Missions Catalyst 07.13.05 – Practical Mobilization

In This Issue: Bumper Crop or Major Flop – Evaluating our Short-Term Missions

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Practical Mobilization by Shane Bennett is published once a month.

Bumper Crop or Major Flop: Evaluating our Short-Term Missions

By Shane Bennett

The short-term tide will shift in the next several weeks. The intrepid young (and old) servants we sent out so recently will begin to wash back up on shore. How shall we respond to this? My tendency is to treat them like beaching whales: do everything in my power to get them back in the water! The more tenderhearted among us will want to care for them, bind their wounds, listen to their stories, buy them a coffee, etc. I’m all for that. Really I am. But for a couple of paragraphs I want us to think about picking them up, looking in their bloodshot, jet-lagged eyes and asking, “Well, how’d it go? What did we accomplish? Was it worth the investment?” Basically, I’m wondering how we should evaluate our short-term mission teams and projects.

Here’s my motivation for wondering about this: at the end of July, my church is sending seventeen people to India at a cost of about $2,100 each. We’re not a large church, so that works out to 15% of our fellowship and pretty much half of our annual budget! If you’re thinking, “Wow. Is it worth it?”, rest assured, you’re not the first to ask that question. Given the size of the investment, I want to be sure we’re carefully measuring the success of this endeavor. It seems to me that church-based short terms achieve success in three arenas: the results among the people ministered to, results in the team members’ lives, and results in the life of the sending church.

David Mays is a cool, old, white guy who’s forgotten more about mission mobilization than I’ll ever know. His musing on short terms found here pushed me to think about this. The U.S. spends a staggering sum on short terms. Mays quotes an unnamed Trinity professor who estimates we’ll spend a billion dollars on short-term mission trips in 2005. That’s more than 25% of all money spent on foreign missions.

How do we evaluate if this is money well spent? I’m talking about our specific situations, not the whole enterprise. For an interesting, British perspective on the general effectiveness and value of short terms, please see the current forum discussion on OSCAR, the UK Information Service for World Mission. Start at the bottom where Allan Grier says, “I’ve been ‘besieged’ this summer by people raising money for trips on short-term overseas teams. As a former missionary I should be delighted by this, but actually I’m starting to ask myself some questions. In my past experience [agencies sent] teams despite the extra work and limited results in the expectation that they would spark a longer-term mission interest in some of the participants … Are there statistics or other evidence that can answer the question, ‘Is the huge growth in the number of people going overseas on summer teams producing a proportional interest in longer-term commitment? Either in increased numbers of missionaries OR in increased regular financial support to those missions from people who have been on teams?'”

What about the guys some of us sent out a few weeks ago? How do we evaluate their success? Our success (if we sent them out)? Would you care to share? If you’re responsible for some short-termers this summer and you’ve given thought to how you’ll judge if the project was or was not a success, I’d love to hear from you. E-mail me a synopsis of your evaluation plans. This will form the focus of August’s Practical Mobilization article.

Here’s something to think about in the meantime: a scheduled debrief time is an essential step in the evaluation process. If you haven’t put time on the calendar for debrief, do it now. At Caleb Project we aim for a debrief experience that equals 5-10% of the length of the trip. You can approach debrief a dozen ways. Just be sure to ask the tough questions in good ways: What went well? What didn’t? What did God do? What does this mean? And, what’s next?

Questions? Problems? Submissions? Contact publisher/managing editor Marti Smith.

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