Are Short Term Student Mission Trips Worth It?

Primary Target Audience – People in my local congregation
Secondary … – Youth Ministry workers, Missionary workers of any form, and fellow Kingdom builders

Every year this question gets asked around our local church in some variation and it also gets asked all over the blogosphere and twitterverse. And every year I wonder about it too.

The short answer is yes, based on our current western evangelical, suburban climate – yes, while not perfect, they are worth it.

The comments and questions I usually see and get are among the following:
It costs so much money to send a team down there. Why not take all that money and send it to people there and have the work be done by professional workers?
I usually have two responses. Great idea, why don’t we do that all year round, collect money and send it? (insert awkward moment here).
You and I know, that money simply won’t come in to send. You may be able to raise $800-$1000 but not $15,000 (or whatever the trip in question costs). it’s because we tend to give relationally.

Second, for those who insist on seeing this in dollars and cents: Realistically, not only will you raise a fraction of what it would cost to send a team down there, I would like to make the case that money raised is a great investment in the Kingdom. I have seen and been discouraged by some stats on how the “mission trip experience” has offered little lasting help in one’s faith. Fortunately for myself, I am very suspicious of these types of stats and have also seen similar regarding the “effect” of the Sunday sermon. We still do them. Every Sunday. And we have numerous reasons, including the need for preaching and teaching Scripture to the words that can be used by the Spirit to convict, encourage, and offer the hope of Christ.

So, speaking from my experience, many (not all) of our students have been impacted in numerous long term ways. There are certain lessons that only be learned from outside of your zip code. For short-term mission trips, students are taken away from their context, away from their distractions, sharing close space with fellow youth group students and leaders. Then they are faced with situations and challenges that they simply do not get the opportunity to have. These trips create these moments and for many students, they will always value missions having experienced it personally. For some, this alters the trajectory of their lives dramatically.

This is not to say that there is no need for local missions but in fact, the opposite, as there are certain lessons that can only be learned from inside our zip code as well. Many times when seeing the needs of others in distant place we are convicted by the realization that we neglect many very near to us. As a youth ministry, this has led us to do service project weekends, In full disclosure, they are great in theory, we have been blessed by them, but we need to work on a better implementation as they have proven to be very difficult to put on during the school year. I am confident by the Spirit’s leading, we will grow in this practice,

Another aspect I like is the camaraderie that we enjoy on these trips. Students have conversations with people they have “only seen around on Sunday morning”, they reconcile differences, they see each other differently. Similar to the “teen summer camp experience”, being away provides the opportunity for that. This is also important for me as a youth pastor. This is literally the most time that I get to spend with students, the only time that I get to engage in deeper conversations with some and important times for some of our youth leaders to truly connect with the group. Again, the challenge is applying this throughout the year.

Perhaps another reason that is largely ignored is the importance that our teams serve to either a local church or missions organization. I realize this can open an entirely separate discussion altogether but it seems to me that less gets done if we do not send teams. Again because relationships and student involvement create so much motivation and energy. That said, I am very much aware of the stories of some organizations that have used groups as either tourists or as sources of revenue to repaint the same wall summer after summer and these accounts always grieve me. But it seems for the vast majority, these weekly teams serve and build credibility to these local churches and agencies and I love that aspect of the larger Church Body serving in this big-picture way.

Another feature of the trip that I have come to recognize as been the decision-making process that the student and their families go through to commit to the trip. Many choose between summer jobs, parents plan vacations around them, and every time someone asks, “What will you be doing over there?”, the student has the opportunity to search their soul of why they are actually going. The decision making process and the pre-trip reparation should not be underestimated.

There are certainly problems and challenges for student mission trips, believe me I know. Among them are behavioral problems, an inflated sense of ego (“I’m going to save these people”), the danger of categorizing missional-living as only a “summer thing” that can only be done proxy and a few other concerns that maybe I can share another time. But these are not reasons to not do mission trips, they are reasons to do them better.

To combat our collective pride and to maintain focus on why/what we are doing, we have had nightly devotions and debriefings, Scripture and journal reflection times, and have been diligent in creating a servant-hearted culture on these trips. We have even gone so far as adopting a motto, “Me First!!”. When we ask for 3 volunteers to do the glamorous jobs of cleaning the dinner tables, or filling the water coolers, or cleaning the bathrooms, there ought to be a rush of volunteers yelling, “ME!” first. We get the point when we have to turn down five volunteers because three volunteered so quickly.

Are mission trips worth it? Yes, in our current context, they are very beneficial and very much worth the cost, time, and energy expended. For more, I highly recommend the dvd curriculum Round Trip and David Livermore’s Serving with Eyes Wide Open. Please feel free to comment in polite disagreement or add your concern, I have come to enjoy this conversation.


  1. Check out my post: our pilgrimage… Andy Crouch has a gre!t piece on this.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Ghali, YouthWorks. YouthWorks said: Are Short Term Student Mission Trips Worth It? // from @tg24 […]

  2. […] This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Good advice for soon-to-be college frosh […]

  3. […] Last year, I asked this question and tried to answer the financial practicality of it “Wouldn’t it be better to just take that money and send it to the missionaries?” I argued that not only will you not raise that money to send but that it’s better in the longterm as you allow more people to experience the beauty of missions. (You can read similar posts here). […]

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