Do short-term missions trips really make a difference?


What impact do short-term mission trips have on long-term Christian work in the world? Not much, according to one missiologist. He once shared with me the statistical data about the number of short-term trip participants in the US over the past 10-20 years and showed the correlation with long-term mission. The expectation was that short-term mission trips would recruit more long-term missionaries. The answer? Well, there was no increase in long term missionaries despite decades of short-termers.

So, just what value do short-term mission trips have? If they’re defined as a loose type of  Christian tourism, they can have a certain financial value to the foreign hotels, airlines, local restaurants who cash in on US short-term groups overseas. And, perhaps, some trips assuage a little suburban, middle –class guilt because the groups travel to impoverished parts of the world. But, how does God see them? What spiritual fruit do they have?

People have many strong opinions about this issue, and I offer two cents. When short-term mission service is linked to a long-term vision for an area of the world, then I think there can be many benefits:

  • Tool for discipleship:  This intense, highly-focused experience, outside of one’s comfort zone offers Christians an opportunity to have their faith stretched in new and important ways.
  • Tool for leadership: If we as leaders prepare and follow-up trips with in-depth and intentional spiritual formation, mentoring, and discipleship, then we can grow ourselves in our own leadership skills and also raise up new leaders for future mission work. AFM offers courses that do just that, if you’d like help in this regard.
  • Tool for partnership: If we can design trips that truly serve the long-term goals of our field missionaries rather than our short-term aims for tourism and convenience, then there will be lasting value.
  • Tool for worship. If  we can ask how our life fits into God’s mission rather than vice versa and if  we can make the gospel central rather than our own agenda, then we will bring glory to the Father. The long-term field missionaries, the unreached people we seek  to serve, and our sending churches will sense that God is bringing glory to Himself through our short term service.   

If you’d like to join a short-term team this summer, prayerfully consider joining AFM for a 2 week opportunity to serve in a childrens’ camp among a minority people group in SE Asia or in a youth discipleship outreach in Borneo. Both are in August and the application deadline is May 30thst. Email us at or (804) 355 8468. Will this year’s short-term missions at your church have the value God desires it to have? To learn more, read a previous post 12 Ways to Maximize your Missions Trip


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