Most churches are currently rallying the troops and recruiting for upcoming summer mission trips.
As a full time missionary, a person who went on a few short term mission trips, one who has hosted short term mission trips, and one who just released a book on short term missions (Short Term Missions Handbook), I want to address an important question associated with short term mission trips – cost effectiveness.
Churches are becoming more involved in supporting and organizing short term mission trips. Affluence and ease of travel has opened the door for so many frequent trips overseas and back.
Questions Every Church Must Answer Before Organizing A Short Term Mission Trip
- What is the purpose, function, and goal of this trip?
- Can this effort be supported in addition to our ongoing missionary efforts?
- Is this trip being planned in coordination with a local missionary?
- Participant requirements: What criteria should be used to select the team?
Response #1 – If the church does not have a clear focus of the purpose of the mission trip, then it will be hard to be effective. Also, is the goal of the trip practical for a trip that lasts only several days? For example, if your goal is to develop fully mature Christians in a 9 day trip, that goal is likely unattainable. If, on the other hand, your goal is to encourage Christians and make new contacts for the missionaries, you goal is achievable.
Response #2 – Hey, I’m biased here, but I think the first priority with mission funds should be a missionary who is on the field full time. Jesus was an incarnational missionary, so that is a better model. If you must choose between funding long term missionaries and short term missionaries, I think the short term mission efforts would not be worth the cost.
Response #3 – Planning a short term mission trip to an area without a local missionary is very, very hard to sustain. You might do some good in your short time, but there is not a good chance that the good will last in the long term. New Christians need constant nurturing and mentoring.
Response #4 – If the wrong people go on the trip, the possibility of problems increases. As the possibly of problems increases, so does the likelihood that that trip will be a waste. I was on the field once when a boy (accompanied by his father) was sent home due to inappropriate behavior. There was the initial cost of the trip plus several hundred dollars to reschedule the flights. Have clear requirements with a high standard.
Is Short Term Missions A Good Use Of Church Money?
This is the million dollar question. In fact, it might be a several million dollar question.
9 Benefits of Short term Missions
Scott Kirby (in Equipped For Adventure) gives the following nine benefits of short term missions:
- Globally focused prayer
- Giving – [participants increased giving]
- Vocation Missionaries [participants more likely to become missionaries]
- Changed Life and Changed Attitudes
- Encouragement and Help
- Because Jesus told us to
An Interesting Insider Observation:
I’m just going to throw this out without much discussion.
It is most often the missionaries who ask the question – is it worth it? The sending churches and individuals often say ‘yes’, and ones I’ve most often heard say ‘no’ are the missionaries. Interesting.
Hmmm. I wonder why?
Short Term Mission Participants Give More
In Equipped For Adventure, Scott Kirby writes:
“Short-term participants on the average doubled their missions giving as a result of their short-term experience. James Cecil’s doctoral study found that 70 percent of the short-term volunteers surveyed increased their mission giving as a result of the volunteer experience.”
I would say that observation is very true based on my experiences.
So, why would anyone oppose short term missions?
Again, Kirby offers the following reasons:
- Short-termers develop distorted, limited views of missions
- Short-termers neglect follow-up
- Short-termers are insensitive to the culture and actually can do harm
- Short-termers distract career missionaries
- Their motivations for coming are often wrong
- Short-term missions is a way to avoid long-term commitment
- Bad short-term experiences can do more harm than good
- Short-term missions is not cost-effective
Are Short Term Mission Trips Worth It? My Take
Probably, yes, but for all the wrong reasons. I believe the greatest impact on most of the short mission trips I’ve seen has been on the short term missionary, not the receiving church. In other words, expect that you will be more impacted than those in the foreign land. People are usually changed by one of two factors. Either you’ll see poverty like you never imagined and/or you’ll see a different form of Christian joy. Most short term missionaries return transformed.
Notice, I’m not saying that there will not be any good done in the country you are visiting, but the greatest impact will be on you. If a missionary experience makes you more sensitive to the need for the gospel around the world, then the trip, in my opinion, is a success and ultimately was worth it.
At the end of the day, we must realize that God’s economics is different than our own. In Mark 14 a woman poured an excessive amount of oil on Jesus. Those around Jesus called her action “a waste”. However, Jesus said if it was done to honor him, it was not a waste. At the end if the day, it is really hard to know if something is of value or a waste to the kingdom of God.
If you are planning a short term mission trip or know someone who is, please check out the Short Term Missions Handbook. In addition, we are offering the book free to any church leaders who subscribe to the church leader mailing list by March 12th, 2010.
What are your thoughts on the topic? Are short term missions worth the cost?