Making the Most of Church Sponsored Mission Trips

Making the Most of Church Sponsored Mission Trips
by: Rebecca Barnes

Chloroquine tablets. Passport. 4,000 stickers. Shovel.
Are your church members checking off their packing lists, preparing to be part of a team this summer for a short-term mission trip? Even if your church is not the sender, recent statistics indicate that the short-term missions continue to rise in popularity with believers in North America and elsewhere. According to the 2009 Mission Maker magazine, an estimated 1.5 to 2 million people will travel on short-term mission this year. They will spend about $2 billion on the effort.
Giving to global outreach efforts also continues to gain popularity. A Christianity Today survey published this month showed that despite the economic recession, 77 percent of committed givers expect to donate the same or more money to charities in 2009 than they donated in 2008. Missions organizations stand to receive the largest share of those donated dollars, as 60 percent of survey respondents said the biggest checks they write go to Christian missions. One in three respondents gives to ministries focused on evangelism or hunger. One in four supports child sponsorships as well as emergency relief work.
Jesus, example teaches Christians to do something to help people in need, both physically and spiritually. His command to make disciples everywhere compels believers to travel. How this begins to look in North America in the, early 21st century reveals a global outreach strategy that is making an impact but also must be kept in check.
According to Charles R. Gailey and Howard Culbertson, authors of “Discovering Missions,” (Beacon Hill, 2007) recent research indicates that the world�s population of people who have never heard the Good News about Jesus has gone from 15,000-plus sociolinguistic groups a few decades ago to, an estimated 4,000 today. What that means in terms of numbers of disciples of Christ is more difficult to decipher. But what can be determined is the part that short-term and long-term missions efforts play in fulfilling the Great Commission today.

Why make the trip?
Imagine that another disaster overseas makes big news and your congregation’s members are clamoring to help in some way. Some will be content to write a check toward the cause. Others will want to travel.
“Christians want to do something,” writes Daniel Rickett, author of “Building Strategic Relationships” (Winepress, 2003). “They want to be more than donors. They want to be actors, agents of change and ministers of reconciliation.” That’s good. What’s not good is that focusing on disasters or needs very quickly creates a resource problem. Human needs are never-ending in a way that church offerings and missions budgets rarely are. In addition, the problem of dependency is endemic in charitable work. “When it comes to creating enduring life change and social transformation, Christ is a better answer. Communion with God is a better method,” Rickett writes.
Instead of focusing on short and quick trips to bring relief to people in need, Rickett advises churches to rethink their global outreach in terms of fitting into what God is already doing. This should be over a longer period of time and among a group of people a church can come to know and relate to in order to foster development.
“We must think narrative instead of event, pursue communion above expediency, and achieve development not charity,” Rickett writes.

Trips that get lost
Roger Peterson, founder and executive director of Short-Term Evangelical Missions (STEM) and co-author of “Maximum Impact for Short-Term Missions”(STEM press, 2003), cites the three failures of short-term missions as:
1. Failing to recognize, understand and connect with what God is already doing globally, without this awareness mission becomes trivialized to people serving other people in need.
2. Planning and acting independently of the seasoned, time-tested mission agencies and national/local churches, which results in getting things done that are unnecessary, superfluous, culturally inappropriate and even harmful.  3. Using short-term missions primarily as experiences to further personal discipleship. (Church Central explored the tension between the outreach experience as a way to strengthen both the giver and the receiver spiritually in a series of two articles in 2006.)
Conversely, the successes of short-term missions include: 1. An effort to join long-term missions; 2. Partnerships with local/national groups; and 3. Looking to aid in God’s global purpose first, rather than prioritizing individual growth.
In an effort to help more short-term mission leaders maximize the potential for their programs STEM and 73 other groups have adopted the, U.S. Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission (SOE). Among the seven standards are: God-centeredness, empowering partnerships, and mutual design.
These standards help lengthen the impact of a short-term mission by integrating it into a longer-term mission already in place. Of course that leads to a philosophical discussion for churches about what sort of long-term impact they are most interested in, called to and gifted for.

Unpacking a philosophy
Holistic outreach or narrow focus? Proclaim the Gospel or plant new churches? Empower nationals or pay missionaries? Unreached frontiers or responsive people?
“Hashing out a philosophy of mission is a good way to get people in an organization on the same page,” write Gailey and Culbertson. Consultant David Mays works to that end as a director of learning initiatives and church relations for The Mission Exchange. He has written checklists for preparing a church to reach out to the world and make mission decisions. One list asks church leaders to determine what primarily guides decisions related to missions. The choices include: crisis; denomination; specific, short-term, high-visibility projects with results; request-shaped; trip-shaped; and vision-shaped. Mays recommends a church global vision statement.  “You can discover God’s global vision for your church by examining the Scriptures, studying your congregation, investigating your community and learning about the world,” he writes. This is a healthy entry point not only for short-term missions work for a congregation, but to determine how your congregation will give to support long-term global outreach as well. Then when the disasters come, and they will, you’ll have more than knee-jerk sympathy to guide you. Ideally, your church will have relationships with other church leaders around the world from which to draw, and a focus narrow enough to make a difference and broad enough to change lives forever.
From: web site. May 2008

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”