Short-term mission trips are a strategic way to involve church members directly in making disciples of all nations. Trips have great potential to help churches cultivate meaningful partnerships with career missionaries and expand opportunities for every member of a church to participate in the Great Commission.
In order to help your church accomplish these goals through short-term missions, here are five things to consider before you plan a trip.
1. Incorporate Short-Term Missions into a Long-Term Relationship
This consideration is listed first because the others highlighted below are facilitated and aided by this commitment. When short-term mission trips are pursued as one element of a broader, deeper, more permanent relationship with a missionary on the field, many benefits will come to the career missionary, the sending church, and those abroad whom we’re seeking to serve with the gospel.
If your church doesn’t have an ongoing, personal relationship with any career missionaries, ask other churches you trust for recommendations, or contact a representative from the IMB for suggestions. Commit to starting such a relationship. Ideally, it would be with someone who is able to spend some time at your church when they are stateside. Whatever the situation, communicate with the missionary your desire to know them and partner with them in their ministry for a long period of time.
2. Recognize the Value of Caring for Career Missionaries and Their Families
If the main effect from your short-term trip is that it helps enable a career missionary to stay on the field, it’ll be a worthwhile investment. Our church has sent small teams overseas—sometimes just a pastor and his wife—with the sole purpose of encouraging and ministering to our permanent missionaries on the field. In these particular cases, we’ve sought to minimize the number of people and activities involved in the trip so we can focus our attention on this goal. Even when you’re planning a trip with a larger team and more activities, however, don’t forget to intentionally build in the element of encouraging and caring for the missionary family.
If possible, ask the missionaries ahead of time if there are some hard-to-find gifts or resources they particularly miss from their home country and then have church members sign up to purchase and send those items along with the team. You can also ask church members to send personal notes, pictures, and updates from their own families. Set aside some time during the trip for a pastor or trusted member to take the missionaries out for coffee or a meal, and provide an opportunity to share at a more personal level how they’re doing as a family. We have even sent youth on some trips with the primary goal of spending time with the children of our missionaries.
As the relationship between a church and a missionary develops over time, these types of efforts can bring greater encouragement.
3. Ask a Missionary to Help You Plan Your Activities
Although we want to be sensitive to adding any undue burden on our missionaries, wisdom commends seeking the direction of those who are on the ground and know the culture. We need them to help us plan the most strategic and appropriate efforts for our teams. We want our short-term efforts to benefit a missionary’s long-term strategy and not hinder their work in any way.
One of the added advantages of pursuing short-term missions within a long-term relationship is that our church’s teams and members will begin to grow familiar with the culture and activities that best suit that partnership. This can increase the effectiveness of our teams, especially if our church returns to the same location multiple times.
Approaching the planning of short-term trips in this way will help guard against the prideful assumption that we come as those with the knowledge and discernment regarding how to best minister in a foreign context. Furthermore, it demonstrates that our goal isn’t simply to serve in a way that will seem most exciting or dramatic to folks at home but rather in a way that is genuinely most helpful to those we’re seeking to bless with our efforts.
4. Leverage Church Partnerships for Training and Opportunities
Some churches may feel that they’re too small, have insufficient resources, or lack the experience to pursue short-term missions effectively. This may feel particularly daunting in the context of cultivating a long-term partnership and caring well for a missionary family consistently over time. However, this highlights the great value of local churches working together at the denominational level, as well as through informal cooperation and partnerships locally.
The IMB is a great place to begin in finding resources and direction for getting connected with missionary families, planning short-term trips, and more broadly developing a culture of discipleship that’ll lead your church to think more globally about its ministry. After attending one myself, I would encourage you to consider one of the IMB’s two-day missions intensives for training in these areas. Furthermore, consider approaching other local churches in your area about how you can partner to plan a trip and support a career missionary in their efforts. Churches that meet within close proximity may have a unique potential to partner in effective ways.
5. Invite Church-Wide Involvement
Don’t assume it’s only those members who are actually traveling with the team who have a meaningful role to play. Highlight and celebrate the ways every church member can be a part of what the church is seeking to accomplish through a short-term trip. Not only does this broader participation directly honor the Lord and make our trips more effective, it’ll also serve to increase a culture of missions-minded participation across the entire congregation.
For example, when members give financially to a short-term trip from their own church, it adds an element of personal ownership that can engage their hearts for missions in a new way. When individuals are given the opportunity to pray for fellow members who are known by face and name, missions-driven prayer can become more personal and earnest.
When a team returns and reports to the congregation specific details about a missionary family, their ministry, and the people they serve, the relationship with the church as a whole is deepened. Such personal engagement can often lead to more devoted and knowledgeable prayer, more regular missions giving, and perhaps an interest in signing up for the next short-term trip.
John Kimbell (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as Pastor of Preaching & Discipleship at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has been married to Sarah since 1998, and they have six children.