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Few Americans have gone on short-term missions

The following is an excerpt from a recent study done by the Barna Group, about why, despite their impact, only a minority of church-goers go on them: A century ago, missionaries had to commit to years of service. With the comparative ease and affordability of travel, church and non-profi…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
The following is an excerpt from a recent study done by the Barna Group, about why, despite their impact, only a minority of church-goers go on them:

A century ago, missionaries had to commit to
years of service. With the comparative ease and affordability of
travel, church and non-profit leaders now encourage a different form of
congregational engagement: short-term mission trips. These journeys,
typically lasting from a few days to several weeks, allow people to put
their religious beliefs in action by taking people to other countries
or areas of great need to serve the poor or disadvantaged.

A new study from The Barna Group shows that most of the people
who embark on service adventures describe the trips as life-changing.
In fact, three-quarters of trip-goers report that the experience
changed their life in some way. Yet the research also shows that few
adults – including a small percentage of Christians – have ever gone on
a short-term service trip…despite the accessibility and personal benefits, most
Americans have never experienced such a short-term service project.
Just 9% of Americans have ever been on one of these brief service
trips, including only 11% of churchgoers.


I thought that it was fascinating that despite the overwhelming research that missions is a great tool for discipleship, few Americans venture out of their comfort zones. Moreover, young people are showing a greater desire to go on mission and service projects than older generations.
What’s up with that? Does any explanation suffice, other than the fact that the longer we stay in one place, the more comfortable we get? I’m challenged to periodically disrupt my comfort (like with this recent trip to SE Asia where I heard awful stories about the sex trafficking industry), so that I don’t grow complacent.
Can you relate? How has a mission trip or service project been life-changing for you? What are you doing to stay radical in a comfort-obsessed culture?

Comments (5)

  • Now I am out of attending church for what will probably be around 6 – 8 months in all from injury and now surgical recovery, I have been reflecting a lot about how much of what we do in church is focussed around ourselves. Nice music, spending money on smarter PA systems, more internal resources and yet we mostly pass each other like billiard balls on a Sunday. One brief collision and we spiral off in different directions, rarely getting close, rarely getting radical, rarely living out any kind of discipleship, landing back quickly in our safe little pockets round the table. Church is “nice.”

    Twenty five years ago I spent every holiday from college on street missions and beach missions, spent 15 months working on a street outreach team in Manchester, UK and finding not only enormous joy in sharing Jesus with people but enormous heartache as I got involved in the pain I saw.

    On the team you couldn’t meet like billiard balls, you met like velcro. You stuck to each other, your raw and unsaved places came glaringly out into the light in front of other people and you had to constantly choose to face it or run. When the people you worked with loved you in it, it was easier to choose to face it and let God change you. Pride doesn’t last too long when you live like that. Discipleship becomes a way of life not a Bible study.

    Reading this blog today, I think two things. If you’ve never got out on a mission like that, do it. And secondly, I want out of “nice” church and back into the place where my armour’s dirty, my heart’s broken, but I walk with Jesus alongside other people who do the same.

    lol Carol xx

  • Carol’s has got it! Lets all get velcroed together and get our armour dirty and change other’s hearts instead of serving our own!

  • In Orphanage Emmanuel Honduras, they:

    Don’t have air condition, so we barely run ours anymore. Any money saved is more time and $ into ministry.

    Expect allot more out of their children (including work), so we gave our foster children chores in which no others their age were doing, but they excelled!

    The children, as young as 7, preach without preperation, so I’ll speak/pray when called upon even if I have absolutely nothing prepared and the Spirit moves.

    More work gets done with deligation, encouragement, dsicipline and supervision than if I did all the grunt work myself. So I hope raise up other disciples through my investment in their lives.

    There’s more…

  • I went to The L.A. Dream Center a few years ago for a short term mission trip and it ruined me in a great way! I had always sensed a calling to inner city ministry but had never really seen with my own two eyes what that might look like. Oh, I had preached at the Atlanta Union Mission a few times and done the food hand outs from time to time but what I saw in L.A. was not the same. The best way to sum it up was that they loved people…no strings, no 5 step sales pitch for Jesus, no real strategy…other than loving them. Why so simple, because love NEVER fails.

    That trip has led me to a ministry in Atlanta that tutors Somalian (Muslim) refugee’s children to help them acclimate to to their school studies. I’m building a partnership with them right now. We’re loving their children and now starting to build relationships with their mothers. I’m taking a study next weekend to learn how to use the QuRan to lead Muslims to Christ and how to minister to Muslims relationally.

    I’m looking to going to Jordan in the near future too. All from a short term trip that opened my eyes to some things I’d never seen before.

  • interesting read – thanks for the link. i’m surprised that the number is so low given the accessibility. and it seems like every church on every corner is doing short term trips. intruiging….

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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