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Wednesday, July 04, 2012 

Six Challenges for the Church in Missions: 5) Maximizing Mission Trips


The last twenty years have seen an explosion of mission trips. Some estimate that a minimum of one million Americans go on mission trips annually at a cost of one billion dollars. Mission trips were initially undertaken primarily to stimulate missions commitment, giving and prayer of home congregations and to produce more long-term missionaries. For years I have encouraged congregations to send their pastors and leaders to the mission field to give them first-hand experience and build their missions commitment.

People are traveling all over the world for all kinds of reasons and missions trips are part of this trend. Many Christians have seen needs elsewhere in the world and discovered ways they can contribute. Almost all new long-term missionaries have been on one or more mission trips. Others have maintained contact with people in remote parts of the world.
People who have little or no interest in missions will sometimes take a missions trip. Mission trips are an effective discipleship tool for youth leaders. Mission trips are so common that when I was in a major department store recently, a clerk saw my “Go-Team” shirt and asked if I had been on a mission trip. I asked if she had been on a trip and she said that although she hadn’t, her husband had been on several.

Mission trips are changing the way we view missions and do missions. Mission trips are a means to accomplish mission work on the field, to enlighten and disciple the ones who go and to influence the congregation back home. However, trips consume a great deal of missions energy. When the missionaries return exhilarated, worn out and two weeks behind in their daily lives, the hoped-for, long-term results tend to fade.

While much good work is accomplished on some trips, there are all-too-common reports that trips were more costly, if not downright detrimental, than beneficial. The permanent life change we hope to see in the one who goes gradually fades back into normal, everyday life. The congregation may not get the full impact because there is little opportunity to communicate what has happened to the returned missionary. Recently I heard a mission trip report that included no mention of giving, one appeal for prayer and several enthusiastic appeals for people to go on trips. The primary result of most trips is more trips.

I have never heard anyone say that their church’s regular missions budget (outside of giving for mission trips) has grown because of their mission trips. It is clear, however, that an increasing proportion of many missions budgets is going to help support the trips. One of my friends told me that their church had notified a long-supported missionary couple that they wouldn’t be able to support them any longer because they needed the funds for more missions trips.

While most new missionaries have taken short-term mission trips, there is little evidence of a surge of new long-term missionaries. Every three years the Mission Handbook reports the number of missionaries serving overseas for four years or more. The latest figures from 2001 show that the number has changed little over the past dozen years.

In May 2005, representatives of twelve churches in Indianapolis, Indiana estimated that more than 1,300 individuals from their churches
would go on mission trips in 2005. One new missions committee member told my colleague, “I thought serving on the missions committee was just deciding where to go on trips.”

An increasing number of churches are making trips a major part, sometimes the primary part, of their missions ministry. Others are using trips not for doing ministry but primarily as a discipleship tool. Subtly mission trips are becoming something we do for us, rather than as a means of stimulating greater missions involvement and effectiveness in the world. When we find ourselves “using” missions as a tool for our own benefit, or doing missions in a certain way because it provides a means for personal involvement, rather than to accomplish something for Jesus in the world, we have gotten off-course.

The challenge is to do mission trips in such a way that they are (1) productive on the field, (2) include discipleship for the people who go and (3) stimulate the congregation to greater awareness, prayer and giving for strategic missions efforts.

Practices for maximum global impact:
—Clearly establish your purposes for mission trips.

—Design and conduct trips that will contribute to your long-term missions goals and strategy.

—Establish goals for each trip. In most cases these goals should include what the receiving group wants to happen on the field, what you want to happen in the life of the person who goes and what you want to happen in your congregation.

—Plan the trip follow-through as carefully as the rest of the trip. Make sure everyone knows in advance what is expected in the follow-through. And follow through.

—As part of the trip preparation, clarify that goers should expect God to bring significant change to their lives. Challenge them to be ready to accept it. One goal for every person who goes is a lifetime involvement in missions in some productive way.

—For everyone who goes on a missions trip, provide a mentor who will meet with him or her at least monthly for six months after the trip. During the meetings the mentor will help the individual meditate on and begin to implement what God has been teaching him or her as a result of the trip.

—Arrange in advance all the avenues necessary to ensure the trip has the appropriate impact on the congregation.

—Evaluate every trip in relation to its goals. Make corrections for future trips.

—Leverage your trips to increase missions prayer in your congregation and to increase your missions budget. Use your reporting time to emphasize spiritual need, spiritual results and to appeal for prayer and long-term funding.

—Fund the trips primarily outside the missions budget.

—Implement the Short-Term Missions Standards (www.stmstandards.org).

- by David Mays

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