanned Mission Trip,” and I really truly like this one. It takes a while to explain (sorry), but it’s actually pretty simple.

Like some of the other Frideas, this event isn’t only for college ministries, but really for any group of buddies with a computer and an itch to take a Jesus-oriented road trip!

It may help to start with some good outcomes of this trip, because that’s honestly where we should start every method with. A method isn’t any good if it doesn’t actually accomplish our most-needed purposes, right?

The Unplanned Mission Trip can…

  • highlight God’s out-of-the-blue blessings
  • remind us that sometimes we don’t have to have everything “all planned out” (so it can help your “Type A” students)
  • shake up a lethargic (or boring) college ministry
  • highlight the fact that opportunities to serve and grow can pop up any day, any where
  • build relationships (like any trip, but with this added adventurous twist)
  • become a bonding tool for your ministry, since it’s unique and therefore functions sorta like an “inside joke” does

Last year, I took a group of students on an extreme version of this, called a Mad Libs eBay Road Trip. It was highly successful. If you want to see my report from Spring Break 2007, which also explains the method a little bit, just read this post.

Meanwhile, the basic Unplanned Mission Trip requires three pre-trip preparations:

  • Determine the basics of the trip, much like you would for any mission trip: cost, dates, transportation (what vehicle(s) you’ll be driving). However, that’s the extent of your planning! Hooray!
  • Determine the road trip’s minimum and maximum distance from home (based on how many days the trip will last). You don’t want to end up too close to home, but you don’t want to spend the whole time driving, either. The closer you go, the more time you’ll have for “activities” along the way – but if you’re too close, that can be pretty boring.
  • Randomly pick your destination. (See below.)

You and your students can randomly pick a road trip destination in lots of ways. For example…

  • Throw darts at a big U.S. (or state) map until you hit a spot inside your predetermined distance.
  • Google (or eBay) some random words, and see what city comes up anywhere on that page.
  • Draw five random one-digit numbers to make a Zip Code. Google to find out the city it’s in.
  • Draw names from among those going on the trip (or from church staff, or from school administration, or from a list of US Presidents). Determine beforehand that you’ll go to that person’s hometown, college they attended, their mom’s birthplace, etc.
  • Put some pre-selected cities in a hat, and draw. This is an entry-level Unplanned Mission Trip.
  • Call your pastor / parent / friend, and have them name a city (without knowing why).

After you’ve determined the destination, you’re on your way! The leader may want to keep the destination a secret until you’ve all been driving for awhile (so nobody changes their mind!).

The leader’s job (along with anybody else he has appointed) is now to plan the trip – once you’re on the road.

Thoughts to consider: Are you driving near any big cities? Any cool college campuses? What about driving near friends or family of someone on the trip? Anything can be made into a fun stop – especially if you have a good map, mobile internet, or a “helper” back at home who can help plan while you guys drive.

On top of the fun stuff, you can also include a major service component in your trip – particularly in the “destination city.” For example, you could…

  • Decide to stop at the first (Christian) church you find in that city. Pop in, and ask if you could help them in any way during your stay!
  • Hunt around the town looking for possible service opportunities.
  • Contact a church or other non-profit in that city, and ask if they know of anyone who could use a day of help.
  • Go to a nursing home, homeless shelter, or other place where service takes place regularly.
  • Do random acts of kindness that you don’t need permission for: pick up trash, take care packages to houses in a poor part of town, or something else.

I also think it’s a great idea to attend church(es) during the trip, especially if the trip includes a Sunday. Exposing students to different church environments – or even different denominations – can be a great experience, and you can all talk about the experience together afterwards.

As you know, I’m also a big fan of visiting campuses. Honestly, those visits can be incredibly eye-opening for students, since most may not have seen any campus besides their own. Why not spend some time prayer-walking at a campus, or even get in touch with a ministry at that campus (even if they’re off for the summer)? Many campuses are still “open” this summer, with the cafeteria, bookstore, and other places available for your perusal.

Most importantly, as you take the trip, be very open to whatever God wants to do! Pray – lots – with your students, but then trust that He can and will do what He wants to do. Go with the flow. God may have purposes in mind that you haven’t thought of.

Even if the trip doesn’t end up “super busy” or you don’t find lots of service opportunities, you get the chance to take a cool little adventure with your friends. And you practice the mindset of every day being a day to look for service. And for adventure. And for relationships.

Of course, there are all kinds of further tweaks you can make to this idea. I’ve given you the outline, but your group can make it your own!

Written from Minneapolis, Minnesota


  1. Mark

    I hope other people try this. I watched you do it with a group and it impacted me and my idea of “missions”, and I wasn’t even on the trip!

  2. Erica

    This is such a good idea. We did a mystery road trip with our college ministry, but of course our leadership team knew where we were going and we planned it…but the whole spontaneity of everything is interesting, even though it would drive my planning side crazy!

    I just ran across your blog, we met last year at a college ministry conference in Salado, but I don’t know if you remember me or not. Anyway, your trip sounds like it’s amazing, and I like reading about all the things you’ve learned about college ministry- neat idea!

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