Spring is here, the time when many churches are preparing for short-term missions trips. A staggering 2 million or more Americans go on these trips each year.
As a field worker for the last 20 years, I believe there are two key elements for such a trip to be successful. First, your team needs to meet regularly. Second, you should seek to serve the partner missionaries’ strategic needs.
With those priorities in mind, here are some basic tips for before, during, and after the trip.
Before You Go
The first question to ask is this: Where does your trip originate? Was it your idea, your church’s, or your partner missionaries’? There are many decisions to make: when you’ll go, what you’ll do, and how many people will participate. But this preliminary question will make all the difference.
It’s best not to do anything until you talk with your partner missionaries. Ask them how a trip could help their strategy. Be aware that missionaries often think they’re expected to provide satisfactory trip opportunities for churches or else they’ll lose the partnership. You need to assure them this isn’t the case. Instead, take their lead.
Hopefully the missionaries know their needs and how your team can strategically help. Align your expectations to those needs. For example, ask the missionaries how many people should come. Most likely they’ll prefer a smaller team, which is often more manageable and effective.
Think about how you can prepare your team to fulfill the missionaries’ strategy. How can they be spiritually ready? Can you provide opportunities to pray together about the trip? Should you provide theological, evangelistic, or skills training? How much of the language and culture can you teach them about before they go? Can you provide some cross-cultural experiences before they leave home? Most churches that do short-term trips well provide at least four pretrip meetings to equip the team.
Most churches that do short term trips well provide at least four pretrip meetings to equip the team.
While You’re There
While you’re on the field, keep your team meetings going. I love seeing teams who debrief daily so they know what is and isn’t going well. More importantly, this is a tremendous discipleship opportunity. Involve the missionaries in these times to teach cross-cultural skills. Your team will learn skills they can apply in their lives back home.
Again, be sure to follow the missionaries’ lead throughout the trip. They know the place and the people. They know potentially dangerous situations and what to do in a crisis. Listening to them and doing what they say is usually the best way forward during the trip.
To reciprocate for all the missionaries do for you, the team should go ready to serve. Missionaries often labor in difficult circumstances year-round. Are there ways you could help them during your stay? Consider offering to watch their kids one night so they can go on a date. Perhaps take their whole family to a fun place—and pay for it. The best teams that came while my family was overseas loved our children well, and our kids loved them in return. Plus, it gave our children the opportunity to be cultural guides and translators. It’s a win-win.
After You Return
Once you’re home—you guessed it—keep meeting. Continue to debrief. This can be done individually or as a group. Either way, talk about what they’ve learned and how they can apply it. God may be leading some of them to consider long-term missions.
The best teams that came while my family was overseas loved our children well, and our kids loved them in return.
Celebrate the trip with your church, whether by creating a short video, having the team visit small groups, or inviting them to share their experience at an event. This will do wonders in creating missions awareness in your church.
Find a way for trip participants to continue serving in your church or community at a deeper level. Don’t let the only next step be taking them on another short-term trip. Instead, help team members connect the dots of how to apply their missions experience to where they live.
Perhaps I can best sum this up with a few packing tips. Work hard to see that your team packs things like humility, listening skills, a learning mindset, a servant attitude, and plenty of flexibility. Take care that they don’t pack pride, rigidity, or the need to be right, comfortable, and in control.
They may bring back some great “souvenirs,” like a more mature worldview, a practical understanding of how to live on mission here at home, and a heart for all nations. That’s a week well spent.