5 Ways to Transform Your Short-term Mission Trip

What’s the difference between an ATM and a mission trip?
With an ATM we expect a simple transaction and nothing more. We walk up to the machine, press some buttons and the machine gives us cash. The end. Move on.
With a mission trip we expect something more than a transaction. We pray that something significant will change in us and in the communities we visit. We expect transformation.
In our conversations with mission-minded Christians, many lament the fact that their short-term mission trips are still missing something. They want to serve God’s mission to reach the world with the gospel but are frustrated that 1) the team leaves little or even negative impact on the field, and 2) the team members return virtually unchanged.
In short, they have been running transactional trips … like walking up to an ATM to get cash. The machine and you are virtually no different after the transaction than you were before.
How do you move from sending or leading or participating in a transactional trip to a transformational one? What we have found in OMF’s short-term mission program, Serve Asia, is transformation happens through discipleship. Intentional, mission-focused discipleship. In all our interactions we strive to point people to Jesus and help them discern how (not “if”!) God is leading them to be involved in global missions. “Make disciples of all nations” was Jesus’ command to us, after all.

  1. Don’t advertise for the trip; cast vision for the journey. Set the expectation that church and team leaders are going to invest in the participants and together you will explore how God is calling them to invest in his global mission for the long-term.  Your mission “trip” does not start and end when the plane touches the ground. Rather, it is a journey that will impact the rest of your life.
  2. Leverage the application process to ask deep heart questions. Don’t settle for a sign-up sheet. Give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to reveal participants’ motives and prepare their hearts.
  3. Set up pre-field training to mirror the type of questions you will ask in debriefing. Good endings start with a good beginning. Ask about participants’ expectations. Everyone has them. Pre-field training can draw them out. Do they expect to sleep? Do they expect God to work? Teach about culture stress—they will experience it both when they arrive in the foreign country and when they return.
  4. Schedule debriefing as a required part of the trip. A two-hour coffee and donuts group conversation is not sufficient. Each person will be wrestling with potentially life-altering questions. Put as much effort into post-trip discipleship as you did in pre-field training. Dig deep into what God is doing in the person’s heart and what he is asking them to do next.
  5. Mobilize a team of people who will mentor the trip participants for a few months after the trip. Go beyond a 15-second “How was your trip?” in the church hallway. Train volunteers to sit down with short-termers over the next several months to mentor and coach them as they strive by God’s grace to implement what he taught them during the trip.

There is no such thing as a perfect mission trip, but we have found that the Lord uses each of these steps to transform the participants and the communities they visit. If you’re interested in learning more, feel free to contact us or check out these resources:

Matt Whitacre

Matt coordinated Serve Asia short-term trips for four years and is now leading the U.S. Serve Asia team. When not serving Asia, Matt enjoys spending time with his family and ministering with his church in Aurora, CO.

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