We have been involved in global missions for over twenty-two years now. For most of those years, we have served in Europe, though the ministry the Lord has given us has taken us all over the world. We have worked with both the sending church and the places they go. I have been able to lead and serve hundreds of missionaries who also receive short-term teams. I have seen a lot when it comes to short-term trips, and I have made my share of mistakes and missteps. Hopefully, I have learned a few helpful practices along the way as well.
Early in my ministry, I was of the mindset that a short-term goer should not keep going to the same place year after year. Give other people a chance to go, serve, and experience what you did, I thought. However, once we arrived on the field and became receivers of short-term teams, my tune changed. I do like to see new people come to the field on short-term trips, but what I have observed is that there is a positive side of people going to the same place year after year after year.
Back in the day, we held a lot of basketball and English camps to help us engage with families. We did all we could to prepare for the team before they arrived, including having a few people from the sending church visit months before the trip to check things out and see if it was a good fit for all involved. Good strategy alignment is essential between the sending church and the receiving field team, and this was a way to ensure we were on the same page. We always recommended that one of the people who came for the initial vision trip lead the team that would serve on the short-term trip. Having them be a part of the project helps with things like coordinating logistics, navigating culture and context, and partnering with key people on the field.
When you find workers who have developed an affinity for your people and ongoing commitment to the work, it makes a huge difference.
It was no surprise, then, when those who were on the vision trip returned with the team a few months later. What did surprise me, however, was that several people who were part of the first short-term team signed up to come the next year and the year after and even several times in one year. And they weren’t coming just because they wanted to travel; they had a calling to serve alongside us in this ministry. They had a sense that God wanted them to be involved in ministering to these people. They had a commitment to the same people we did even though they did not live here. As a worker I appreciated their commitment to this calling, and it was an encouragement to our on-the-ground team as well. Not everyone who comes to your city will develop this kind of affinity for your people and ongoing commitment to the work, so when you find those who do, it makes a huge difference.
I've discovered several benefits to having people take repeat trips to the same partners and locations.
When you are working with the same people over the course of multiple trips, you begin to develop trust with them. You know how they react to adversity. You know they will give their all. You know they will work hard and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Developing this level of trust takes time, and when a person comes year after year, you are able to develop a deep relationship with them. These relationships mean a lot to long-term workers on the field.
Advocates are selective in who they invite because they know what is at stake and they want the best for you and the people you are trying to reach.
Another aspect that helps the long-term worker is that these repeat visitors become champions or advocates for your ministry when they return back home. People who go year after year to the same place begin to share your calling to the people, and they become advocates for you and your work. They pray for you and your efforts. They tell others about the ministry and can help enlist others to come. And they are selective in who they invite because they know what is at stake and they want the best for you and the people you are trying to reach.
I also believe that people who come over and over again increase their cultural intelligence about the city and people, which makes them better able to prepare those who are going on the short-term trip, which ultimately blesses the field worker who is hosting them. Because you have invested in these people over the course of several trips, they can invest in others who are coming along for the first time. It can make a world of difference when a short-term team arrives on the field more prepared to deal with the cross-cultural issues they will face.
Having someone on the trip who has been to your area before gives you a fellow worker you can rely on to lead and manage the team on the ground.
It is also helpful that the “repeaters” bring logistical intelligence to the team. They know how things work. They understand transportation, hotels, restaurants, finances, etc. in your city. When someone comes time after time, they become valuable team members for you who can assist greatly in the day-to-day logistics of the trip. While there is a lot the goer must do to prepare for a short term-trip, the amount of work for the long-term worker is incredible. The receivers have to prepare for the team’s arrival, be present during that week for the team and the people they are serving, and do the critical follow-up after the team is long gone. Having someone on the trip who has been to your area before gives you a fellow worker you can rely on to lead and manage the team on the ground.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of repeat trips is a deeper connection to the people. I was not prepared for how well repeat goers would be able to connect with the people. When short-term workers come on multiple trips, they start building relationships with the people you are trying to minister to. They are able to connect with the people, and the people love seeing them come back to their city again. After a while they may even be invited into homes or out for a meal or coffee with people. They can often stay connected with them via messaging or video calls. They have the opportunity not only to share the gospel with these people but to share their lives as well (1 Thess 2:8).
As a sending church, you should look for people like this to include in your short-term teams. Invest in them and help them have a long-term vision for the work that God is doing among your partners and the people they are working with. And encourage them to go back again and again.
Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly twenty years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe, he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.