In recent years, the ability to travel long distances in a (relatively) short amount of time has opened up a new world of opportunity for local churches to participate in cross-cultural missions. More churches are sending teams on short-term mission trips today than ever before.
Yet some mission strategists question the effectiveness of these mission teams. Do short-term mission teams leave behind a legacy that lasts?
Are short-term mission trips worth the trouble?
Should our churches and ministries devote time and money to short-term trips?
Or should we concentrate our efforts on full-time missionaries and indigenous pastors?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of short-term missions.
A team of ten missionaries heading overseas might pay between $2000-3000 per person. That adds up to $20,000 or $30,000 for a church to send a team of ten to another country.
2. Drain on Long-Term Missionaries
The logistics of organizing teams that come from the United States can be very difficult. (Trust me, I’ve done it several times!) The stress is enormous. Hosting a short-term team can drain energy from those who need to stay focused on their long-term tasks.
3. Lack of Efficiency
Consider what a team of 10 costs to do work in another country. Roughly $30,000. Now consider what $30,000 could be done if given directly to the missionaries and indigenous pastors already involved in mission work. No wonder people question the efficiency of short-term mission teams! After all, it’s not just money… it’s also ministry. Native pastors and full-time missionaries can do ministry better and more effectively than those who parachute into a country for a week or two.
1. Money Well Spent
Ask most full-time missionaries how God gave them a heart for missions and they will usually point back to a short-term mission trip. I took five short-term mission trips to Romania before buying my one-way ticket there in 2000.
So yes, the expense of a short-term mission trip may be large. But what would be the cost of never sending out short-term teams? We might save money in the short term, but would probably have less missionaries in the long term.
2. Encouragement and Accountability for Full-Time Missionaries
Yes, preparing for a mission team can be a drain on full-time missionaries. But most full-time missionaries will also say that hosting teams from their own country can give them a needed boost of energy. Interaction with a good mission team can give full-time missionaries a fresh passion and renewed zeal for ministry.
Short-term teams should seek out ways to encourage the full-time missionaries that they work with. Often, short-term teams minister as much (if not more) to the missionary as to the people! Short-termers can also keep missionaries accountable, encouraging them and challenging them in their mission efforts.
3. A Quest for Efficiency
It is true that short-term mission teams might seem inefficient and ineffective. But why do they have to be so? Why not simply recognize the inefficiency and then seek to rectify it in the future? Smaller churches should concentrate on one area of the world. After a learning period of three or four years, short-term missionaries can be incredibly effective. They know the needs, know the people, and have begun to understand the culture. I have witnessed short-term teams that do great work.
4. A Passion for World Missions in the Church
I have yet to find a church passionate about supporting world missions that never sends out short term mission teams. When church members come back from the mission field, they are encouraged to contribute to missions. This passion spreads to their church, leading to increased giving to missions and missionaries.
Overall, the positive aspects of short-term mission trips outweigh the negative aspects. Yes, we should seek to make our mission trips more effective and efficient. And no, short-termers are never as effective as full-time missionaries. But short-term missions can lead to a more comprehensive vision of the kingdom of God and world missions. And we should utilize every means possible to cultivate a holy fire for mission work.
[[On December 1, I was featured on a California radio show (Rich Buhler, Talk from the Heart - KBRT, Los Angeles), discussing this blog post. To download and listen to the interview, right-click here, choose "Save Target As..." and save to your desktop. The interview is about 24 minutes long.]]