A View from the Pew: Not Everyone Can Go

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We are in the season of mission trips. Churches across America are sending members to a variety of ministry opportunities around the world and undertaking projects close to home.

It can be an invigorating time for the congregation as it raises funds, focuses on ministry outside its walls, spends time in prayer, and follows with great interest through blogs and social media the progress of the teams they dispatch.

Anyone who has ever taken such a trip can attest to the life-changing nature of the experience. People routinely report that their eyes are opened to how God is at work around the world, they are more generous with their missions giving, they are less narcissistic, they are more grateful for their circumstances, and they are more open to daily opportunities to serve.

But what about the people who don’t get to go on such trips? There are circumstances that prevent people from joining a short-term mission experience: can’t get time off, family responsibilities, don’t have the financial resources, schedule conflicts, health issues, and many more. Can a person still benefit from a mission trip if they don’t actually go?

As I write this month’s installment, I eagerly anticipate the return of my church’s 14-member mission team from Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they have been the past 10 days. Our small church raised the money to send them, connected with a local ministry partner through our own resident missionary, learned about the people and the city, studied “When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself,” took hikes together to help the team get in shape for the physical labor at high altitude, prayed intensively for the team before and during the trip, and followed their progress in building relationships and a church facility.

Our entire church family has been focused on this trip for six months, and my experience of having to be at home has me contemplating ways those who don’t go can benefit. Here are few strategies to spread the impact from the team to the whole church family:

Prior to departure, enlist non-members of the team to serve in important logistical roles. By utilizing the strengths of other church members, the team feels supported, those with administrative gifts are able to contribute and there is broader investment in the trip. Everything from travel arrangements to medical screenings can be arranged by people not actually going on the trip.

Schedule church-wide prayer experiences. Go beyond the mention at Wednesday prayer meeting and ask people to participate in a 24-hour prayer vigil with members taking 30 minute increments around the clock. Solicit members to sign up to be prayer partners with specific members of the team. Publish specific requests for the location and ministries there and print them as special bulletin inserts on Sundays. In the weeks leading up to the trip, have church members host “cottage prayer meetings” in their homes for the specific purpose of praying for the trip.

Engage in community building activities with a practical purpose. If physical labor, particularly at altitude, is on the agenda for the team, get the team together to exercise and open it to members of the church. Everyone will be connected to the physical work and taking hikes together accomplishes multiple goals: fellowship, relationship building, and outreach.

Keep a steady drumbeat of updates. Keep the trip top-of-mind for the entire church through your website, e-newsletter, social media, and during the announcements in worship.

Let team members testify. It’s customary for churches to give mission team members time to share their experiences when they return, but in the months leading up to the trip, give them an opportunity to share why they feel called to go. This will allow church members to connect them with the team on a deeper level. Also, plan informal opportunities to share, like a church-wide cookout where the mission team can interact one-on-one with church members, giving more details and more personal impact.

Set up an Internet conversation with the team while in country. Use FaceTime, Skype, Google Hangouts, or some other online communications tool to let the team talk directly to your church while they are at the mission site. Church members will be able to visualize the setting and circumstances and feel more of a part.

Brainstorm what’s next with the entire church. A few weeks after the team returns, convene a church-wide meeting to see how God might use the trip to infuse new life into the church’s domestic and community ministry. Giving everyone a voice provides a valuable perspective from those who may not have gone on the trip.

The church more fully embodies the living Christ when it makes the most of the talents and abilities of all its members. Approach a mission trip as if it is for the whole church, and you can expand the impact exponentially and grow closer as a family of faith in the process.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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