After experiencing partnerships with both good and not-so-good short-term mission teams over the years, Serge has developed guidelines to help ensure your trip is as beneficial as possible for all involved—the sending church, those going on the team, and your missionary and national partners.
Your church’s short-term mission program does not need to be perfect. However, there are a number of ways to improve almost any church’s short-term team efforts.
1 | Use short-term teams to tangibly support long-term work.
Not all long-term missionary work is conducive to facilitating short-term teams. Therefore, when choosing which short-term opportunities to pursue, consider their potential to support the long-term work in that area. A great short-term team comes at the invitation of a long-term missionary who is serving in partnership with a local church or ministry. This way, the short-term team engages in a work supported through ongoing ministry that will not be abandoned after the short-term team leaves.
2 | Establish short-term teams that are formative for a broad demographic of your church.
Every member of your church, regardless of background, will benefit through serving in ministry cross-culturally. This also protects your short-term team initiatives from becoming synonymous with one ministry of your church, such as youth ministry.
3 | Choose short-term work that develops and enriches the gifting and calling of your congregation.
When evaluating short-term options, consider your congregation’s gifting and vision for local ministry. Short-term teams often motivate your congregation to dive into local work. For example, a short-term team member may come back from a trip to Uganda and feel prompted to begin using his medical training for local ministry out of the church. The best short-term team opportunities can translate in this way, mutually reinforcing local and global work.
4 | Create a follow-up plan to connect short-term work to the everyday lives of team members.
The effectiveness of a short-term team expands far beyond the scope of the weeks spent overseas. Develop a framework in which short-term team members engage in pre-field training, post-trip debriefing, and periodic check-in with one another in the months following the trip. This allows for a short-term team paradigm in which members can more easily integrate an intense short-term experience into everyday life in the local church.
5 | Frame short-term teams as part of a larger, long-term development track.
Short-term teams can be an avenue God uses to call some in your congregation to long-term
international mission work. Direct people to trips that have a real potential to develop their vision for long-term ministry. Encourage those who are interested in going on more than one trip to assume leadership responsibilities for future trips.
6 | Seek to engage grassroots missionary efforts into the broader life of the church.
Frequently, individual church members begin to engage in short-term trips independently of any organizational vision. While it is natural to either ignore or discourage these sorts of spontaneous movements in a congregation, we find that if a church’s vision is flexible enough to embrace these initiatives, other church members will often be drawn in, and a greater work will develop.
7 | Create an expectation that prior short-term teams will mobilize members of future short-term teams.
Often, the responsibility to recruit new members for short-term teams can leave leaders burnt out and short-circuit fruitful ministry. Teams that begin with the expectation that current members will recruit next year’s team often have more staying power year after year.
As an outworking of these best practices, we hope your church will see the following fruit resulting from the experience of short-term team opportunities.
Prayer: Through connection to ongoing long-term ministry, short-term team members will be motivated to pray for the church’s global mission efforts, and they will help foster the same fervency for prayer throughout the congregation.
Giving: Through a short-term team experience, a team member might be moved to give to a ministry in which they were directly involved, thereby allowing the church as a whole to engage more deeply with the work they support.
Renewed Vision: Through serving cross-culturally, short-term team members can see their own context of life in their church anew, joyfully re-encountering their need for the gospel. Through engaging with a short-term team, members will bring renewed vision and excitement back to local mission engagement.
Sending: Through experiencing a global mission effort firsthand, the church may find itself joyfully releasing some of their own to go.
Going: Through engaging with a short-term team, some members will begin to wonder if the Lord is calling them to go.
How Serge Can Help
We recognize the challenge of doing short-term teams for many churches isn’t just the financial cost, but the personnel cost of planning such a complicated endeavor. Serge has sought to address this need through employing a full-time coordinator of short-term teams. This staff member is happy to discuss upcoming opportunities for a short-term trip with Serge or ways Serge could help your church plan and execute your trip.
Serge has also produced a devotional specifically for short-term teams, available through our publisher, New Growth Press (newgrowthpress.com). On Mission is designed to help you and your team spiritually prepare for your trip, connect with Jesus through daily devotions while on your trip, and debrief your experience once you return home. Our desire is to see people reliably take the lessons learned while on their short-term trip, connect them with their daily life and see the ways God is calling them to engage in mission at home.