I’ve seen it happen more than once: you’re unhappy with how some youth ministry activity or event went–students seemed unfocused and disengaged, planning details fell apart, leadership was conflicted–and you resolve to never repeat it. Yet when asked, some students name that very activity or event as the most influential piece of their experience.

That’s why we ask for student feedback about everything we do. Everything.

The first mission trip I led was a disaster. The leader of the organization we worked with was unstable, and my leaders couldn’t tolerate her. Plan after plan failed. It was hot, and students were getting sick; someone got car sick all over the floorboards of the van. Someone with a nut allergy ate mole against a leader’s advice and required emergency Benadryl. It was a trip full of tears and vomit and mumbled grievances. I came home wondering if I was cut out for this kind of work.

That was nine years ago, and that trip remains the one I hear the most about from former students. In a good way. One of the students from that trip even decided on a year of church volunteer service after college and cited that trip as part of her motivation.

We’re not curating idyllic experiences here. When plans crumble and students struggle, that’s part of the point. Sometimes the things that go the worst are the things that have the biggest impact.

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