Short-term Mission Trips: To Go or Not to Go?

It’s estimated that over 1.5 million people from the U.S. participate in short-term mission trips every year.

Here at Lifesong, we host short-term mission trips because we believe—done correctly—they can be encouraging and beneficial.

But we’re careful about why we take them (and why we don’t!)

Here are some considerations.

Reasons NOT to go..

Reason #1: We don’t go to fix anybody.

Sometimes it’s tempting to go on short-term mission trips expecting to “fix” perceived problems with the culture of the host country. Yet, cultural identity is one of the God-given things that makes us unique.

Many of the things we may be tempted to change (dress, food, home, music, etc.) aren’t actually problems that need to be fixed.

Reason #2: We don’t go for the experience.

Yes, going on a short-term mission trip will likely be an experience you never forget. But that shouldn’t be the motivation for going. In his book, Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton carefully identifies what is perhaps the single greatest reason some short-term mission trips have earned a bad reputation in recent years—

“We have been evaluating our [trips] by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.”

Reason #3: We don’t go to be the “hero.”

Ministry isn’t primarily about us—it’s about God. God is doing His work around the world, and we simply get to be a witness to it on the trip so we can better understand, pray, and advocate.

Relevant Magazine said it this way—

Developing countries do not need short-term heroes. They need long-term partners.


Reasons TO go

Reason #1: We go to serve.

Mission trips done right may include “mundane moments of service”—that is, unglamorous opportunities to work on plumbing problems, dig wells, prepare meals, and empty trash.

But at the same time, even mundane moments of service can be thrilling when done for God. Nothing is more exciting than doing what God has called us to do, thus drawing us closer to our Father. Serving on a mission trip has a unique and wonderful way of drawing us out of ourselves and helping us re-calibrate our relationship with Christ.

There’s truly nothing else like it.

Reason #2: We go to learn.

When taking a short-term mission trip, it’s ideal to assume the identity of “learner” rather than “teacher.”

One way we learn to love our brothers and sisters around the world in a better way is to visit other cultures in a spirit of humility, ready to listen and learn. By eating together, working together, and talking together, we come away better appreciating who people are and how each of us fits into God’s story of redemption around the world.


Reason #3: We go to build relationships.

The way to get long-term impact from a short-term trip can be summed up in a single word: relationship.

Throughout the Bible, we see God’s heart for believers to care for each other—and to take specific interest in caring for those in need. In James 1:27, the term “visit” actually implies relationship and personal interest

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Our relationship with God is strengthened when we care for the people He loves.

Some mission trips may not include work projects, but all trips should prioritize relationship building—with teammates, missionaries, children, and families in the community. Why?—When we get to know people in other countries and cultures, we better learn how to love our neighbors and see how God is working around the world to accomplish His purposes. And the larger goal—of engaging with a ministry for the long-haul (in prayer, support, and advocacy)—becomes achievable.

Take a trip with us.