Short Term Mission Trips: Worth The Cost?

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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

  1. What is the purpose, function, and goal of this trip?
  2. Can this effort be supported in addition to our ongoing missionary efforts?
  3. Is this trip being planned in coordination with a local missionary?
  4. 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:

  1. Globally focused prayer
  2. Giving – [participants increased giving]
  3. Vocation Missionaries [participants more likely to become missionaries]
  4. Revival
  5. Discipleship
  6. Changed Life and Changed Attitudes
  7. Friendship
  8. Encouragement and Help
  9. 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:

  1. Short-termers develop distorted, limited views of missions
  2. Short-termers neglect follow-up
  3. Short-termers are insensitive to the culture and actually can do harm
  4. Short-termers distract career missionaries
  5. Their motivations for coming are often wrong
  6. Short-term missions is a way to avoid long-term commitment
  7. Bad short-term experiences can do more harm than good
  8. 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?


  1. says

    Sounds like your conclusions are similar to my own after my short-term mission trip to Haiti. They can be useful and do some good, but they probably do the most good for the people going on the trip and then only with the right motives. Sure, you can be “changed” even if you went for the wrong reasons. But those who aren’t going for a “vacation” will likely gain the most from the experience. Great article, Craig!
    .-= Paul Williams´s last blog ..Investing Basics: What Is a Security? =-.

  2. says

    I agree: short term mission trips can be worth the cost, but for the wrong reasons. We like to think the right reason is to serve and impact the recipients, but of course those serving are the ones who are impacted the most. But once we understand this dynamic, it can be a positive motivation for short term mission trips. We once had a youth director who understood this and planned a short term mission trip hoping that it would revitalize a “dead” youth group. Of course the stated purpose was to build a home for a needy family, but the kids came back greatly impacted. Years later, some are still going on mission trips as adults and at least one has become a full time missionary.

    This being said, our church has maintained a long term relationship with a full time missionary, so our trips over the years have made some long term impact. But, like you say, the greatest impact is still on those who go. They come back refreshed and motivated to do more serving in our home town.

    Thanks for the insightful post Craig. I always value your thoughts and perspective.
    .-= Joe Plemon´s last blog ..Reverse Mortgages Part Two: What Are The Advantages? =-.

    • says

      @Joe – I guess short term missions is worth the cost for unexpected reasons, eh? Like you mention, it is important to remember that so much good can be done. This is especially true with a good strategy and clear goal.

  3. Arthur @ says

    What is the average cost of a typical trip? Never been on one so I am just wondering. I guess it depends on where you’re going and how long you will be there

  4. Maria Del Valle says

    Short term mission trips are very valuable, to the person going and to the community where you will serve. I have been going and/or leading them for over 15 years and the experience is awesome. The person going regardless of spiritual level will come back changed. We do medical clinics, construction and community work. If interested in more info pls contact me via email.

  5. Eddie Holloway says

    Waste of money.The churchs money.

    The sort term missionaries are seeking travel without having to pay for it.

    Have you ever met one who is prepared to finance the adventure.Mention WORK and they run for cover.

    The biggest culprits are weak minded Christians who provide finance.

    • says

      Well, I for one went on a short-term trip and paid for it completely on my own. And I worked my butt off while I was there.

      I agree those can be some problems, but don’t paint it with such a broad brush, Eddie. There are benefits as well.

      • Eddie Holloway says

        Not enough benefits Paul.Not enough.
        Many churches in South Africa let the poor members of their own congregation starve but sponsor adventurers.

        • says

          Never, he travels Mon-Thurs and I have to work. There have been times that I fly out on Friday and meet him where he is and we have a weenekd away. Mostly when he is at the beach! Work will pay for the hotel since he isn’t flying home.

    • says

      That may be true of some folks. But, I think that is not true of everyone.

      I certainly don’t think all people who go on mission trips are lazy and do it to avoid work.

