Shorter missions are a popular way for churches around the world to get their congregations involved in overseas missions projects without requiring a long-term commitment. There are many personal benefits to serving on mission for a short period of time. Teams go overseas for a couple of weeks to serve in a variety of ways. These can include construction projects, Vacation Bible Schools, pastors conferences, and medical camps. Short-term missions might be individuals going overseas for a few months or larger group teams that serve for a shorter amount of time. Teams go on these trips with honorable intentions, seeking to better the Church in the developing nations of the Global South. They seek partnerships, relationships with locals, and, ultimately, the growth of the Church.
While at first glance, short-term missions seem full of benefits, the wrong trip with the wrong people can perhaps do more harm than good. Therefore, there has been some controversy in Church and missions circles regarding these types of trips calling for a review and some considered thought before developing a short-term missions strategy from any Global North church.
In this series, we will evaluate both the benefits and the pitfalls of short missions. In the hopes of generating discussion and perhaps some conclusions about the value of short-term missions, we as church leaders must seek to glorify God with our efforts and expand His Kingdom.
Personal Benefits of Short-Term Mission Trips
We will look at the personal benefits for the individual team members who participate in short-term missions work. Short-term experiences can be a strong catalyst for holistic development, creating growth in the lives of individual participants. Here are four benefits for individuals on short-term trips.
Test-Driving Missions Experience
For those interested in pursuing full-time Christian work overseas, short-term missions gives individuals a chance try the experience with minimal commitment. These short-term experiences can be a crucial and effective refining process to find people who will be a good ministry and personal fit for overseas work. It can be a time of setting goals and objectives for future work, as well as good cultural and ministry preparation. This “test-drive” experience can also cull those not right without the ramifications of committing full-time.
Short-term trips can also be great for those who’ve never been on the mission field before, especially teens and young adults. It gives them the opportunity to experience mission work and discover the best place for them serve the Kingdom. Whether the trip lasts a week, a month, or a summer, short-term trips are great for helping people figure out where they fit into the Body of Christ without making long-term commitments.
Hands-On and Expanded Global Perspective
The opportunity to serve overseas for even a short amount of time can expand participants’ views of the world. They learn about new cultures and new ways of doing ministry. Participants return from the trip with eyes opened to the poverty and oppression present in parts of the Global South. They can move forward in their own home lives with a renewed sense of purpose. This awareness impacts their giving and their ministry in new ways.
Opportunity to Actively Participate in God’s Global Work
Ministry experience in their own home culture is generally considered an essential pre-requisite to overseas experiences. But sometimes people who are not as involved at their church find short-term missions trips to be where they thrive. Alternately, those who are heavily involved in ministry at home want to expand their involvement in God’s work. Many times, they find short-term trips a perfect avenue to go deeper in their work for God’s Kingdom. No matter the at-home experience, a short-term experience offers an expanded view of all that God is doing.
Churches in the Global North seek to encourage and equip churches and ministries in other parts of the world. A short-term missions trip can be a great way to build relationships and deepen partnerships with churches and para-church organizations. Being with Global South partners in their own culture is an effective way to learn more about the ministry. This can be essential in developing goals and objectives for future short-term involvement and the expansion of God’s Kingdom.
Short-Term Mission Trip Benefits For The Host Church
Now we look at the benefits for the host church. In general, short-term involvement can be a huge encouragement to Global South churches. It can also serve as a catalyst for the church’s ability to build trust in a community. Many times short-term missions can have very positive outcomes for the host ministry.
The following are five positive outcomes as we continue evaluating short-term missions and the pros and cons.
Provides a Temporary Boost to a Local Project
The involvement of a short-term missions team can often provide the opportunity for Global South ministries to improve the scope and reputation of their ministry. The preparation for the visit of the team often requires promotion and increased visibility. While these increases are often temporary in nature, it gives the local believers the chance to meet new people. And it gives them the opportunity to evaluate local situations that can make their ministry more effective. The visit by the short-term team can be used as a test case when the local ministry is developing its future goals. It can also help them develop realistic expectations for future ministry.
