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A short-term mission (STM) is the mobilization of a Christian missionary for a short period of time ranging from days to a year; many short-term missions are called mission trips. The short-term missionary is a fairly recent innovation in the global missions movement, but many short-term missions agencies are seeing an increased number of trips that consist of a week up to a year.
Generally, missionaries have been people sent to spread their religious faith, usually among the people of another country or region in which that faith is not widely practiced. In the past 50 years, churches have moved toward mobilizing young people for short-term trips.
Youth With a Mission (YWAM) and Operation Mobilisation (OM) were two of the first organizations to utilize short term missions. In the late 1950s, OM Founder George Verwer began mobilizing young people for summer missions. According to the Missionary Research Library, there were about 43,000 Protestant missionaries in the world in 1958. This is four times as many as when the century began. Of this number 27,733 are from the US. In the summer 1963, over 2,000 people joined the first short-term mission teams with Operation Mobilization. They worked throughout Europe and found creative ways of getting behind the Iron Curtain. Youth With a Mission (YWAM) began in the 1960s under the leadership of Loren Cunningham, who pioneered short term missions and introduced the idea that young people could be missionaries. Generally, missionaries were expected to have extensive theological training before going into the foreign mission field, but YWAM provided short-term opportunities for young people who had a passion for Jesus Christ to share their faith in a way that was powerful and effective. Eventually, YWAM began offering courses to train missionaries as a substitution or supplement to formal theological training. With OM, the summer conferences continued each year but the participants dwindled. In late 1987, a renewed vision for reaching Europe was born. This led to the “Love Europe” outreaches that started in July 1989. OM planned for 5,000 young people from 50 nations to participate; in fact, about 7,000 from 76 nations came.
In 1970, there were very few youth groups doing short-term missions in the United States. However, during the 1980s and '90s, missiologically progressive churches began to take a project approach to missions, capitalizing on directing present energy into short-term missions trips, vacations with a purpose, designated projects and offerings, and ministry teams. In 1989, Youth Unlimited (then known as the Young Calvinist Federation) began SERVE mission trips with 3 sites.
The project approach has matured in the modern Short-term Missions (STM) movement and become a standard annual feature for thousands of Christian youth groups, church groups, and individuals across the United States. In a national survey in 2006 it was determined that 2.1% of church members of all denominations (1.6 million people) had been on a short-term mission trip in the past year, and 3.6% claimed to have participated in an STM as teens.
There are independent Short-term Missions Organizations (STMs) as well as denominations and individual churches that facilitate these trips all over the world. Many STMs "sending agencies" are adopting of Standards of Excellence in Short-term Missions. Many individuals going on short-term mission trips raise partial or full support from family and friends to help pay for their trip. Costs include not only travel, food and lodging, but often associated project expenses as well. In recent years, a number of services like have been established to help individuals raise support for their short-term mission trips using online email and social media tools.
Recently, experts have argued that short-term missions tend to actually cause more harm than good. Objections include the rise of unjustified paternalism, lack of knowledge of local culture, wrong motivations in team members, undercutting of local ministries and pastors, and massive spending. In their book When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett expand upon these problems and suggest alternatives in poverty-alleviation.
Reputable mission organizations are responding through development of best practices and team leader training to ensure the next generation of mission is engaging in helpful and responsible mission.
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- Howell, Brian: A Brief History Short-term Mission in America (Part 1) http://www.roundtripmissions.com/content/roots-short-term-missionary-1960-1985
- Neill, Stephen (1965). A HIstory of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 458.
- "About Youth Unlimited | SERVE Short-Term Mission Trips for Teens in USA & Canada". Youth Unlimited. Retrieved 2018-02-20.
- ROBERT J. PRIEST; TERRY DISCHINGER; STEVE RASMUSSEN; C. M. BROWN (2006). Missiology: 431–450. Missing or empty
- Randall, Ian. Spiritual Revolution, The Story of OM, Authentic, 2008. ISBN 1-85078-766-2
- Howell, Brian M. Short-Term Mission, InterVarsity Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8308-3973-5
- SOE.org - The Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission set of best practices
- ShortTermMissions.com - an online directory of mission trips