Short-term mission experiences can be valuable both to those who go and to those who receive help. The value is hard to translate into dollars, but those who receive STM groups frequently affirm the emotional, spiritual, and increased financial support provided by the groups. Thus the value of STM trips is not to be measured only in immediate financial expenditures. Nonetheless, church leaders who help fund STM efforts do well to make certain that the STM group has a well-defined plan that will meet local needs and use the money spent for travel efficiently and for the advancement of the kingdom.
To assist with that evaluation, this article suggests six factors to be considered in evaluating STM efforts.
Will the STM be a help to the receiving church or missionary? Short-term mission trips certainly can be helpful to receiving churches. Members of receiving churches often find renewed enthusiasm in a greater work force, or in learning that they are not only part of a small struggling congregation, but that they are part of a much larger global fellowship. Receiving missionaries and churches may be able to accomplish more than they would otherwise, because of the support of extra feet and hands and mouths to do God's work.
How is the STM designed to help those who go learn? Short-term mission trips can be enlightening experiences for those who go, so that those who participate increase their cultural awareness and understand better the challenges of cross-cultural communication and mission work.
Is the STM planned to provide a variety of experiences and exposure to those things that are most often life-changing, e.g. extreme poverty, personal interactions, etc.? Short-term missions can be life-changing experiences. Those who go often reinvent themselves so that they serve and teach and seek to advance the gospel in ways they do not in the U.S.
Does the STM have a spiritual focus? Short-term mission trips should be spiritual experiences, not diversionary options. The STM is a work trip, not a vacation. Group leaders should make special efforts to focus on and support the spiritual dimensions of the STM.
Will the STM have an evangelistic focus, either directly or indirectly? Mission work, by definition, is designed to share the gospel. Some STM efforts are primarily benevolent, but such efforts should support evangelism. Well-planned short-term mission experiences can reinforce the missional work of the local sending church. That is, as missioners have the opportunity to reach out with the gospel in a new setting, they often return with renewed enthusiasm and willingness to overcome possible rejection and to support missional outreach efforts at home.
How will the STM provide orientation to those who go? Short-term mission trips can be orienting and reorienting experiences. Many missionaries have received their first exposure to mission work, and have been guided toward missions as a ministry, as a result of a first-time mission trip. Those who are future leaders in the church are well-served by the opportunity to see the opportunities, and to think about what is an ideal distribution of outreach funds.
For these and other reasons, one can say that short-term mission trips provide the foundations for future mission work. But STM efforts are also a major factor in increased evangelistic efforts in congregations across our nation today. STM often encourage a more evangelistic local church. They also hold out the possibility of much more evangelistic, missional congregations in the future, both at home and abroad.