Researchers study return on short-term missions
    May 4 2011 by Terry Goodrich, Associated Baptist Press

    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 others.

    What makes a difference, according to virtually all studies, is pre-trip training, on-site mentoring and follow-up after the trip, he explained.

    “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 missions.

    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 challenges.

    “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.)

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    5/4/2011 12:51:00 PM by Terry Goodrich, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments




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