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I’ve learned something.  We can be greatly encouraged and charged up by hosting  a great mission team and conversely we can be distracted and discouraged by hosting a bad mission team.  I’ve also learned that much of what can make a week feel good or bad stems from how well we prepare.  To have a good experience requires a lot of work for the host.

Fortunately for us in the last few years we’ve had great mission teams.

I’d like to share with you from my perspective what makes a great mission team experience… from both sides.

1.  Screen The Team.

This sounds harsh but you’ll thank me later.  Should you accept every team that offers to come?  No.  The stakes are too high.  If a team comes in with good intentions but bad leadership, I don’t want them.  If a team comes with good leadership but misguided intentions, I don’t want them.  If a team demands a certain type of project that doesn’t fit at the moment, I don’t want them – yet.

Think of church planting like building a home.  If you bring in the roofers when you really needed the plumbers, you’re going to have a lot of good people upset.  For instance… we’re not at a place right now where I can handle a bell choir.  I’m not sure we’ll ever be at a place to host a bell choir but definately not right now.

I’ve had team leaders get upset with me because I said “No, I can’t use the type of team you have at this time in our development.”  or “No, the people in the inner city will not respond well to your team so I don’t want them performing that particular (skit/musical/dance/etc).”  Clearly articulating what you need may offend the team leaders who want to show off their talent but it does not offend the leader who truly wants to simply help however he/she can. When I serve as a missionary I check my expectations and preferences at the door.  I spent 3 months in inner city Houston as a 17 year-old.  Cleaning toilets was as important to me on that trip as playing with the kids at the mission center.  Why?  Because that’s what the host needed out of me.  It’s vital that you as a leader can weed out bad teams and bad leaders.  That’s about 90% of the battle. Once you have great leaders at the table, you’re pretty much going to have a great experience.

2. Be Organized.

The team leader working with you is trying to answer 1,000 questions to his/her boss, team members and possibly cooks and bus drivers.  Do your best to pretend you are the one taking the trip. What would you need to know “Food, Housing, Schedule, Supplies, Free Time, etc.).  In our case, if we have teams who will work on multiple projects during the course of a week we will make a spreadsheet in 15 minute increments for their entire time with us.  Each day we also build in a “leadership chat” time just to touch base on the days activities and how to improve the next day.  For teams that are working on one project we do not do this.  For instance the team we had last week was almost hands-off and turn-key.  This isn’t normal.  The team was also all grown men doing construction so they were fairly self contained.  Finally this team had been here before so they knew the lay of the land.

2(b).  Be Really Organized.

For many of our teams we work to provide them with all of the information they need in the form of a welcome packet.  We only give the schedules to the leaders of the group and whomever they want to have one.  Why?  Things change.  We usually provide maps of their work areas, important phone numbers, local grocery stores and pharmacies, etc.

3. Communicate Often.

Different churches have different calendars and internal policies.  Communicate to their needs.  Typically 3-6 months out you’ll need some parameters and you’ll want things nailed down 4-6 weeks before arrival.  Sometimes the communication from your end needs to be “We’re too far out for me to know specific jobs, but I know you’ll be doing ____ (type of work [ex: block parties, canvassing, construction, etc.).”  As you get closer, you will be able to get more specific.  Once the team is on site be sure to have someone either with the team at all times (recommended) or checking in with the team often.  Ideally having people on site is the way to go.  When you’re short-staffed, I’ll speak to that in the second-half.  You want to help them help you.

4.  Meet The Team Upon Arrival.

Even if you’re not going to run point, it’s great for the team who flew or drove to your town to be able to see your face.  Do your best to greet the team when they arrive.  Usually I schedule a few minutes to ‘connect the dots’ between what the team will be doing and what God is doing in our city.  I want them to know that scraping paint in an old bathroom actually will help us reach people with the gospel.  They will need this reminder later in the week.  Give them this gift now.  By the time a mission team member is frustrated at their task it may be too late.  It’s hard to be spiritual after a 12 hour bus ride, lack of sleep, cold showers and 30 hours of manual labor.  Give them the bigger picture.

5.  Follow Up.

Do your best to send “Thank You” cards to their Pastor, Executive Pastor, Mission’s Pastor and whomever else may have had a hand in the trip.  This may be a youth minister or other lay people.  Be very generous in your praise for the team and make certain they know how thankful you are for their investment.  There are a million places they could put their time, talent and treasure… they chose your work.  Thank them.  Also in the follow up process I want to encourage you to ask how you can improve.  For the most part we’ve had great reviews but I had one review come back with some concerns.  By and large I think there were some expectation issues and lack of communication but it was great to hear the feedback.  For every group since I have been able to make certain to ask questions I didn’t know I needed to ask.  I found that I assume things (culturally, comfort, etc.) and it’s important that I make sure our team has the opportunity to know what’s ahead and it’s important for me as a host to know how I can improve their situation.

In a future post I’ll share with you how you can lead a great team.  I’ve dropped some indication in this post but I’ll clarify further in the future.