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How To Do Short-Term Mission Trips Well

May 29, 2024 |  By Rebecca Olsen

The call of the Great Commission, to go and tell about salvation through Jesus alone, is global. Believers everywhere are supposed to tell this news to unbelievers everywhere. This directive leads many people, especially in the West, to take short- or long-term mission trips so they can talk to people in other parts of the world about Jesus and share His love in practical ways.

Past mission trips have helped plant the Christian faith and growing churches all around the globe. Native Christians now lead many ministries to reach their own people groups and unreached people groups in their area.

But you may still want to participate in the global Great Commission, at least with a short-term trip. Keep reading to learn how to do short-term mission trips well so you can effectively share the Gospel and help people.

Ask Questions Before You Sign Up

Some short-term mission trips can do more harm than good, exhausting the missionary hosts, hurting the local economy, and confusing the people the ministry serves. While no one wants to do these things intentionally, you should ask questions before you sign up to determine if you and the trip you’re participating in are going to do good.

First, reflect and pray through questions about why you want to go and what the Lord wants to do with you. As you reflect and pray, ask trip organizers about who you’re partnering with on the ground, the goal of the trip, and the sustainability of planned endeavors like construction assistance or education.

If you don’t feel the Lord is leading you on this particular trip or the trip is more about making travelers feel good than helping native missionaries and locals, you should find another trip.

Know the Purpose of the Trip

As you consider this trip and others, you’ll notice that different trips have different goals. Some are active trips and others are educational trips.

Active trips are opportunities for you and other travelers to use your skills to help native missionaries and locals. You may do free construction work so the ministry can save money or volunteer with children so ministry leaders can rest. The goal of this trip is often providing some type of practical assistance.

Educational trips focus more on what you can learn about a ministry and people group from the local experts. The goal of this type of trip is to help you stay informed so you can better advocate for this ministry and people when you return to your home country.

Some trips will combine activities and education opportunities. A trip can be done well regardless of its chosen focus.

Prepare Yourself Before Leaving

Preparation doesn’t stop after you ask questions and learn the purpose of the trip. Once you decide to go, you need to prepare yourself for international travel, a new culture, and the work or education opportunities you’ll have.

If you’ve never traveled internationally, order a passport at least 6 months before you plan to travel, as it can take 3 months for a passport to arrive. If you already have a passport, check that you still have at least 6 months validity on it, as some countries require this.

Do extensive research about the place you’re going and the people you’re serving. Ask trip leaders for details about the ministry and the exact place you’re going so you can prepare yourself and pack accordingly. Learn basic words in the local language and how to politely interact with people.

Always Listen to Locals

When you arrive in the host country, stay humble and listen to the locals. Local people, especially the native Christians you’re partnering with, know what they’re doing. They know what help they need or what education opportunities are most beneficial.

If locals invite you to share ideas and input, do so with humility and as fully informed as possible. Don’t act like your ideas will suddenly solve all problems or are automatically better because they’re Western.

Remember to ask local leaders what they want people from your church or others in your home country to know about them and their ministry. Using their words to communicate about your trip will provide better advocacy during your return.

Focus on Long-Term Sustainability

Listening to local residents should help you learn what the ministry and people need for long-term sustainability. All trips should invest in long-term sustainability, not temporary fixes for locals or small feel-good events for travelers.

Often the best way to sustainably help people is to invest in them. Training, encouragement, and prayer go a long way towards helping native missionaries serve their communities well.

Many ministries invite visitors to stay connected with them even after they return to their home country. Following ministries on social media, communicating with them, and advocating for them are all ways you can continue the sustainable work you were part of while on your trip.

Knowing how to do short-term mission trips well and who to partner with will help you enjoy an effective trip.

Find out more about ANM trips, which always partner with native missionaries and focus on long-term sustainability, so you can travel with confidence.


Photo by Eric Vess (Israel – 2019)