Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations so that all would hear the gospel and come to know and love Him. This is a large and arduous task, yet possibly the most important one of all. The Great Commission is a task all Christians are called to be a part of, but it’s easy to wonder if short term mission trips are effective enough to accomplish this job.
Are short term mission trips effective? Done right, short-term mission trips are effective because they not only grow the individual spiritually and prepare them to one day be a missionary themselves. They also impact reached and unreached people with the gospel and love of Jesus Christ.
Now there’s nothing more disheartening when a short term mission trip fails to spread the gospel and serve people, however, just because some trips are executed poorly doesn’t mean that we should knock all short term mission trips.
There’s a right way for these mission trips to be done, so through my personal experience and through what the Bible says about missions, we can determine what makes a short term trip effective and what hinders them from accomplishing God’s goals.
How Short Term Mission Trips Can Be Effective
Like most things, mission trips whether short or long-term, cannot be seen in a black and white way. There is no perfect formula that a trip has to follow to be effective or ineffective, however, there are many ways to ensure that the trip you go on will truly make a difference.
No matter what specific ministry you’re doing, here are five effective components of mission work you can do on any short term trip:
- Listening and Obeying God First
- Spreading The Gospel
- Building Relationships
- Serving Missionaries
- Giving Participants Hands-On Experience On How To Be A Missionary
To start, let’s dig deeper into listening to God & what He says about mission trips.
1. Listening and Obeying God First
All the previous steps listed could not be possible without first listening to God’s call and obeying Him. Wherever He leads, whatever work He wants us to do, that is what we should be doing.
Apart from God, our efforts are futile, because like John 15 says, when we don’t remain with him, we can do nothing. From this understanding, it doesn’t matter if we’re on a mission short or long term, what matters is that we are obeying God and doing His work, the work of the kingdom.
God can work and move through people while on short-term trips.
Because God is infinite and can work in any amount of time, we don’t have to disqualify short term mission trips from being effective.
Of course, God calls us to manage our time well and make the most of what he’s given us. When we don’t listen to Him and obey Him by doing this, that’s when short term trips become ineffective.
2. Spreading The Gospel
The main reason for going on a short term mission trip should be to spread the good news of the gospel, which tells the story of how Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected so that we could be saved for eternity and life with God.
Any good short term trip will have a training program where they will teach you how to effectively get this message across.
If you’re seriously thinking about making an impact for even a short period of time overseas, make sure you take time practicing sharing the gospel and learn how to share it with people of different cultures.
Sharing and contextualizing the gospel take time and usually requires experience, so going on a short-term mission trip may help teach you how to do this, and to do it effectively.
Once you’ve asked the Holy Spirit for help in sharing the gospel, work on clearly communicating your testimony and how the gospel has transformed you, this is the most powerful way to do missions work.
Even if no one accepts the gospel on your trip or even if you don’t see heart transformation immediately, God still calls us to plant those seeds and build relationships.
3. Building Relationships
Building relationships is another key component to effective mission work.
While street evangelism and sharing the gospel with strangers may reach some, ultimately building relationships and letting them see you live out the gospel is the most effective way to bring people to Jesus.
Jesus was all about relationships, and a fancy word for cultivating these relationships spiritually is discipleship.
When we share the gospel and live it out, we have to have a way that those we share it with have a chance to be disciples.
Likewise, on any short term trip, we must be sure there is a way for people to learn more about the Bible and a way for them to be loved by Christians so that they won’t fall away from their faith when we leave.
The main reason many believe only long term trips work is because relationships take time. This doesn’t mean that short term servers can’t plant seeds of relationship that lead people to ministry partners in the area and local missionaries.
I remember a time when I was once on a month-long trip to Guatemala. Near the end of our trip, the Holy Spirit had led me and my team to a street vendor, where we were prompted to share the gospel with him and ask him about his family.
He proceeded to tell us of the broken state his family was in, and how he longed to see his relationships restored. He also had Bibles on his vendor’s cart and told us he wanted to read them but didn’t have anyone to explain the stories to him.
If my team leader didn’t know who to connect to this man so that he could be discipled, we would have had to walk away with no other answer to his questions other than “Jesus loves you”, we simply didn’t have the time.
Luckily, my base leader did know how to connect the man with a local missionary and a local church. The church’s name was “La Familia Restaurada” which means “The Restored Family”.
From this experience, I’ve learned that even though it’s tough building relationships over a short period of time, God can still direct our steps to the people He wants to reach and make connections that we didn’t even know were possible.
If we hadn’t been there on a short term trip, who knows if anyone would’ve approached this man and helped him start his journey toward healing and Jesus.
4. Serving Missionaries
On another short term trip of mine, I was with a team in Rome, Italy, working with refugees but also mainly supporting and serving missionaries there.
