While the importance of the Great Commission to the evangelical church is inarguable, there are many methods and missions techniques that cause schisms among theologians and pew sitters alike. One of the most controversial topics in modern missions in the value of short-term mission trips. Some churches and pastors refuse to participate in short-term missions while others consider short-term missions a vital part of their corporate fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Advocates of modern short-term missions site numerous values to both the sending churches and the receiving ministries that participate in short-term trips. One of the most hotly contested topics surrounding short-term mission trips is, do participants in short-term mission trips result in experienced missionaries who are more inclined to participate in long-term missions?
David Platt once preached to his church, “We want to be a part of what God is doing in His church, not just here, but around the world, and we want to lock hands with our brothers and sisters around the world, and together, through short-term missions impact the world.”
Long Term Results
There have not been sufficient large scale studies done on determining if short-term mission trips result in more long-term missionaries. Much of the data results from small scale reviews and experienced observations.
Michael Anthony wrote, “Statistics vary, but many short-term missionaries become career missionaries. ‘Testing the waters’ is a common objective, particularly for college-age students who do short-term missions assignments. They often use the assignment to overcome cross-cultural apprehensions and to try out the missions career field without the pressure of a long-term commitment.”
One informal study completed within Mission To the Word (MTW), the mission sending agency of the Presbyterian Church in America, found that between 2010 and 2016 eighty-four percent of new long term missionaries indicated they had previously served on a one to two week mission trip prior to signing up for long-term missions service. In addition, 48% of those new missionaries stipulated they were now returning to serve long-term in the same country they had previously served on a short-term trip.
Latin American Missions reported in 2000 that, “almost 99% of our applicants today have had some sort of cross-cultural experience.” The National Association of Evangelicals said, “Some studies have shown that short-term mission trips increase participants’ financial giving and prayer for missions, as well as the likelihood that they will become career missionaries.” The Iversons, MTW missionaries to Japan wrote, “Because of God’s blessing through short-termers returning as career missionaries, our MTW Japan Mission is growing rapidly while most Japan mission groups are shrinking.” Christian Medical Fellowship reported, “Many people have changed careers and become full-time medical missionaries after completing a short-term stint.”
The limited missions experience of my family has seen this truth bare out. In the nearly nine years my family has been serving in full-time missions, the vast majority of the long-term missionaries we have met first got their exposure to missions on a short-term mission trip. In fact, 19 of the 20 long-term missionaries that served with us in Honduras were first exposed to missions during a short-term mission trip somewhere in the world. These days it is a common experience. More and more young adults want to experience missions by first serving alongside experienced full-time missionaries. This is a safe way to gain experience and a heart for the Great Commission.
When Jesus gathered 12 of his disciples and sent them out he was giving his 12 Apostles a missions apprenticeship that would pay long-term dividends for the kingdom well after Christ’s ascension. Dan Williams wrote, “Jesus knew that there was a time for the twelve disciples to be together in basic training (which, by the way, included short-term mission experiences for them) and a time for them to be propelled into full-blown mission.”
In referencing the city of Nineveh Philip Ryken said, “God’s plan for saving the city began with recruiting Jonah to go on a short-term missions trip.” The short-term mission work of Jonah resulted in long-term glory for God. Scripture calls the disciples of Christ to commit their lives to expanding the gospel. We should not be satisfied with the fleeting taste of a few weeks of service.
When discussing short-term missions we frequently overlook the impact on our own heart. Often we approach short-term missions like we are spending the rest of the year preparing ourselves to glorify God during the one-week mission trip we take in another country. We miss that God is using short-term missions to reform our heart and help us to more focus on global evangelism. A missional heart is not switched on one weekend per month or one week per year. A missional heart sees every interaction as an opportunity.
The more we have churches participating in short-term missions and the more we send our congregations out on short-term mission trips, the more frequently we will be sending our congregants into long-term missions. As the DNA of our churches change and we focus on the Great Commission the more we will be sending missionaries from our own churches onto the mission field for lengthy periods.
God uses short-term missions to get individual disciples and entire congregations excited about selling out for long-term missions. Be it the heart of one believer or a body of disciples, experience in short-term missions turns our heart toward glorifying the Lord in long-term missions work.