Are Short-Term Mission Trips on the Out?

May 26, 2009

Are short-term mission trips on the out? I don’t know, but I’ve heard some buzz lately implying they’re at least on trial.

One group defends short-term mission trips as a vehicle for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). It provides opportunity for the average person to connect with a bigger world-view, to experience the reality of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. The most passionate advocate for a missionary or ministry is someone who has seen it first hand. It’s takes a certain amount of personal involvement in order to cast an effective vision for those you lead.

Another group believes a short-term mission trip is nothing but glorified poverty window-shopping, enough experience to ease the conscious of the comfortable without requiring those who sign-up to make any kind of true difference or honest self-sacrifice. What kind of impact can be made in one or two weeks? Often an international short-term mission trip costs hundreds to thousands of dollars, per person. Would that money be better spent by sending it directly to the missionary or cause?

I find the arguments of both perspectives interesting, each with some valid points. Still, I can’t escape this reality in my own life:

A 3-week mission trip to Dominican Republic when I was 16 changed my life.

It’s the reason went to a Christian college as a freshman,

The reason I left Christian college to get my bachelor’s degree in Nursing,

The reason I support the local Denver Rescue Mission,

The reason I went to Africa last summer,

And the reason I leave for Haiti a week from Friday.

It’s also the reason that we’re considering full-time mission work at some point in the future.

My entire life has been impacted because an organization called Christ In Youth decided offering short-term mission experiences to teenagers was a good idea.

What do you think?


  1. Diane Shaw

    My first short term missions trip was to Romania in 2002. Our group visited four orphanages. Each child received a bag of gifts, a banana and a Coke. It seemed so little in the face of such need and I felt it was of no earthly good until God spoke to my heart and said, if you give a cup of cold water in my name. He knew I needed to know that there was good in what we were doing.
    We held a Women’s Conference at a church there, this had never been done before at this church. I was one of the speakers and the group of 200 plus women I spoke with about marriage were hungry for what God had to say to them. Speaking through an interrupter was an interesting experience. Those women (over 400 came) started the day with dark faces and dark eyes, eyes that saw no hope and at the end of the conference there was laughter, smiles and hugs, the univeral language.
    We left Romania and went into Hungary and visited with a missionary couple that our church supports. The contrast between Romania and Hungary was startling. The country of Romania is dark and the people’s faces show the years of persecution. Hungary was a happy country, even their clothes were colorful.
    Are short term missions trips worth while? I say yes, both for those who are receiving the ministry and those who are giving.
    I have since been on two trips to Nigeria. I don’t know when, or where, the next trip will be but I know there will be more.

  2. Michele

    Oh, Diane … I’m so glad you shared your story! I love this! As much as I understand some of the reservations about short-term mission trips, it’s stories like these that keep me passionate about the possibilities. Thanks for giving us a peek at your life and heart.

  3. Ashleigh

    I love what Diane said “yes, both for those who are recieving the ministry and those who are giving.” It goes along well with the discussion we had Sunday morning leading the Jr Highers. It’s so awakening to go on short term mission trips because it sparks a passion for missions and giving. God’s love is beautiful shared any way- long or short, big or small… It’s about reaching people… Whether that means a million at a time, or one at a time. It’s all important.

  4. Michele

    “…a powerful catalyst for God’s use…” I like that. Yes, short-term mission trips can be a huge catalyst. Thanks for the perspective, Rebeca.

    And Ashleigh, you make a good point. Whether we’re reaching one or a thousand, each life matters.

  5. Jeff Goins

    Great blog! I agree with you – short term missions are very valuable in the discipleship fruit they offer. Thanks for sticking up for STMs! It seems that the growth of the participants is often overlooked…

  6. Michele

    Thanks for stopping by, Jeff. I checked out your site as well … keep writing about this topic! It’s so important!

  7. alece

    i am a firm believer in “well-done” short-term missions. it can be done in a way that truly enhances the local ministry on the field AND radically impacts the lives of those who go. i’ve been a part of both.

    and i’m a full-time missionary today because of my short-term missions experiences as a teenager.

  8. Susan

    If you want to know the effectiveness of short term mission trips, check out I & II Thessalonians in the New Testament. St. Paul was there for 3 sabbaths – less than a month. He planted a church, which is still there, and taught them major doctrine most of us don’t get for a long time. It’s consequences are eternal. Susan

  9. Neil Robbins

    The criticism against short term mission trips sounds so righteous and sanctimonious and yet it fails the test of judging the servant of another. This approach to short term mission trips seems to fall in the same camp as there is only the right kind of music, worship or diet. Who are we to judge the heart felt desire of the servant of our Lord to spend their resources in this way.

    Of course they could always take the money and give it directly to the poor. Oh, wait wasn’t that woman wasting money by spilling the perfume on the Lord’s feet? Just a second, didn’t Jesus send his disciples out for a short term mission with great results?

    King David’s wife took offense at his worship when he danced for the Lord. She was the one that wound up fruitless. Jesus said go. Nuff said.

    Just my little thoughts. Never been on a short term mission trip. Life’s the mission.


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