How do I decide on a programme?
The best short-term mission programmes take place within a long-term mission framework. "Short-term missionaries can bring valuable skills and manpower to bear at critical points in a long project. The key is designing short-term mission projects that support ongoing mission work."1
If you are considering getting involved in short-term mission, you need to think through what you have to offer, why you want to go - and where, and be aware of some of the possible pitfalls. You also need to think about whether the programme you are considering is contributing to a longer-term aim.
This section is designed to help guide you through these issues as you start your search to find your place in short-term mission.
1 Eddie Arthur in There is no such thing as short-term mission
At a first glance through the short-term options on our website, the choice can seem a bit overwhelming. There are so many great options to choose from, and this is representative of the diversity of needs that exist in today's world. Short-term mission trips can involve anything from conversation to community health, English teaching to evangelistic missions, sports ministry to surgery!
But there are a number of ways you can narrow your search - our website allows you to search for programmes based on a range of criteria. Perhaps you could start with searching for an activity you know you can do, or would potentially enjoy? You’re more likely to be effective doing something you have some experience in or that you enjoy doing. Or you could focus on the time you have available – you’ll find anything from two weeks to two years on here. Maybe location is more important to you? The choices range from Birmingham to Bolivia, Czech Republic to Cote D’Ivoire! (Although if it's just a great location you're looking for, you might be best to try your local travel agency than your local mission agency!) But it might be worth picking out three or four countries (or regions) that perhaps you or your church already have some kind of connection with and start there. Age range is another important factor – we have opportunities from 18 year olds up to and including those over 65 (and for children as part of family groups/teams). And you can search the options for serving as a ‘ready-made’ team, or as a family, a couple, or a single person. Use the 'Refine your search' options on this page for any or all of the above.
Once you’ve started to narrow down the options, read the stories of those who have done this before you, browse the organisation websites, send an email, make a phone call, and ask lots of questions - doing this will help you get a feel for what will be possible for you. Investigate it thoroughly. Think about how you are already serving in your local church - when you apply to a mission agency, they will undoubtedly ask what involvement you’ve had locally. This is important, because it’s difficult to see why you should want to serve God and share your faith in some overseas location if you haven’t first been doing it at home. And try to let go of the idea that there is one thing that’s ‘just right for you’ - there probably isn’t.
Most importantly, pray and talk with your church leaders and those who know you well right from the start, and look for an opportunity with the attitude that it’s a chance for you to find an opportunity to serve God and his church throughout the world, rather than focussing solely on what you initially think is best for you – you might be amazed at how God could use you.
If your local church already has links with a particular mission project overseas, then the church will undoubtedly benefit from strengthening those links through the visit of a team. This could also become a reciprocal thing, where church exchanges take place. So, if your church is running a team visit, do consider joining that team (and pointing your church to the Code of Best Practice in Short-term Mission if they haven’t already seen it.)
Having said this, mission agencies working overseas have expertise that is often not readily accessible in a local church situation. Those who have earned a reputation for running short term programmes well will inevitably give you an added sense of security in choosing to serve with them. There are a number of agencies who are willing to take a group from one church to a particular situation, so it may be worth seeking a partnership - this may enable your church to fulfil its own aims whilst having access to good advice and expertise.
If you are looking to get involved in something short-term based in the UK, then you could consider either serving directly with your church (such as a summer holiday club or with a camp that the young people in your church are already linked with) or you could choose from other UK-based options with Christian organisations listed here.
Whatever you do, make sure that your church leadership is fully involved in your own decision making process - it's important to let them know you are thinking about the possibility of serving short-term right from the start.
You're certainly not short of choice when it comes to Christian / mission organisations, so where do you start?
Even for a short-term assignment it is important that you look for a ‘fit’ with the organisation you are thinking of going with.
Do you share their vision? Take a look at their mission statement. Maybe they have a particular theological bias which you - or your church - may struggle with. Take time to look into it.
Can you be sure you’ll be looked after whilst you are serving with this agency? Many organisations on our website have adopted the ‘Code of Best Practice in Short-term Mission’ and it has influenced how they work on a number of levels. Have a look at this and it will help you ask the right questions of organisations and give you the assurances you need in choosing.
If possible speak to a missionary / someone who already works in the organisation you're thinking of joining and in the area you're considering.
Remember too that the organisation needs to consider how well you will fit into one of their teams – they also need to select you!
Most importantly, your home church has a key role in sending you – talk with your church leaders and use their wisdom to help you in finding a suitable organisation.