      • says

        Not knowing anthying about what you’re interested in, I can only make suggestions.Do you like to explore bookshops? In that case, La-Charite-Sur-Loire might be a good place to go. If you’re interested in medieval history, it is also a stop on one of the French routes of the Way of Saint James (Chemin de Saint-Jacques, Camino de Santiago). There are train connections from Paris

    • says

      Like Paul, I have always paid for my own trips and worked like crazy when on those trips. You raise a good point that churches should be thinking about, but I haven’t seen laziness or those “seeking travel without having to pay for it” in my experience.

      • Eddie Holloway says

        O.K.Joe.naturally you I believe you.Really I do Joe.

        Something unusual. let me prevace my comments by putting on record that I am not qualified to debate with any christian.e.g iIhave not qualfied at a biblical college.

        Raise the bar. very very very important.( in my opinion )

        Let us never ever squable,because together we could raise a sensitive subject to a new level.A level which we all strive to glorify our LORD.

        My weakness.And I mean weakness.I speak too directly for some pastors to accept.I support my church.If I did not like them i would keep my trap shut and seek another place of worship.

        Look I need all the help I can get.You are right of course.We do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
        My beat wishes to you joe.

  6. Eddie Holloway says

    Craig I concede you have a point.
    Yes Paul is right I am painting with a broad brush.
    Howver i would like to make more comments if you invite to.
    Relevant to any future discusion,allow me ask you following question.

    What is the opposite of love?

  7. Ted Calvert says

    Trips initiated by the receiving Missionary have a higher success rate. I recently helped a missionary (Business as Mission) prepare a substantial business (and ministry) plan. As part of that I strongly recommended a number of targeted short term mission trips they needed to invite to fill skills they did not have. The volunteers were needed for 2 to 4 weeks. It takes some effort to match need and skill but it is so helpful to have e.g. the IT help, the video help, the electrical help, the administrator to sort your files….

    • says

      I just wanted to drop you all a note and thank you for the awomsee service we received there last night, 1/11/13. We were the party of 15 that called ahead. We expected a wait and while we did, we were reassured by the wait staff that they were working on getting us seated. I was impressed by the courteousness The staff showed our families. Once we were seated , the service was excellent and the food was great as well. I am not a person who ever writes letters about great service.. The staff went above and beyond for customer service. It is nice to know that there are still eatablishements around that really put the customer first . We will definitely rwtuen and recommend the Bungalow Alehouse to all the hockey families in Hampton roads Sincerely,Dr. Catherine Brisland

  8. says

    Craig, this is a great post and you bring up a great point. Who gets more out of short term mission trips? Do the locals benefit most, or the volunteers?

    Even if just the volunteer is impacted, it is still better to get involved vs. not. For those that are considering a mission trip but don’t have the funds, you should look at crowdfunding as a potential solution.

    Crowdfunding allows you to ask you family, friends, and even complete strangers for small donations to support your need. For example, if 25 of your family and friends donated $40 each, that is $1000 to cover your mission trip expenses.

    For free step-by-step information to setup your crowdfunding request, check out

  9. Julie says

    It would be helpful if you dated this article, discussion.

    One thing I’ve not seen is a detailed article that talks about these trips from the perspective of those served in the destination nation. Do they *want* all these church groups down there “helping” them or do some see us as meddlers? Are any aspects of mission trips a racket that some in destination nations or here at home perpetuate simply to make money under a veneer of “Christian service”? Do some people in destination nations resent Americans & others who swoop in with a paternalistic “Let us help you poor, inferior creatures” mantle? I hope I’m wrong, but I wonder about these things.

    Most of all, I’ve noticed that most Americans’ mission trips (at least from here in the upper Midwest) happen during winter and they travel to warmer climes, never to a mission site in a more temperate zone or even here in the U.S. I fear that’s an indication of a mixed motive: “LET’S HELP THE POOR FOLKS (and have a sunny winter vacation at the same time).”

    That possibility disturbs me very much. I’ve never seen a U.S. mission group travel to semi-tropical or tropical missions in the middle of our summer, when it’s beastly hot down there.

    These are hard questions that anyone contemplating a “cool mission trip” need to seriously consider.

  10. Julie says

    p.s. To my comment. Long ago I lived in Nigeria for 2 years & I’ve also travelled to India twice. We adopted our son from there.

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