No matter where you go, missionaries are not superheroes and need breaks like the rest of us do. In between sparse sabbaticals and furloughs, it’s hard for a missionary to find the encouragement and spiritual support they need.
So, my team and I came with gifts and things the missionaries were missing from the states, and with fresh energy to help them in their ministry and surround them with strong Christian fellowship, something that was hard to come by in the spiritually cold corners of Catholicism.
By humbling us to serve these missionaries and even a couple of churches, God made serving these people more crucial than we even knew at the time.
Right after we left to go back home to the states, wouldn’t you know it, the Corona Virus broke out all over Italy. These missionaries were left to spend over three months alone in their apartments.
Of course, they could go out for groceries and call their friends, but I’m sure it was a desperate time for them, one where they were sure to be craving community.
For God to have taken us there at that time to share the gospel with Italians who would soon question their mortality and to serve those missionaries by enjoying Christian fellowship with them before they were isolated, well there’s no doubt that God knew what he was doing.
It’s only by God’s grace and Jesus’ love that short term trip was used in such a magnificent way, all for His glory.
5. Giving Participants Hands-On Experience On How To Be A Missionary
One of the most helpful and important parts about short term mission trips is that they expose those who go on them to a piece of what it’s like as a real missionary.
Oftentimes, participants of mission trips are there because one day they hope to become missionaries themselves.
Another way to know if a trip is effective is if it helps participants grow in their spiritual gifts and the talents that God has given them. Learning about ministry is always helpful, but learning how to use what you’ve got for the glory of God within that ministry and mission is even more powerful.
In this way, short-term mission trips can be highly effective not only because participants get to share the gospel, but also because they get to learn how to use their own giftings in a ministry to serve the body of Christ.
I know that the two short term missions I went on myself lead me to start a career of doing full-time missions while also learning how to help others do the same.
Because of this, you don’t have to doubt that God will move and teach you on a short mission trip, because He may very well be molding you and your gifts for full-time missions in the future.
You can find specific mission trips to attend here.
How Short Term Mission Trips Can Be Ineffective
Any trip, either short or long term, can be ineffective, and there may even be some moments on a mission trip that are beneficial and some that are hurtful.
The only way to avoid an ineffective trip is to listen and obey God like stated before but also spend time preparing for the trip through prayer.
Even though we cannot always see the effects that our prayers have, they are usually what makes a trip most effective.
So, ineffective trips are ones that have not been surrounded in prayer. Three ways that a short term trip could be ineffective are:
- When The Trip’s Purpose Is Undefined Or Doesn’t Match God’s Purposes,
- When The Leadership Does Not Exhibit Godly Characters
- When The Participants Are Not Willing To Obey God And Their Leaders.
First, let’s look at why its vital that the mission trip is defined and its purpose is clear.
1. When The Trip’s Purpose Is Undefined Or Doesn’t Match God’s Purposes
If the trip’s purpose is undefined, or even vague, there are no goals to work towards and no way of knowing if the trip will be worthwhile.
If there are no purposes that line up with God’s word and his heart, then you’ve got a trip that adds up to a whole lot of nada.
Don’t get me wrong, not everyone can know exactly what will be happening every second of every trip and how it will impact the kingdom of God.
In fact, we are called to be interruptible and flexible to the Holy Spirit, however, there should still be a healthy level of planning and purpose.
The organization or leaders you’re going with must have some strategy, and if that strategy does not hinge on following the Holy Spirit’s lead as well as loving people like Jesus would, then the trip becomes about us.
When we participate in a trip that solely exists for our own purposes, whether that’s sightseeing, doing the bare minimum, or glorifying ourselves through various tactics, then that is when a short term trip becomes ineffective and even harmful.
2. When Leadership Does Not Exhibit Godly Qualities
This is where leadership becomes too important to skim over. If you’re going on a short term mission trip with an organization you haven’t gone with before, I would recommend doing some research on their beliefs, purposes, and leadership skills, and experience.
If you’re going with your church or a local organization, make sure to get to know the leaders of the upcoming trips so that you can steward what God has called you to well.
3. When Trip Participants Are Not Willing To Obey God And Their Leaders
As much as the trip depends on our leadership and God’s provision and providence, the effectiveness of the trip also relies on you and me.
When we sign up for a short-term mission trip, we have to check our hearts and make sure that we’re willing to serve and obey God. We should be motivated to go out of a love for others and not for ourselves.
God also tells us to obey those in authority over us, so when we know that our leaders are following God’s purposes, we should listen to them and follow through on what they give us to do.
Now, this applies to all mission trips, but when we are disrespectful, especially on a short term trip, that tells the people that we are supposed to be ministering to that our God is not respectful and ultimately not a good God. In this way, short term mission trips can be ineffective and harmful.
