Let’s face it, churches spend a whole lot of money and time doing short-term mission trips around the globe. If we are going to invest so much, let’s do it right by being intentional from the beginning.
My husband, Tim, and I have hosted teams taking entry-level mission trips in Panama. Our goal is always to help churches not only see but experience their role in carrying out the missionary task. We’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Through the years, we’ve found when you add prayer to the following six things, your mission trip will be intentional and impactful:
1. Flexible doesn’t mean “wing it.” Send teams that are prepared.
Try to paint a picture for your team about what they signed up to do. Help them know what to pack, wear and what not to take. Make sure your team leaders spend time talking to missionaries on the field. They will have tips and hints on the best way to prep your team. Practice cultural greetings. Try food that might seem weird. Take a bucket bath. Talk about the concept of “time” as it relates to the people you will serve. This helps to get the “Ooh that’s weird” comments out of the way while still in the U.S. When you get to your country of service, it’s easier to slide right into the culture.
Short-term trips are jam packed with activities. This means it is important to have your Bible lessons already prepared and be comfortable sharing the gospel. Not only will you have an immediate impact, but you’ll have time to invest in relationships, not to mention sleep more. No long nights preparing for the next day!
2. Partner with local believers. We can help!
Yes, work with your IMB missionary but let us connect you to local believers, churches and ministries. While this may not be possible in every country, work toward partnering with nationals already doing the work. This is important for discipleship. After you go back home, what’s the plan for discipling the new followers of Christ? By partnering with local churches, not only will they take over the task of discipleship, but you become sister churches supporting each other.
3. If nationals can do it, you shouldn’t.
The last thing we want to do is create dependency. Being tied to ministries with national believers keeps dependency down. Spend your time empowering, not enabling. This means if your trip involves teaching a Vacation Bible School, it’s your job to mentor and encourage the local believer as they teach beside you. This allows them to recreate the ministry after you are gone.
This is an important principle with almost any type of ministry, whether it’s door-to-door evangelism or putting on a new roof. This approach is not only biblical but provides a legitimate reason for being in parts of town tourists don’t normally see.
4. The only solution you need is for lostness.
It’s in our nature to fix things and make it better. The Lord reminded me years ago that I didn’t have enough power or resources to fix all the problems in the world. What you can try to fix, however, is your new friend’s eternity. Each day 157,690 people die without Christ. You have the solution for a lost world — the gospel!
5. The entire church should be involved, not just the five traveling.
A short-term trip can transform the entire church. Have a plan to get everyone involved from the beginning and afterward. Ask classes to pray. Create notes of encouragement for your team to read — this can be done by kids, teens and adults. Study the country and people as a congregation. Stay connected with the team while they are ministering.
When the team returns, the trip isn’t over. Your church will be forever changed by this experience. Use this opportunity as a springboard to deepen your church’s walk with the Lord.
6. Short-term trips should lead to a long-term commitment.
Be forward thinking from the very beginning. There are more than 7,000 people groups among the least reached with the gospel in the world. It’s going to take all of us working together to reach the nations. This long-term commitment may lead to ministries not only with a people group in another country but also with them in your own community.
We want to empower short-term mission teams to make disciples and multiply churches among the least reached peoples of the world. The IMB will help prepare you to serve alongside missionaries and national believers.