Aren’t Short-term Mission Trips a Big Waste of Money?

Pastor J.D. discusses some of the major objections to short-term mission trips and how we can participate in and facilitate them wisely.

A glimpse inside this episode:

Well, I hope they aren’t a huge waste of time and money, because I’m about to go on one for the next few weeks.

Actually, I think what I’ll be doing shows the ways that short-term trips can go well. (John Crist video reference)

  • You see, short-term mission trips get a bad rap because so many of them are done very, very badly.
    • Are they a big waste of money, gobbling up money that could just be given to indigenous church planters directly? Don’t a lot of church people use them to scratch their “foreign travel itch”—i.e., “vacationaries”? Aren’t a lot of short-term trips unhelpful to the work on the field—forcing church planters to take time from real ministry to serve as tour guides and babysitters for curious Christians? And why would we go overseas to help there, when our communities are in such need here—isn’t that arrogant?
  • But just because they’re done badly doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be done.
  • Here’s what I’ll be doing: Ministry to missionaries in Thailand and live with a family from our church for three weeks and join their ministry.

Here are some of the biggest objections I get to short-term trips, and why I think we should keep doing these trips—wisely—despite the objections:

  • “Short-term trips are a waste of money.”
      1. Dollars spent on short-term trips are not zero-sum—that is, every dollar spent on a mission trip is not one less dollar you can give to people serving permanently on the field. Quite the opposite: people who see mission firsthand typically give more in missions offerings. In other words, money spent on short-term trips multiplies itself by creating greater willingness to give in the future among those who go.
      2. Plus, an extraordinary number of mid-term (one year or longer) and career missionaries trace their call, in part, back to a short-term mission trip. God often uses what we see and experience on a trip like that to shape the rest of our lives.
  • “Short-term trips are really just exotic vacations for curious Christians: vacationaries.”
      1. Sadly, too often true. But it doesn’t have to be.
      2. We also use the lead-up to a mission trip as an intense discipleship experience. In preparing for a short-term trip, members read books, memorize verses of Scripture, keep a prayer journal, and share their faith. Ironically enough, many who enter the process with a motivation of simply seeing the world have their hearts changed along the way. I’ve seen it time and time again: potential “vacationaries” have their hearts touched by the global need for the gospel and return with new eyes and fresh vision.
  • “Short-term trips don’t make sense when there is so much need here.”
      1. Error of sequentialism, etc.
  • “Short-term trips are more harmful to the field work than helpful.”
    1. Again, this is often the case, even for the well-intentioned. One mission agency leader told me that there is a city in Mexico that is a popular destination for American church mission trips, and the number of conversions reported in one year for that city was three times the population of that city. Not helpful.
    2. A helpful resource to counteract this problem is Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s book, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. They show that much of the “helping” that we do actually ends up being harmful to those we intended to help. When we do for people what they can (and should) do for themselves, it may make us feel good, but it can hinder those groups from developing the leadership necessary to meet their own needs—leadership capacity that God has put in them as much as he has in us.


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