Recently, I have read several articles on the negative impact of short-term mission trips. Some of the points referenced were as follows:

  • Trip participants don’t understand the local culture.
  • Short-Term Missions trips cost a lot of money.
  • Participants get a warped view of “missions”.
  • The short-term experience does not build long-term relationships within the community.
  • Trips are a lot of work for those that receive them and take field workers away from what they are trying to do in their local context.

Although I agree with many of these points, I don’t believe canceling short-term missions trips is the right course of action. As the world continues down the road of globalization we need to start redefining what short-term “mission” trips look like. Here are a few suggestions to start that process.

Let the Local Church Guide You

The typical missions trip participant will be able to apply, signup, raise support, and go on a trip without even consulting their local church leadership. Instead, I would encourage EVERY participant to let your local church guide you through the process of choosing a short-term missions trip. They may already have relationships established in countries and ministries that they are focusing on. If they are financially supporting you then they should be involved providing you guidance on which short-term experience you should participate in.

Short-term trips with a Long-Term Mindset

When investing in a retirement portfolio it is always recommended by a financial advisor to think long-term rather than short-sighted gain.We should take the same train of thought when dealing with short-term missions trips. If your trip is a work project only, make sure to include some educational components that include: language or culture. Have a local field worker share their challenges of living cross-culturally. Anything to help participants realize that short-term is not the end game.

Debrief is Paramount

We are great about the planning and the execution of the short-term trip, but as people come home we often fail in their debrief. God may have gotten their attention and moved in their hearts that He wants them to serve in a greater way, but either the church or sending agency did not have clear next steps for those that may be considering long-term endeavors. If you are a church leader, then develop a process to help people cultivate the vision that God may have laid on their hearts towards long-term service.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Encourage them to take a Perspectives Class
  • Join a Missions Prayer Team
  • Start a Missions Emphasis Group for Young Adults
  • Become an advocate for a missionary
  • Find a way to start training. (e.g. Access Truth, Radius International)

Let the Unreached Places be the Focus

There is so much need in the world, but if God has called us to reach all people groups, then we should look for opportunities that focus on those unreached people groups of the world. According to Joshua Project statistics, Haiti is 94.8% professing Christian. There are 6 people groups and none of them are unreached. Myanmar, on the other hand, has 48 people groups still unreached and only 8.8% professing Christians in the entire country. Look for opportunities to expose yourself to not just the physically neediest places of the world, but spiritually neediest.