Presuming senders, goers and receivers of short-term missions teams agree short-term missions are primarily to support on-going missionary and national works, there are pre-departure, on-field and post-field steps that will help the success of those teams.
While respecting campus ministries and others engaged in short-term missions, the main planning points will be for churches sending their teams to field ministries. It is why I refer to churches as senders, the short-term team as goers and the missionary or nationalized work as receivers.
If each of the three parties not only understand their role, but the other participant’s roles, there is a much greater opportunity for a fruitful AND successful short-term missions program for all involved.
Steps for the Sending Church
Establish a missions policy with a section dedicated to short-term mission teams. This will help set standards for required pre-field training and financial participation. A good missions policy will also define roles, and help clarify which works to partner with.
Identify the team leader who will relate to the church and to the field missionary or national leader.
Expect to pray over the team before they depart and give them opportunity to process their journey upon return.
Provide accountability for the team leader and all finances involved in the short-term mission.
Allow the goers to share about their mission after they return.
Steps for the Goers –particularly the team leader
Screen the applicants by standards outlined in the church missions policy. Consider sending these applications, or at least a synopsis, to the field for their review and input.
Regularly communicate with the receiving missionary or national worker. Have clear understanding of expectations Keep communication primarily to the team leader and field missionary or national leader. This is not to hinder relationships, but to stop confusion.
Submit to the needs on the field. Take the lead of the field missionary or national leader. See their input for team size, goals for the team and the best time to come as more important than the church’s desires.
Recruit team members to meet any needs the field missionaries or national leader may desire.
Buy travel insurance. Make it part of the team’s expenses.
Meet early and often with the team to pray and establish expectations. Explain, and explain again, expectations to the team. These include needed medications, housing conditions and special ministry tasks.
Pastor the team. Shepherd, care, feed and love them. Correct them when needed.
Debrief the team every evening of the short-term mission and spend time in prayer for the following day as well as any issues that come up.
Take notes and write up a concise report soon after return. Include what went well and what was challenging.
Steps for the Field Missionary or National Leader
Return email or phone calls and over communicate expectations with the team leader.
Brief the national leaders and the incoming team shortly after arrival on your field. Explain cultural nuances, comfort issues and any other important points. Use an illustration of how each culture could easily, but unintentionally, offend the other and damage relationships. Explain that both desire the glory of God through the furtherance of the work, but come from very different world-views.
Respect many of the nationals will sacrifice work to show hospitality to visitors. They will often be as exhausted as the team. Consider a few days of Sabbath after the team leaves by canceling or postponing regular ministry activities.
View the team as fellow sojourners and not a burden or potential financial supporters. They are coming to help the ongoing work.
Reserve the right to screen team members and encourage the team leader to communicate why each person is coming.
Keep all planning communication between you and the team leader. This avoids confusion.
Debrief national leaders after the short-term mission team has left the field. Ask how the experience was, what they learned, and seek to understand any cultural conflict should be worked through.
If you desire to go deeper, here are three book suggestions which should help in your unique situation.
Ed Compean, along with his family, served as missionaries in Kenya and Mexico for more than 12-years. He is now engaged in church relations and communications at Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators.