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Engage in global mission without leaving your church

By Gavin Richardson

The summer is wrapping up, and much of the activity around seasonal mission trips is subsiding. However, you can engage in mission trips online throughout the year. These mission trips could include Skype calls, video testimonies, online prayer rooms and more.

Because the concept of an online mission trip is very new, it might take a lot of communication to the church to gather participants. For the full benefits of a mission experience, make the "trip" a sacrifice of time.

Here are some tips to help you plan your first online mission trip.

SET ASIDE A WEEK

Find a week within your ministry to give to an online mission experience with a team. You need not confine these practices and ideas to one week, but you will want to bring people together for a shared experience. Having set dates for starting and stopping the project will help you get maximum participation.

DISCOVER NEEDS, PLACES AND WAYS TO CONNECT ONLINE

OUTLINE YOUR MISSION-TRIP WEEK

For each day of your online trip, have a specific task for the group (see a suggested schedule at the end of this article). The group's time commitment will dictate the level of involvement online. Here are some activity ideas:

1. Fund drives: Create an online fundraising site using Kickstarter, Indigogo, GoFundMe, FirstGiving or Crowdwise. These sites will help you create a portal to promote throughout the week and gather funds for your project.

2. Skype calls: If you can pull off a video Skype call, wonderful! If not, an audio call also works. Organize some meet-and-greet and interview-type Skype calls where the mission team can meet the missionary or people served through the mission. All a Skype call requires are two laptops and video cameras (often now built into the computer). The connection is free. Have the team interview a missionary about his or her work. This can be the beginning of an ongoing relationship between a missioner and a mission team.

3. Video testimonies: Pull your team together to record and create video testimonies about the mission they are supporting and why it is important to them. Invite them to load the testimonies onto their social media platforms to help spread the word about this particular mission.

4. Witness stories: Ask participants to write the story of what led to their involvement in the mission experience. Some may choose to write a song or a poem. The goal is to have a written account, which often gives more depth and detail to a life story.

5. Prayer room: Organize an online prayer room. Commission the group to pray actively for individuals or mission groups. Set up a page on a website or Facebook to take prayer requests from people 24 hours a day. Consider receiving requests through the Upper Room Living Prayer Center for a couple of hours.

6. Mission photo project: If you are supporting a local ministry, send a group to take photos. Use those photos (with proper releases) to supplement the stories, articles, videos or slides created for the mission week.

7. Online blessings: Claim "holy time" on social media networks. Give team members the task of going through their networks and leaving notes of blessing and grace. This can cut through the day-to-day game invitations, article and meme shares to give someone the meaningful interaction they crave from social media sites.

8. Online prayer center: Introduce the mission group to the Upper Room Living Prayer Center, which provides an opportunity to become a prayer partner and receive weekly prayer requests via email.

9. Research their faith: Have the group search UMC.org or the denominational agencies (general boards and commissions) to learn something new about United Methodism. Ask individuals to report to the group what they learned and how they found that information. If you need to give them something more specific to research, a stroll through the Social Principles might be in order.

10. Sunday commission and culmination: Commission the team before their week of online mission. Give the congregation a synopsis of what the team will be doing. An online mission trip is not part of the norm for people, so sharing the vision will encourage others to participate or support the team's work. Plan a Sunday to share the stories and show highlights, videos and photos from the week. The plus side of this digital missions outing is the archival element to share with the church.

Schedule your church's first online mission trip this week!

One final note: The online mission trip will not and should not become a substitute for a traditional mission experience. However, it does allow you to build on an on-site mission trip and to help create change even when physical presence is not a viable option. It can also involve people unable to be part of an on-site mission team.

UNITED METHODIST CHURCH ONLINE MISSIONS WEEK OUTLINE

DAY ONE
• Sunday morning commissioning
• Evening meal
• Evening introduction to mission trip
• Mission trip set (Create network and video rooms; make contacts.)
• Closing prayers

DAY TWO
• Morning prayers/afternoon prayers
• Skype call with missioner
• Set goals for helping mission
• Break into teams
• Closing dinner
• Community debriefing
• Closing prayers

DAY THREE
• Morning prayers/afternoon prayers
• Share mission videos, stories and photos
• Push fundraising site
• Closing dinner
• Community debriefing
• Closing prayers

DAY FOUR
• Morning prayers/afternoon prayers
• Write personal stories
• Closing dinner
• Community debriefing
• Closing prayers

DAY FIVE
• Morning prayers/afternoon prayers
• Day of intercessory prayer
• Closing dinner
• Community debriefing
• Closing prayers

DAY SIX
• Morning prayers/afternoon prayers
• Check in with missioner
• Prepare sharing materials
• Closing dinner
• Community debriefing
• Closing prayers

SUNDAY
• Celebrate the week of missions
• Share with congregation