As I Tweeted the other night, I was looking at the Teen Mania mission trips available over the holidays, and I couldn't believe how much an 8 day trip to Panama cost: almost $1900 dollars!
I price hotels and flights fairly regularly....and I've been on a Teen Mania Global Expedition so I am somewhat familiar with what to expect in terms of food and accommodations. Just by looking at the price of the trip, I knew there was no way that TMM's actual expenses were anywhere close to what they were charging. But, in the interest of educating others, I decided to sit down and do the math--so everyone can see just how much profit Teen Mania is making off the backs of teens who decide to go on a Global Expedition.
Round Trip Flight to Panama: $665
Food: $15/day x 8 days = $120
Lodging: $12.50/person/day x 8 days = $100
Ground Transportation: $100/person
Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc = $75/person
Leadership Subsidies - $75/person
COST OF TRIP THROUGH TEEN MANIA: $1874
DIFFERENCE (aka "profit margin"): $739 (39.4% of the trip price)
Now, since I'm sure there will be arguments about how I arrived at these figures, let me take a moment to explain.
Round Trip Flight to Panama: This is probably the biggest trip expense that Teen Mania has the least amount of control over. I looked up round-trip flights from Miami (where the trip starts) to Panama City for the trip dates on Expedia.com. I assumed that Teen Mania would pick the cheapest flight.
Food: As anyone who has ever been on a Global Expedition knows, the food on Teen Mania missions trips isn't the best. A lot of times, teens are served nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or dinner. Local churches in host countries also often feed the teenage missionaries at no expense to Teen Mania. Restaurant meals are rare on Teen Mania missions trips. I alloted $15/day/person for food, although the actual expense to Teen Mania could be much lower depending on their reliance on local churches and/or PB&J.
Lodging: One of the better hotels I could find in Panama City was $50/night, and this is the price I used in my calculations. Many hotels in Panama City were only $20 or $30 per night, so Teen Mania could definitely find cheaper accommodations than the ones I used in my math. I also assumed that teens would only have to sleep 4 to a hotel room, although I know it is a regular occurrence for TMM to try to squeeze 6 or more people into a hotel room on missions trips. This also assumes Teen Mania even springs for a hotel room--on many trips, teens simply sleep on the floor of a local church (or even prison!) at zero expense to Teen Mania Ministries.
Ground Transportation: I allotted $100 for buses/vans to transport teens to ministry sites while in Panama, although this seems a bit high to me for a Central American country. I believe this figure represents the most Teen Mania could possibly spend transporting teen missionaries in Panama. I know that a lot of time local churches donate the use of their vehicles to TMM, so their actual ground transportation expenses per missionary could be much less.
Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc.: In my experience, Teen Mania doesn't spend a whole lot of money on ministry supplies. On my missions trip, the only thing they "gave" us that would fall into this category was the costume for our drama--which we didn't get to keep, was poorly made, and obviously worth less than $10. But, I decided to give TMM the benefit of the doubt, and I used this category to account for expenses that might not to fall into any other category.
Leadership Subsidies: Finally, the project directors, team leaders, etc., that help TMM on their Global Expedition trips receive a discount on the cost of their trip. The discount isn't very much, and the leaders definitely still give Teen Mania money to go on the missions trip. But, in the interest of fairness, I allotted $75 per full price participant to help offset the cost to Teen Mania of providing this leadership discount.
I think this is definitely a very fair assessment of the actual cost to Teen Mania to send a teen to Panama for 8 days given the typical TMM level of accommodations. As you can see, Teen Mania Ministries stands to make a lot of money by recruiting the maximum number of participants for this missions trip. If they get just 100 teens to go on the trip, and make $739 on each one, that's almost $74,000 extra they have in the bank. That's not exactly chump change.
In fact, it's no secret that Teen Mania has built in a "profit margin" to their summer & holiday missions trips, and this extra money is what enables them to take a loss on expensive stadium events and the Honor Academy. Teen Mania leadership freely admits that this margin is what covers the "overhead" of the massive ministry.
So, when your kid asks you if he/she can go on a Teen Mania missions trip, keep in mind that you're not just paying for their travel expenses--you're also paying for a huge campus in Texas, flashy pyrotechnics at Acquire the Fire events, and extravagant salaries for Ron Luce, Dave Hasz, and other key Teen Mania employees. The fact of the matter is, just about any other organization that takes people on missions trips is going to charge less than Teen Mania. A quick Google search revealed that I could actually take a month long missions trip to Panama for $500 less than Teen Mania is charging to go for eight days. Plus, you can avoid dealing with an organization that many have labelled a "cult" and that is currently dealing with serious accusations of physical and spiritual abuse.
Short-term missions trips can definitely be a positive learning experience for Christian teens. But make the smart decision--skip the overpriced Teen Mania Global Expedition and find a more affordable trip with a local church or ministry.