Effective in Evaluation of Long-Term Fit for an International Worker
This is good for Global South ministries that are considering engaging with a long-term overseas worker. A short-term opportunity gives an excellent chance to evaluate the gifts, skills, ability, and attitude of any person considering joining on a more permanent basis. The local ministry can determine the impact of culture shock and the individual’s ability to cope in times of uncertainty. It is a good starting point for dialogue about the potential effectiveness of a foreigner in the field. A short-term visit affords them the opportunity to discover these things without a large investment.
Showcases the Reality and Impact of the Ministry
Many Global South ministries and church movements already have partners around the globe helping to resource and pray for their work. One of the struggles often faced is the ability of Global South personnel to communicate all that they are doing to their partners. When a short-term team visits, the face-to-face interaction makes true communication possible and efficient. The visits allow them to have a dialogue, ask questions, meet recipients of the ministry, and truly grow the partnership. The relationship built during these times can make future communication better and more complete.
Provision of Specialized Resources
Whether it is manpower, funding, or specialized skills, a short-term team provides resources to the local church that may not ordinarily be available. Doctors from overseas serve impoverished constituencies that do not have medical care. Senior pastors from Global North churches train new pastors who are a part of grass-roots church movements. Teachers from the West can offer relief to local teachers working in challenging circumstances. Whatever the skills or gifting available, it can be put to good use in an overseas setting. And it can help local believers to reach new heights and learn new things to expand the Kingdom of God.
A Fresh Look
It is a struggle working in the trenches of poverty, oppression, and persecution. The local believers in Global South nations sometimes fail to see all that is truly going on in their ministry. The visit of a short-term team allows those working in the field to see their ministry through fresh eyes. This could mean a renewed vision for all that God is doing. It can even be a critical eye for ways to improve their ministry. Seeing things in a fresh new way can bring encouragement and empowerment as they carry on seeking to do God’s will.
Short-Term Mission Trip Benefits of the Sending Church
Now we will look at the benefits for the Global North sending church. In general, short-term involvement can be a game-changer for Western churches seeking the development of congregants. It broadens perspective and can challenge people’s world view as few other things can.
The following are four of the positive outcomes on sending churches as we continue evaluating both the good and the bad of short-term missions.
Church Member Engagement with Overseas Partners and Projects
Many times church missions pastors or missions boards have a lot of contact with and involvement in the work of its overseas missions partners. This can lend itself to strategic development of the overseas ministry and the sending church’s missions program. However, many times, the involvement stops there. Others in the church fail to have the opportunity to learn and grow through intentional interaction with global partners. Short-term missions trips change all that. These experiences allow church members to actively engage with projects that the church supports. They can build relationships, improve their prayer life, and lend their gifts and abilities to a ministry in need. Overall, the missions program of the sending church can engage more of its members at a deeper level. This produces transformation in the lives of everyone involved.
Creates Ownership of Overseas Programming Among Church Members
Similar to the above, the opportunity for Global North church members to be involved creates ownership in all the sending church is doing abroad. It gives them skin in the game, and they desire to be personally invested both in time and financing. They begin to rightly believe that the success of the partnership and God’s work overseas relies on their involvement. This produces good results both overseas in the project and in the sending church.
Gives the Church a Broader Perspective
Many times, churches in the Global North succumb to the temptation to focus primarily on themselves and their own ministries. Outreach, whether it is overseas or locally, helps break down those barriers. It gives the sending church a broader, global perspective that challenges their world view. Members of short-term teams begin to ask questions about further involvement, partnerships, and expanding the ministries of their church. Those who have had an overseas experience begin to think more about others and how they can build God’s Kingdom. Congregations can create goals and objectives for overseas mission work.
