Short-Term Mission trips can be life-changing. I will readily point to my first mission trip experience as the life event that moved me toward ministry, serving as a watershed moment.
Over the years, short-term missions have grown enormously in popularity and participation. Fortunately, they’ve also grown in the amount of research available to encourage healthy practices. Of course, this depends on the willingness of trip leaders to do their homework.
There are now great resources available to help us:
- Plan the logistics of a trip
- Serve in ways that are culturally informed
- Maximize the long-term impact on the locations we visit
- Maximize the spiritual growth of trip participants
But there is another key group connected to mission trips that is often neglected. That is the sending congregation.
Making an Impact at the Sending Church
In the Research Spotlight section of Kingdom Upgrowth, I have shared an extensive account of my original research on how short-term missions can help sending congregations become more missional at home. I want to highlight the importance of considering the sending congregation who is connected to a short-term mission trip.
What I learned is that it is entirely possible for a mission trip to make no impact on the sending congregation whatsoever. In fact, if you have a group who goes on a mission trip, but your church simply gives the money, doesn’t make a big deal about the group who goes or the location where they visit, and doesn’t allow a follow up report, then the only people who will derive any benefit from the trip will be those who are present on it for the first hand experiences.
The Key to Making an Impact
The real key to making an impact at home is to connect the local church to the mission trip in as many ways as possible. The more the trip feels like “our” trip, the more it has the potential to make a difference.
Some of the specific ways I’ve learned that mission trips can help sending congregations are:
- They can help spark people’s missional imaginations. People begin looking at their own context through fresh eyes, thinking about how if they were open to God’s movements, God might do new things at home, just like he’s done on the trip.
- There develops a sense of congregational closeness. When everyone pulls together to help with something important, people get along better and remember what matters most.
- They gain an increased capacity to reach out to people “other” than themselves. Mission trips are great places to practice being the kind of Christians we ought to be all the time. Learning to love and welcome outsiders to the kingdom is a crucial trait for healthy churches.
This is not to mention how mission trips are consistently ranked among the top two most significant events that impact young people in a way that helps them to grow spiritually. See my interview with Dr. Anessa Westbrook who shares some great insights into this.
What’s important to note is that all of these things are as true of the people who help to send others on a mission trip as they are of the ones who actually go on a trip.
Here are some of the places where you can connect your mission trip to your sending congregation.
Preparing for the Mission Trip
Look for as many ways as possible to involve people in preparing for the trip.
- Let them help you create items that you need to bring. Work a service project into your children’s classes so they are making something that you’ll use with children overseas. Have them write little notes or draw pictures for the children you’ll meet, and allow children on your trip to make notes and pictures to bring back.
- Have large fundraising events with a strong intergenerational fun component so everyone can be connecting while they help you get ready for your trip.
- Tie in projects you’re doing at home to the projects you’re doing overseas. Have VBS skits or classes? See if you can use them both places. Have a congregational specialty or ministry that you’re especially proud of? See if you can do something similar on your trip, and involve the local talent in helping you prep.
On the Mission Trip
As you’re preparing to leave for the trip, do everything you can to create a sense of community that persists while you are gone.
- Create a prayer calendar that details what it is you plan to do on each day of the trip. Include every trip member’s name on the days of the calendar, and invite your members to pray every day for both the work and the people involved.
- Create regular posts on a blog or social media page where you share pictures and updates of what’s been going on and how you’ve seen God working. Send regular reports to the congregation back home of what’s happening.
When You Return From Your Trip
The trip doesn’t end when you get back. This is when you want to make sure you drive home all that you’ve learned and experienced and what it has taught you about God and about yourselves.
- Have a team meeting that allows you to debrief and share what you have felt are some of the more profound experiences with each other. Use this to help you prep for a larger presentation.
- Send letters individually to everyone who donated to help you make the trip. Include in this a good picture or two of your entire group as well as your group at work. Tell people how God worked through the experience, and let them know how they personally helped bring about the work and life changes.
- Do some sort of a congregational report about the trip. Have interviews with trip participants. Tell stories of locals you met. Share victories and doors that God opened.
- Remind everyone that when we open ourselves up to the movements of God and the Spirit of Christ, God shows up and does exponentially more through us than we could have done on our own.