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Short-term missions: Are one-week projects bad?

Yesterday I wrote what may have seemed to some short-term missions (STM) practioners a fairly inflammatory blog. Some readers may be forgiven for asking the follow-up question, “Given the fact that so many one-week STMs fail in their intended result of mobilizing people, are they bad?” Her…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Yesterday I wrote what may have seemed to some short-term
missions (STM) practioners a fairly inflammatory blog. Some readers may be forgiven for asking the
follow-up question, “Given the fact

that so many one-week STMs fail in their
intended result of mobilizing people, are they bad?” Here’s my response.

Short-term missions get a bad rap for three reasons in

  1. The missionaries
    allow their needs and agenda to supersede the local needs.
  2. The
    missionaries are poorly equipped to do what needs to be done.
  3. What
    they’re doing has no lasting impact.

For the most part these reasons are valid or are at a
minimum should be grave concerns for any practitioner. The typical short-term project involves
construction or work that could be done cheaper by locals, begging the
question, “Why not just send them the money?”

A counter-argument is that STMs can impact participants enough
to justify the project. To which one
must ask, “To what end?” If, as I noted yesterday, the end is
to mobilize them to build the Kingdom, that is a good thing. But many do not. One good place to start would be for church youth groups to track those who
have been mobilized for ministry by their short-term projects.  Let me suggest to youth pastors – if that is your goal, please measure your

So, do we scrap the concept of short-term missons? No, Jesus showed us how to do them in Matthew
10. They can work, but we need to look
much more closely at the various models of STMs and hold many to a more
rigorous standard of evaluation. In the
next few days I’ll look at models that are both effective and ineffective.

Comments (6)

  • Seth, I am looking forward to your next few blogs.

    As one who’s passion is mobilizing others through STM’s, I am constantly asking myself how we can create a model that has lasting impact for both the participants (youth groups, etc.) and the locals. Unfortunately, too many STM’s kind of leave a sour taste in the mouths of the locals – and often times justifiably so. While follow up for the participants is crucial, follow up with the communities being served is also of major concern.

    As far as measurement of growth for the participant, is it mostly qualitative? As far as the top measurement indicating a long term mobilization of the individual?

  • While I have often agrued against very short STM, I find your measure of success limiting. If a student’s world view is altered substantially and they discover a vocation that is not ministy but clearly God’s will for their life, would you consider this a failure or wasteful use of resources?

  • I agree, if that were the only measure, it would be limiting – it’s just a place to start because it is more easily quantified. If we could somehow measure “kingdom builders mobilized,” that would be a better measurement. Roger Peterson did the original definitive study of the impact of STMs thru STEM Int’l.

  • There seems to be a couple types of stm: one done by professionals with specific tasks (doctors, dentists, builders); youth groups which, in effect,expose them to the mission field; ‘tourists’ which see missions and rationalize going by helping do small projects. Some of these are a poor use of funds ie poor stewardship of God-given resources. Follow-up is needed. Missionaries have told me it sometimes takes weeks to undo damage done by ill prepared stm. Also they are expected to entertain some stm and lose time from their own work. The cost of airfare alone would support locals for long periods of time and they need the work. But it should be done through the missionaries. Support the missionaries and get reports from them to stimulate your church members.

  • I have been going to Cuba for the last two years with Wheels for the World as a seating specialist a therapist specializing in Wheelchair seating and positioning..We join the Cuban gov’t agency of disabled…and also the ‘Cuban council of Churches…these cubans are instrumental in providing the individuals for seating needs and the Church is instrumental in providing Bibles, sharing the gospel and follow up with directing new believers to churches in their area…since there are very tight restrictions being in a communist country we are constrained and we must take a back seat and allow Cubans to lead…this is a very vital ministry and as a two week short term missions, it works very well….will be going to Cuba as God wills and the gov’ts stay open to this ministry!!

  • Hi Seth, thanks for the clarification. As one who typically plans one week summer experiences [most reasonably based upon the balance of time, full time job, young children at home, etc.] I didn’t take your post to be inflammatory at all, but certainly do appreciate the follow up.

    I would wholeheartedly agree with measuring follow up – I do it every fall. One barometer is how many students return to be active in some ministry – whether back to our student ministry – or something else on their college campus, in their community, or even in another culture.

    As always, loving your insights.

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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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