George Houssney, the President of Horizons, has written a helpful article on the
strengths and weaknesses of short-term missions. Below are what he sees as
negatives and positives. You can read the entire article here.
1. A good percentage of short-termers end up going long-term. Some statistics
claim 50%. Many would never go to the mission field were it not for these short-
2. Many gain a heart for missions, and they return often and/or become
supporters, prayer partners, and mobilizers.
3. Short-Term mission trips are eye openers for many. It is one thing to read
missions newsletters and reports, it is another to actually be on the mission field
and see the poverty, the hardships, and the spiritual depravity of people of other
4. Some who have never witnessed back home become bold in witnessing when
they are with a like minded team witnessing in a cross cultural context. This can
even help them begin to witness when they return home.
5. Those who are hesitant because they are not sure about their calling use
short-term trips to test the waters and see if career missions might be what God
is calling them to?
6. Some cannot be career missionaries because of job and family considerations.
However, they do want to make a difference, so they use their vacation time or a
break from school to do something for the Lord, rather than spending it on
7. Many who go on mission trips come from affluent families. They are not used
to doing dirty work. Manual labor gives them an opportunity to serve others and
to experience hard work like they never have before.
After looking at some of the pros and cons of short-term missions, let us see
what the Bible says about this.
Missions is a word that came out of the Greek Apostolos, a messenger who is
sent to accomplish a certain mission. To better understand the meaning of
Apostolos, we must look at the life of Jesus and the apostles, and what they did
Negatives and Drawbacks
1. Many who go on mission trips have no cross cultural experience and due to
the shortness of the trip, they are sent with little or no preparation or training. As
a result they are likely to behave in ways that are not culturally appropriate or
sensitive. I have seen young men dress in shorts and women in tank tops in
conservative countries where men and women cover the majority of their bodies.
Young people also tend to behave immaturely, with coarse joking, flirting, and
inappropriately touching others of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some
come with their expensive clothes, expensive gadgets, computers, phones,
ipods, Cd players, BlackBerries, and flash money around while people in the
target culture cannot afford such luxuries. This results in either disgust or
adoration of the missionaries. In either case, it is not healthy.
2. Many go on short-term mission trips in response to short-term guilt trips laid on
them by preachers or missions speakers, who rightly challenge them to do
something about the unreached people. For many, going on a short-term mission
relieves them of their guilty feeling. Rather than consider a longer term commitment, they settle for a trip or two here and there. Some feel that they now have missions checked off on their "To-do in my lifetime" list.
3. Due to the excitement associated with going to a foreign country, some fall in
love with the new culture and do not see beyond the facade of its external
expressions. Rather, they become enamored by the culture’s music, folklore,
dress, and lifestyle. In fact, some expect to see a much darker side of other
cultures than they discover. As a result, they fail to see the lostness and spiritual
depravity of people from the target cultures.
4. Recruiters who are anxious to sign up people for these trips tend to
exaggerate how great these trips are. They raise the expectations too high. The
result of unrealistic expectations is usually disappointment. Some expect to love
the people in those counties but find out they are not as kind or attractive as they
were promised. Some expect to see many people saved. They end up painting
walls and laying bricks and hardly seeing any natives. Some return from a short-
term mission disappointed because they did not lead anyone to Christ and they
feel that they have failed and that they are not made for missions.
5. A percentage of those who have a positive experience on short-term mission
trips end up returning for a longer term. They often discover that living in that
country long-term is not as exciting or intense, so they get disappointed. They
reason that if they had so much fun for two weeks, living there would be even
better. By some estimates, half of those who go on long-term trips return home
disillusioned. Long-Termers cannot maintain that level of intensity and excitement
over a long period of time. It is like going on a honeymoon or vacation; you do
not have to go to work, and you enjoy every moment. Then reality hits and you
are back to real life, where there is work, tiredness, shopping, cooking, cleaning,
and countless other things that keep you busy. Many missionaries expect that
when they return full time and for a long time, they would have the same
experience as they did when they went short-term. They end up disillusioned and
frustrated. Some missionaries do not realize that just figuring out how to live in a
foreign country takes up a huge chunk of their day. I know missionaries who have
taken a year or more to settle down, spending time looking for a house to live in,
furnishing the house, dealing with shopping, transportation and doing many more
6. Short-term trips are expensive. Once I was on a prayer walk trip in Morocco.
Four hundred came from many parts of the world for the five day journey. I
estimated that no less than one million dollars were spent on travel alone (400 X
$2500). Some have argued that it would be better that we send this money to the
mission field where it can make a much greater impact.
7. The impact on the national church is not always positive. Some churches are
inundated by short-term teams that demand a lot of attention. This takes national
pastors away from their regular routine and disrupts the ministry
Darren Carlson is the Founder and President of Training Leaders International. As President, Darren oversees the general direction of the ministry and serves as an advocate for pastors with little access to formal training and thoughtful cross-cultural theological engagement. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.