Six Ways for Your Church to Do Short-term Missions Well

Our guest post today is from Will, a cross-cultural worker who trains leaders in another part of the world. He writes from his experience, so I encourage you to hear him.

I still remember my first trip overseas. During that short, ten-day trip to Asia, I stood in a Confucian temple and was stunned as people bowed to idols in search of blessing and direction for their lives. Never before had I been confronted with lostness in such a visible way. Knowing these idols were worthless in comparison with the one true and living God, I left the temple and wept for the spiritual darkness in that place.

Short-term missions are a great way to get church members exposed to the spiritual needs in other parts of the world. Many times, these trips also motivate church members to be more active in sharing their faith once they return. As you think about how your church might utilize short-term missions, here are six ways to strengthen your approach:

1. Think strategically. Ideally, all short-term trips should work in conjunction with the overall strategy of a long-term missionary on the ground. In planning your trip, ask the missionary, “How can we help advance your work?” and “Are there skills our members have that could be used in your location?” If you think strategically, your trip can be a catalyst that enables the missionary to engage a new neighborhood, a new village, or possibly even start a new church.

2. Partner with the same people. Since the lasting value of short-term mission trips comes from partnering with field personnel, the best question to ask when planning a trip is: “Who do I trust and how can I invest in their work?” Similarly, partnering with the same people over a long period increases the strategic value of future trips – you have a relationship with the missionary, you are familiar with his strategy, and you know about the target culture.

3. Start in your neighborhood. Before you get on a plane and fly halfway around the world, do some research on your own neighborhood. There may be some unreached people groups – or at least some people who have a different cultural background than you – in your own neighborhood. Get to know them. Share the gospel with them.

4. Train your members. The best short-term teams arrive on the field already prepared and equipped. The most well-equipped person is the one who has a vibrant walk with the Lord, but churches should also equip their people to prayerwalk, tell their testimony, and share the gospel. Although sometimes overlooked, cultural training is a necessity. The team needs to think through issues like the worldview of the target people and barriers to the gospel they might face.

5. Listen to the field personnel.  Great short-term teams recognize that the goal of their trip is to assist the long-term missionary. To that end, they listen to and learn from the missionary in issues related to culture and strategy. They go as learners. 

6. Commit for the long-term. Few things encourage a missionary more than hearing a church say, “We care about your people/city as much as you do, and like you, we want to do whatever we can to reach them.” Whether your church can send one team a year or ten teams, partner with the long-term missionaries and commit to support them for as long as they are there.

How about you? What sorts of training or ideas have made your teams more effective?

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