WACO, Texas — Research has revealed students who participate
in short-term mission trips tend to have lower levels of materialism, greater
appreciation for other cultures and a better understanding of missions as a
lifestyle, says a Baylor University professor studying whether short-term
mission trips are good stewardship.
The number of United States Christians taking part in trips
lasting a year or less has grown from 540 in 1965 to more than 1.5 million
annually, with an estimated $2 billion per year spent on the effort. That investment
of time and money has sparked debate whether the money might better be spent
giving directly to a country’s Christian partners for spreading the gospel and
offering medical aid, construction assistance or other help. Some long-term
missionaries complain that culturally insensitive short-term mission
participants do more harm than good by damaging relationships that had taken
years to build.
Dennis Horton, associate professor of religion at Baylor
says the answer to whether volunteers missions “is worth it” is
a qualified “yes.”
Two-thirds of short-term trips last two weeks or less, with
a host of purposes ranging from evangelism to digging wells or teaching
English-as-a-Second-Language classes. On the surface, Horton said, the trips
seem a win-win-win situation — for those who send participants, for team
members who make the trips and for host countries.
“It is very much worthwhile. But I’m qualifying that by
saying I think a lot of churches and groups need more follow-up to help mission
team members incorporate what they’ve learned on their trips into their daily
lives,” Horton said. “Long-term involvement, whether global or local, is where
you see transformation taking place.”
About 600 students and 48 short-term mission trip leaders
participated in the study conducted by Horton and four Baylor University
undergraduate research assistants—Claire Aufhammer, Matt Berry from Idalou,;
Daniel Camp and Amy Rozzi.
For long-term effects on those who go on short-term mission
trips, some studies show little difference between those who have participated
short-term trips and Christians who have not, Horton said. Patterns are similar
in terms of giving, materialism and believing one’s culture is superior to
What makes a difference, according to virtually all studies,
is pre-trip training, on-site mentoring and follow-up after the trip, he
“We appreciate the zeal” of students, he said. “They want to
be on the streets evangelizing. They say, ‘We need to get out there and share
the gospel.’ But the missionaries are saying ‘Wait a minute.’ In many
countries, the most effective way to reach others is through friendships built
over time rather than quick presentations of the gospel that can endanger the
work — and lives — of long-term missionaries and local Christians.
“The study shows that many short-term mission trip leaders
are doing a much better job training their team members about cultural issues
and connecting with host countries. They’re doing a lot of things right and
learning from past mistakes.”
Recent guidebooks are aimed at helping trip leaders aid team
members move from mission trips to a lifestyle of missions, Horton said.
“The desire is to ensure that short-term mission experiences
become more than spiritual tourism in which participants travel to an exotic
place, take a myriad of photos and return to their relatively isolated home
environments, as well as their pre-trip behavior and routines,” he said.
But researchers found post-trip follow-up by team leaders,
usually from churches, schools or mission agencies, falls short.
Because students may be scattered after the trips, it can be
difficult to do much follow-up other than online or through periodic reunions,
Horton said. Churches, campus ministries and Christian colleges that offer
coursework can play a huge role.
In their study, Horton and his research assistants surveyed
students with different amounts of short-term missions experience (and some
without any) about their levels of materialism, ethnocentrism and their
interest in long-term involvement in missions or ministry.
For some, the trips reinforced a calling to vocational
For those who were ambivalent, the trips clarified how or whether
they would be involved in vocational mission work.
Many people make a commitment at Christian youth camps to
become missionaries, Horton said, but “some find out a little bit more and say:
‘Oh, that isn’t for me. I can do this for a few weeks, but I like my
technology, my comforts.’ It wasn’t that they didn’t still have an interest or
wanted to work with local missions. But as far as vocational missions, they
need to have a definite call and realize this is how God can best use them.”
Some opt against career mission work when they see its
“In some countries, there are immediate responses to the
gospel, with hundreds of people becoming Christians, but in other countries,
you could work for years and have only one or two convert to Christianity,”
Horton said. “Students hoping to see instant results on a two-week trip may become
discouraged in these areas where people need more time before responding in a
positive way to the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Goodrich writes for Baylor University.)
(SPECIAL NOTE — Thank you for your continued support of the Biblical
Recorder site. During this interim period while we are searching for a new
Editor/President the comments section will be temporarily discontinued. Thank
you for your understanding and patience in this. If you do have comments or
issues with items we run, please contact [email protected]
or call 919-847-2127.)