There is so much hype about short-term missions these days that, if you are not careful, you can find yourself in a situation where “the tail is wagging the dog.” You definitely should not believe all the publicity and advertising thrown out by mission agencies, specialty short-term missions organizations, and in Christian periodicals.
Be careful to communicate well with your young people, young adults, and those that lead them that short-term missions is a tool toward fulfilling specific goals and ministry responsibilities of the church. It is not a necessity. It is not a entitlement. It most certainly is not a paid vacation.

When short-term missions is done well, it is a win-win-win situation for everyone involved. It is a win situation for the short-term missions team, because they receive an intense discipleship in spiritual values and practice in servanthood. It is a win situation for the Christian workers on the receiving end, because they receive extraordinary manpower for certain tasks which they could never do alone or would take an extraordinary length of time to accomplish. It is a win situation for the ministry target population, because, given the right attitudes and work ethic of the short-term missions team, they have the love and transformational power of the gospel displayed in flesh and blood and word and deed before their eyes.

Check out The Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions document online or in our resources.

When we talk about short-term missions here, we’re talking about short-term missions projects involving more than one person and initiated by or through the local church. Your college aged young people and young adults will be confronted with many opportunities to join a short-term missions ministry or team through campus ministries or other organizations. There may be similar opportunities for field visits of your supported missionaries by staff, individuals, or married couples from your congregation. You’ll want to develop a whole separate set of guidelines and guidance for how those ministries may relate to your local church and particularly to funding or fundraising within your congregation. Those opportunities are not what we are discussing in this chapter of There are things that you should do to capture, guide, and manage those individual short-term missions opportunities; but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

You might want to go over to our Forum for Short Term Missions for additional input on issues, references, and resources.

Every short-term missions project should begin with the proposal to the missions team outlining the details of who, what, when, where, and how. It should also state the intended goals of the short-term ministry and the training, orientation, and discipleship process for accepted participants. Though the primary objective of some short-term teams might be construction of one sort or another, we believe that every short-term team should have some spiritual ministry complement to it. That’s what makes a difference between some secular development organization and the church. Even if it is simply holding evening meetings in which the STM members can share their testimony or saying or bring some Gospel presentation such ministry should be part of the plan. Also, the STM team should plan for being a blessing to their missionary hosts. It is a strenuous and distracting exercise to plan and implement all the logistics for visiting STM team. So out of love and gratitude, the SGM team should go out of their way to develop personal interest in their hosts and generously helped them in some way beyond the specific work and objectives of the STM project.

Every STM project team should have high standards built into their application for participation. A clear testimony of salvation, commitment to attend training and orientation sessions, and a prior determination to obey authority and guidelines are all helpful from the very beginning.

You will have to decide how your church handles funding of short-term missions, e.g.: self-funded, fundraising activities, fund-raising sales, deputized support, mission’s budget allocations, special project donations. Many churches automatically fund a certain percentage (e.g. 20 to 35%) of short-term missions teams initiated by the church and aimed at existing supported ministries on the field. Many other churches find it practical to have the STM teams raise all their own funds, with particular exceptions for leadership staff, special equipment expenses, or other extraordinary components.

The pre-field training program is one of the most, if not the most, important parts of any STM ministry. What other event or opportunity gives missions leadership the opportunity to intensely disciple participants who are highly motivated and committed to a cross-cultural experience? Taking advantage of this opportunity with between 4 and 16 weekly training and orientation sessions is unprecedented among other church ministry programs.

Logistics management on the home side and the field side is important. Make sure that you’re planning and management are sufficient and timely enough to avoid crises when it’s time for implementation. Remember the saying, “Failure to plan on your part does not create a crisis on my part.” Talking through the entire experience day by day and hour by hour with as much detail as possible can help you identify needs that should be addressed. Talk through:
  • how your STM team is going to get from their homes to the airport?
  • handling baggage
  • ticketing and passports
  • appropriate dress and conduct has a group
  • arrival on the field, including immigration and customs
  • who is meeting you on the field
  • arrangements for transportation to your first meeting place or accommodations
  • daily meeting schedule, devotions, and work assignments
  • expectations for water, food, sleeping arrangements, etc.
  • emergency procedures and emergency contact information
  • expectations regarding attitudes and work ethic
  • completion targets and time goals
  • assistance and care for your sponsoring missionary or missionary family
  • departure packing, goodbyes, and related concerns
  • debriefing and evaluation
  • how are you getting back to the airport to leave?
  • Departure ticketing, immigration, customs
  • arrival immigration and customs at home
  • pickup and transportation from the airport
  • follow-up meetings, reports, and celebration
  • reporting about the trip to the missions team, church leadership, and congregation
  • conservation of spiritual progress in the participants and integrating their experience and newfound skills in local church ministries
  • recording lessons learned for access in planning the next trip

STM can be challenging, exhausting, exhilarating all at the same time. It can also be of the most highly impactful periods of spiritual growth for your participants. It will almost certainly change their lives in vision. And, hopefully, it will prove to be a win-win-win situation for all parties involved. When done right, it is well worth the effort. We pray that your STM ministries will be so, for the glory of God.