Do Short-Term Mission Trips Produce Long-Term Missionaries?

Does participating in short-term mission trips influence members to serve as long-term missionaries?

One informal study completed within Mission To the Word (MTW), the mission sending agency of the Presbyterian Church in America, found that between 2010 and 2016 eighty-four percent of new long term missionaries indicated they had previously served on a one – two week mission trip prior to signing up for long-term mission service. In addition, 48% of those new missionaries reported they were now returning to serve long-term in the same country they had previously served on a short-term trip.

 

While the importance of the Great Commission to the evangelical church is inarguable, there are many methods and missions techniques that cause debates amongt theologians and pew sitters alike. One of the more controversial topics in missions is the value of short-term mission trips. Some churches and pastors refuse to participate in short-term missions while others consider short-term missions a vital part of their corporate fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Advocates of short-term missions cite numerous values to both the sending churches and the receiving ministries by participating in short-term trips. One of the contested topics surrounding short-term mission trips is: do short-term mission trips result in in individuals who are more inclined to participate in long-term missions?

David Platt stated, “We want to be a part of what God is doing in His church, not just here, but around the world, and we want to lock hands with our brothers and sisters around the world, and together, through short-term missions impact the world.”

Long Term Results

There have not been sufficient large scale studies done to determine if short-term mission trips result in more long-term missionaries. Much of the data are taken from small scale reviews and experienced observations.

Michael Anthony wrote, “Statistics vary, but many short-term missionaries become career missionaries. ‘Testing the waters’ is a common objective, particularly for college-age students who do short-term missions assignments. They often use the assignment to overcome cross-cultural apprehensions and to try out the missions career field without the pressure of a long-term commitment.”

One informal study completed within Mission To the Word (MTW), the mission sending agency of the Presbyterian Church in America, found that between 2010 and 2016 eighty-four percent of new long term missionaries indicated they had previously served on a one – two week mission trip prior to signing up for long-term mission service. In addition, 48% of those new missionaries reported they were now returning to serve long-term in the same country they had previously served on a short-term trip.

Latin American Missions reported in 2000 that “almost 99% of our applicants today have had some sort of cross-cultural experience.” The National Association of Evangelicals said, “Some studies have shown that short-term mission trips increase participants’ financial giving and prayer for missions, as well as the likelihood that they will become career missionaries.” The Iversons, MTW missionaries in Japan wrote, “Because of God’s blessing through short-termers returning as career missionaries, our MTW Japan Mission is growing rapidly while most Japan mission groups are shrinking.” Christian Medical Fellowship reported, “Many people have changed careers and become full-time medical missionaries after completing a short-term stint.”

In our limited missions experience my family and I have had bears this out. We have observed after nearly nine years in fulltime missions, that a majority of the long-term missionaries we have met first received their exposure to missions on a short-term mission trip. In fact, 19 of the 20 long-term missionaries that served with us in Honduras were first exposed to missions during a short-term mission trip somewhere in the world. These days it is a common experience. More and more young adults want to experience missions by first serving alongside experienced fulltime missionaries. This is a safe way to gain experience and a heart for the Great Commission.

Biblical Short-Term

When Jesus gathered 12 of his disciples and sent them out he was giving his 12 Apostles a missions apprenticeship that would pay long-term dividends for the kingdom well after his ascension. Dan Williams wrote, “Jesus knew that there was a time for the twelve disciples to be together in basic training (which, by the way, included short-term mission experiences for them) and a time for them to be propelled into full-blown mission.”

In referencing the city of Nineveh Philip Ryken said, “God’s plan for saving the city began with recruiting Jonah to go on a short-term missions trip.” The short-term mission work of Jonah resulted in long-term glory for God. Scripture calls the disciples of Christ to commit their lives to expanding the gospel. We should not be satisfied with the fleeting taste of a few weeks of service.

Heart Change

When discussing short-term missions we may overlook the impact on our own heart. Often, we approach short-term missions like we are spending the rest of the year preparing ourselves to glorify God during the one-week mission trip. We may miss that God is using short-term missions to shape our heart and help us to focus on global evangelism. A missional heart is not switched on one weekend per month or one week per year. A missional heart sees every interaction as an opportunity.

It appears, then, that the more churches participate in short-term missions and send their members on short-term mission trips, the greater possibility they will send members as long-term missionaries. As the churches become more mission-minded, and as they focus on the Great Commission, the more they will send missionaries from their churches into long-term mission service.

God uses short-term missions to stir individual disciples and entire congregations to get excited about being open to long-term missions. Whether in the heart of one believer or a body of disciples, experiences in short-term missions turn our heart toward glorifying the Lord in long-term missions service.

Mike Pettengill is a missionary serving in Equatorial Guinea with Mission to the World.  He previously served seven and a half years as a missionary in Honduras. To learn more about the Pettengills’ mission work visit Pettengill Missionaries.