Do short term youth mission trips really develop our youth in the long term, as adults?

Short term missions trips make people FEEL like they are making a difference, and they sometimes do for a certain ministry.  Many of us would argue that the millions spent would do more good if channeled toward career missionaries who remain on the field to actually develop disciples, but that is a different concern.

I have known some adults who seriously considered missions (and became missionaries), but they first went on a short-term missions trip to "test the waters."  Almost everyone would agree that this is a good idea. But we are not talking young adults or even very serious youth.

I also know families and adult mission trips to accomplish projects can be useful. That is not our issue here.

We are talking about youth group mission trips. Our concern is the long term, not being fired up for a month or two and then at college age forsaking the church.  How many of these kids who return "on fire" and "changed" remain changed or even faithful?  OUTCOME is what we are considering.

A couple of decades ago and still today, mission trips became and are the rage for church youth groups.  But nowadays we don't even know what a "missions trip" means.

Helping elderly people with home projects in another state is now called a "mission trip;" it used to a be a mission trip meant helping missionaries in South America with an orphanage or evangelizing in street meetings or teaching a VBS to third world children, helping in a third world medical clinic, etc.  The idea of crossing a culture was involved.  Even ministering in inner-city contexts is crossing a culture, so one did not necessarily have to leave the country.  But just about any service project where you take a busload to another state is called a "missions trip."  If you do the same thing in your community, that is called "outreach," even though the Gospel is never presented.  Hard to figure.

Besides confusion over the term "missions," another issue is spiritual effectiveness.  Does taking youth either to a foreign land or to a state with people like people in your own state to build a church building, for example, really help RETAIN people in our churches? Or does a "real" missions trip help to retain youth?  

The question arises from two thoughts:

1. Never before has so many church youth been involved in missions trips.

2. Never before have so many youth (and pre-middle aged adults who went as youth) turned away from the church.

My thinking is that mission trips can further develop youth who would have remained faithfully serving the Lord as adults -- even if they had not gone on the trip.  But I don't think more youth serve the Lord or remain faithful to the Lord BECAUSE of their experience.  What do you think?

Do you think other ministries -- attending or serving a good Christian camp or serving as a CEF summer missionary -- are more effective in developing youth (as evidenced by continued faithfulness to the Lord and to His church)?

Help us sort it all out.

Please choose the nearest choice to your opinion.  It is impossible to think of all nuanced views, and impractical to list them all if I could think of them all!  So "round off" please.



Youth mission trips can be and often are an important way to develop future disciples.
36% (4 votes)
Youth mission trips can be useful for a few, but their effect completely wears off for most.
36% (4 votes)
Youth mission trips are a waste except for people sincerely considering missions.
9% (1 vote)
Youth mission trips are more about image than substance or another fad.
0% (0 votes)
Youth mission trips actually have a negative impact long term.
9% (1 vote)
There is no way to know. No good studies have been done correlating these ideas.
0% (0 votes)
9% (1 vote)
Total votes: 11
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There are 2 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture


"But I don't think more youth serve the Lord or remain faithful to the Lord BECAUSE of their experience.  What do you think?"

I don't think mission trips should be pursued with that outcome as the goal. It should be about:

(a) Can our youth team actually provide real help to a missionary?

(b) Is this a good opportunity for normal Christian living?

That's all it is. IMO, we should frame and "sell" the idea along the lines that this is not something extraordinary. It's believers helping other believers get some work done, which is just normal Christian living... with all the outcomes that go with normal Christian living.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

If it's a real mission, go.  If it's a glorified vacation, stay home or go somewhere else.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.