Each year, countless numbers of youth groups pack their bags and head off into the wild blue yonder for short term missions trips. They may be one week long or more, and they change many young people’s lives, but how can they make an impact on the field long after these students are back in their daily school routine? Having received many short term missions groups as a missionary living on the field, here’s what I’ve learned about trips that have impact on the field after the group has left.
Tie your ministry to a local church or ministry. Local churches and ministries are much more in tune with the culture and spiritual climate of a location, and they know what ministry should be taking place in their area. They also will be there long after you are gone and can assure you that follow up will at least be attempted.
Communicate often with the missionary or leader. Be sure to tell them the strengths and weaknesses of your team so that he or she can adapt the ministry to your collective gifts and maximize your time there. This also allows the leader on the field to recruit the necessary people from the target group to make the trip effective.
Involve nationals as much as possible. The nationals know how to work within their culture, and many times their involvement with a short term group will give them the vision they need to continue the ministry when you are gone. It’s amazing how many times I have heard, “I had never done that before, and I don’t know why.”
Focus on the real big picture and focus on individuals. It’s always nice to go back to your church and tell them big numbers results, but don’t forget the impact that a week of your life can make if you really invest it in another person. It may not be as amazing to go back to church and say, “I had 3 meaningful conversations with two students from the youth group,” but it will last longer than saying 100 people raised their hands in our massive crusade.
Go back. The impact of a group who comes back year after year is much greater than a group who comes and goes. Knowing up front that your church will be returning in the future allows many great things to happen and relationships to be built. It becomes a long-term partnership from the beginning, and it adds accountability to the mission. Many times, I’ve heard nationals say that certain people have made a greater impact because they came back.