Short-term missions and youth ministry: Are we hitting our targets?

December 23rd, 2016

Numbers and math aren’t really my thing, but let me start this post with a simple math equation…

1400 x 1.6 million = 2.2 billion

The first number represents the average cost of an international short-term missions trip per person.

The second number represents the estimated number of people in the US who will go on an international short-term missions trip this year.

And that last number?  That’s the amount of money we will spend in the US on international short-term missions this year alone.

In other words, we are spending the equivalent of the yearly wages of roughly 4-5 million people living in extreme poverty on short-term missions.

Here’s the deal though…

I still believe in the value of short-term missions in youth ministries.  When we do these trips right, they can be life-changing for our students AND for the people who we are serving on the trip.

So, how do we do these trips right?  How do we do our best to be good stewards of all that money and time that people give for our students to go on a short-term mission trip?

We start by asking ourselves these three basic questions…

What is the purpose of short-term missions in our youth ministries?

This is a big picture question, and it basically forces us to ask ourselves…why?

  • Why is short-term missions important (or not important) in our ministries?
  • Where does short-term missions fit within the context of the other 50 weeks of our youth ministry year?
  • What kind of short-term missions are we willing to invest our time and money in?

Answers will vary on these questions, but how you answer them will give you a good starting point to move on to the next question.  If you’re not clear on the overall purpose of short-term missions in your ministries, then the goals and “successes” are hard to see.

The basic principle here is this…you can’t hit a target if you don’t even know what the target looks like.  So, what are you aiming at when it comes to short-term missions?  If you can write down your purpose for short-term missions in one sentence, you’ve created a great target!  And, now you can start thinking about goals…

What is the goal of short-term missions trips in our youth ministries?

This is a “get-everybody-on-the-same-page” question.  It’s where you get even clearer on why you are going to a specific place and what you hope to see happen before, during, and after the trip.

  • What goals do you have for the students from the time they sign up to go to well after they get back home?
  • What goals do you have for the local people that you’ll meet and serve together?

Answers will vary on these questions too, but how you answer them will help you see if you’re hitting the target you created in the first question.  Plus, it will give you what you need to look back on the trip and answer the next question on measuring the overall “success” of your short-term missions trips.

So what are your goals?  Is your primary focus in short-term missions to do relief work?  If so, your trips will look a whole lot different than if your primary focus is more long-term development.  A relief work approach to short-term missions will take you to different places every year depending on the immediate needs.  On the other hand, a long-term development approach will take you back to the same place every year to establish the relationships you need to make long-term impact.  And, that brings us to the last question…

How do we measure the “success” of short-term missions in our youth ministries?

The short answer to this question is this…is short-term missions hitting your target?  The truth is, your target may be different than my target.  You may have a different purpose and different goals than I do.  But, we both measure success by looking at our own targets and asking ourselves if we’re hitting them.  If we can go into our short-term missions trips with a clear purpose and a clear set of goals, then we’ve created the targets we need to hit.

So, what’s your short-term missions target?  And, are you hitting it?

For more on this subject, I highly recommend reading When Helping Hurts by Corbett & Fikkert and also Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions.

jasonJason Matthews is a youth pastor in Washington state, where he’s been serving students for over 20 years. When he doesn’t have to be in the office, he loves to be outside with his family, hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. He also loves to write, and you can find more of what he writes about at one of his blogs (WWW.VERSEOTHEWEEK.WORDPRESS.COM & WWW.PJASONMATTHEWS.WORDPRESS.COM).


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.