Deeper Personal Involvement Locally
Often, people who have been involved with short-term missions work return home and want to get more involved in local ministries. Their worldviews have been challenged, their comfort zones expanded, and their knowledge of their gifts and abilities has been heightened. They have more ownership in the local church, want to be involved as leaders, and enjoy being a part of the inner circle that develops goals and sets expectations for the local body. Short-term missions experiences produce these things in the lives of church members. It stretches them beyond their personal boundaries into a place where God can use them. Their perspectives have been forever changed, and they become more engaged on every level.
The Possible Pitfalls of Short Term Mission Trips
Now we turn to another important aspect to consider: the possible pitfalls. While most people enter into short-term missions with honorable intentions, things can go awry if the sending church misses some key components.
The following are a few of the missteps short-term missions groups should avoid when seeking to craft an overseas experience that is beneficial for all.
The Wrong Fit
Sometimes a godly, talented person or team goes to a location and/or project that is less than ideal for hosting international workers. This can mean a lack of suitable infrastructure, and/or a ministry that is better done by locals. Alternately, a project can be poised for an excellent experience for the visitors. But maybe the international worker(s) do not have the right skills, attitude, or belief system to be of significant assistance. The result of either of these scenarios? A challenging experience that could do more harm than good. The key to avoiding this is a healthy screening process to ensure the best chances for a good fit between the team and the project.
Lack of Clear Goals
As with any serious endeavor, it is crucial to develop clear goals before entering any kind of short-term missions experience. Most times, it is most effective to partner with the host in creating these goals. The objectives created can be made in two specific areas. First, teams focus on developing goals for the work to be done on the ground while in the country. This can range from completing specific projects to building relationships with local workers. Second, the goals must focus on the desired outcomes in the personal spiritual lives of the team participants. In all cases of short mission involvement, it is more important for participants to be, rather than to do. An overseas project that focuses only on activities and not personal attitudes is always less effective than one that seeks to transform the lives of those doing the work.
Lack of Training and Preparation
Training is an essential part of the prep for any overseas/cross-cultural trip. This training should include interactive modules and sessions relevant to the trip goals. It should include cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, as well as spiritual preparation for the experience to come. Without training and preparation by veteran pastors and workers, it is extremely challenging to produce an effective experience. In general, this training is done over several months. It is best done in a team scenario, focusing on the practicalities of the short-term missions experience, as well as the holistic personal preparation participants need to bring their healthiest self to the trip. Some teams even extend that training to the first few days on the ground and include the local workers after the team arrives. Without training and adequate preparation, the team risks both an ineffective experience and offending the hosts. Training is essential.
Short Term Mission Trips Can Be a Great Experience For Your Members
Overall, when done properly, short-term missions can be a huge catalyst for the growth and development of the team members and those whom they serve while overseas. Ultimately, it is to the glory of God that teams should seek excellence and effectiveness. The fulfillment of the Great Commission depends on it.
As ministry leaders, it is our responsibility to find ways for our congregants to serve the Body of Christ. Short-term missions is an easy way to help your members experience the mission field and help in God’s work. Get your members involved with short-term missions!
TOP Ten MIssion Trip Best Practices
This year’s summer mission trip can be your best one yet. This free guide will help you and your team make the most of the trip so you can be a blessing to others as you serve God across town or worldwide.
- Find the right participants for your next mission trip.
- Pack to make sure you have what you need.
- Raise funds consistent with your principles and ensure anyone can participate.
- Debrief in a manner that helps people grow from the experience.
Donna is ACS Technologies’ Chief Customer Officer. Her focus is on strategic planning and operations of the customer experience organization. This includes Implementation, Ministry Success, Learning, Training, and Customer Service. Donna’s focus and passion have always been for our ministry partners as she has worked in the service part of the organization her entire career. Donna graduated from Lander College with a BS Degree in Computer Science and joined the company in 1985 as a Customer Support Representative.