Youth groups that visit a mission field usually do not accomplish a task more inexpensively than it could be done by nationals. However, the money is earned by the youth for the trip and /or comes from family and friends who are hoping that the youth will “get their eyes open” and come back “thankful for what they have.” That money would not otherwise have been given for missions.
But youth groups are not the only kind of short term missionary ministry.
Special speakers brought to the field provide an emphasis that the mission leaders think would not be provided by the nationals. The nationals may value the visitors for a different reason; the presence of an American speaker gives status to their event. The spending is considered worthwhile.
Short-term visitors may bring specific skills in medicine, academic training, or other areas. For example, visitors went to Haiti to train a crew to operate a well-drilling machine. The expense is reasonable if the purpose is important.
Mission leaders make short trips to influence the national church and arrange projects. Even several trips per year cost less than maintaining a missionary family on the field full-time, and a full-time missionary may not be available anyway.
Therefore, it seems that short term mission work does not detract financially from mission work in general.
Yes, STMs are a huge competitor for mission dollars. Often STM dollars are dollars spent on “ourselves” (church youth, grandchildren, nephews/nieces, etc.). Those who receive the greatest benefits of these “vision trips” are not necessarily the missionaries, but those going from our churches. According to the Evangelical Counsel for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in their 2016 State of Giving Annual Report [I’m glad that EFM is an ECFA member!], giving to short-term missions had sky-rocketed 25.2% in the previous two years. But during that same time-span giving for international mission work only rose 4% and domestic missions dropped .3%.
1. Emphasize the vital role of LTMs.
We need to emphasize that while STM can be good, the only reason we have STM opportunities is due to LONG-TERM MISSIONS (LTM). We must recognize the reality that STM stands on the shoulders of LTM. As we promote, plan, and prepare for STM, we must emphasize the need to support LTM. It cannot simply be an “either/or” situation, but rather a “both/and.” We must catch the vision for and develop a commitment to both.
2. Emphasize continued involvement of participants.
With proper follow-up, participants in STMs could be among the greatest givers to LTMs. They have already invested a part of themselves into the work. Now, their continued giving needs to be actively developed and facilitated by church leadership.