Short Term Mission Trips To The Reached Vs. The Unreached
Another way to calculate how your trip is effective or not is to consider if the trip is to a reached people group and area or to a mostly unreached people group.
Unreached people groups or the unreached is a term we use to refer to those who have never heard the gospel or don’t have adequate means to spread the gospel in their community without outside help.
These people are important to us as Christians not only because they need to know the love of Jesus, but also because Jesus tells us that the end will not come until every tribe, tongue, and nation has heard and responded to the gospel.
What does this have to do with short term mission trips? Well, many believe that short term trips are automatically ineffective because they rarely ever go to unreached people and areas such as the 10/40 Window, Eastern Europe, Southern Asia, and even parts of Africa.
The reason for this is that these areas are usually more dangerous and require a longer time and energy commitment.
Some would even ask that wouldn’t it be more valuable to send the money we raise for short term trips to long term missionaries already on the field in unreached people groups?
That strategy may be wise if your only goal is to further the spread of the gospel among unreached people groups, which is a noble goal. However, there are many other purposes and goals for going on a short term trip, and one of them may be that God is preparing a future missionary now, for work with the unreached later.
God never wastes anything in our lives, and his thoughts and ways are higher than our thoughts and ways. Whenever He calls us to short term mission trips, we can be sure that with his help, they will be effective whether near an unreached area or not.
But, we can’t discount going to the unreached for short term trips entirely.
One opportunity for reaching the unreached includes spreading the gospel in cities in the US like Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, and others. These major US cities have large populations of people groups that have never heard of Jesus.
Another option is going on a mission trip to Europe, since large amounts of refugees, immigrants, and even travelers from people groups all over the world reside there.
You never know the impact you could have on one person, who could, in turn, have an impact on a whole community once they go back home.
Another reason a short term mission trip could be effective in Europe specifically is that Europe itself is largely unreached. According to the Joshua Project, there are 451 unreached people groups in Europe alone, that’s over 25 million people who don’t have adequate access to the gospel.
This is sobering news, and if you want to make sure your short term trip has the most impact, you may want to scope out an opportunity where you can be working with the unreached.
What the Bible Says About Short Term Mission Trips
We’ve covered why it’s important to listen and obey God, but like in the story of Jonah, following God’s call, no matter how short or uncomfortable, is always our best option.
In the book of Jonah, God called Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and call the people to repentance. What should’ve been a straightforward three-day trip became a disobedient ordeal for Jonah.
Despite this, once Jonah finally obeyed God, the whole city of Nineveh repented. This shows us that even short term trips to the largest of cities can be effective, as long as God is leading us.
You’ll notice that in this story, Jonah is not the hero, God is. We are not called to condemn, convict, or save people, but rather to simply obey God, speak His word, and let the Holy Spirit work through us.
Another story about how God saved a whole community is found in John chapter 4. Here, we see that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Most Jews would have simply gone around it.
Here, he talked with a Samaritan woman and extended grace, truth, and forgiveness to her. She then went back to her town and told everyone about Jesus. From there, they all listened to his teaching and believed in him.
Jesus stayed just three days in this town, and from that short trip, it says that the whole community believed and was saved. They then went on to glorify the Father, all because Jesus went out of his way for a Samaritan woman, and it only took him a few days.
How To Know If A Short Term Mission Trip Is Right For You
Overall, effective short term mission trips can be hard to find at times, but worth going on. So, when you’re prayerfully considering where to go and which short term trip is right for you, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this trip have clear goals and purposes that I know God is calling me and my team to?
- Do the leaders of this trip exhibit godly character?
- Is this trip to a reached or unreached people group? How will that affect my decision?
- Are there ways for me to serve, love, and share the gospel with others?
Another thing to recognize about short-term mission trips is that they will be especially helpful to you if you are wanting to pursue a career as a missionary. A trip like this could give you a real taste for what missions is all about, and what part you can play in all of it.
Ultimately, remember that any short term trip you take should exist to glorify God by loving people the way Jesus would. Our hearts should want people to know who Jesus is and worship him, so if you’re passionate about this, chances are a short term mission trip is for you.
Short Term Mission Trips Make A Difference
There’s no doubt that during short-term mission trips you can expect God to show up and teach you how to love others, serve him, and make a difference wherever you go.
Because God first loved us, we can love others, and when you do this through an effective mission trip, Jesus can transform lives through us.
There’s nothing more crucial than doing the most important work on earth, and that is sharing the gospel with every tongue, tribe, and nation.
So if God has called you to do this effectively on a short-term mission trip, know that he will provide for you, lead you, and be with you no matter what, even to the ends of the world.