Ten Steps to Planning an Effective Short-Term Trip

Design quality short overseas trips that advance your church's long-term global vision by following these ten steps: Get clear on your long-term global vision. Set goals. Decide where and with whom. Recruit. Assign Roles. Train your trip participants well. Get passports first...and pack last. Debrief well. And encourage next steps for each trip taker.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 1: Get Clear On Your Long-Term Global Vision

  1. First, review the state of the world’s most unreached peoples—the six thousand people groups with less than two percent Christian population. Unreached peoples are mostly Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Tribal and Communist Chinese. Browse www.joshuaproject.net or The Traveling Team to find out more.

  2. Choose who before you choose where. The who will determine your where. As a church, stay open to serving any people group that's unreached, for example. But for a trip, you might narrow it down to serve Hindus. If you choose Hindus for the who, you'll know you need to look for places and contacts in India for the where.

  3. Pray over specific people groups, or cities where large populations of people groups live. If a motivated person in your congregation already has a heart for an unreached people group, consider fanning their passion by going there.

  4. Review your hopes for your church members to chase after God’s heart for the nations in both small and big ways. Think about how your trip will help further those goals.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 2: Set Goals

  1. Decide if a vision, professional, or survey trip would help move your church toward meeting its long-term global goals.

  2. Pray and journal what you would like to see accomplished in participants when the trip is over.

  3. Brainstorm with your pastoral team and the global outreach team or other interested trip takers.

  4. Pray together over the goals and ask God to confirm or align your purposes with His.  

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 3: Decide Where and With Whom

You’ve already reviewed your long-term goals and what people group block you’re focusing on. You’ve selected what type of trip will best accomplish your long-term goals. And you’ve set goals for that short-term trip. Now it’s time to…

  1. Start doing research.

  2. Interview potential field workers to visit or places to go

  3. Connect with sending organizations

  4. Pray all throughout the process to discover the best place to go and with whom.

Remember the First Love Syndrome

People will fall in love with where ever you send them first, so don’t be shy about steering them towards unreached nations and people groups, right from the beginning. Be intentional about highlighting people groups with the least access to Jesus Christ. Steward your people resources wisely, to make them count for the kingdom in the most effective way. Follow Paul the apostle when he says, “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘Those who have never been told about him will see, and those who have never heard of him will understand.” (Romans 15:20-21 NLT)

Therefore, be cautious about choosing countries that are close to our western borders for short-term trips. Cheap and close are not the primary criteria on which to measure the intended fruitfulness of a wise trip. Remember to view short-term trips through the lens of your long-term global vision. If a nearby country is not where you hope to send your long-term people, invest long-term, or where most unreached people groups reside, then think twice about going there. You will also probably not invest long-term people or resources in a country already swelling with western aid and in a country with enough believers already present. You might argue that because of low expenses and proximity, families can go, and that it’s a safe first step to attract fearful goers. However, you will probably not expose participants to solid missional and community development practices in a country historically saturated with short-term exposure trips usually not done well. There are other ways to break down fear of other cultures, right where you live, by interacting with refugees and international students.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 4: Recruit

You might be the only follower of Jesus dreaming about this city or that people group, or this country or that cause. Even if you're not the one who is going to live there long-term, pray and ask others to join you. Pray, pray, pray about who God might want to draw into his long-term plan to reach the nations. Look especially for believers in your church who are 1) already reaching out to their neighbors and 2) coachable and eager to learn new things. God may highlight specific people to you when you pray. Be open to any age or vocation. Inspire youth, college students, and young adults, but don’t forget to call out the fruitful business people and pastors!

Planning a Short Term Trip Step 5: Assign Roles

Once you know who commits to your particular short trip:

  1. Spread the responsibility for the success of the trip by assigning roles.

  2. Call out specific skills and abilities and use them to create buy-in and to maximize trip effectiveness.

  3. Assign the detailed numbers person responsibility of the handling and accounting of the money.

  4. Give the creative communications person the camera and set expectations for the writer to develop mobilization or prayer materials when they return.

  5. Assign the pastoral, shepherding-type person responsibility for leading devotionals and keeping track of people's spiritual health on the trip.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 6: Mobilize everyone else

It’s worth repeating that the trip you take is not just about the trip. By going, you are "putting it on the map" for your church, future supporters, future prayers, and future go-ers. You’ll even attract future believers who might be drawn into a spiritual conversation right in your home country—because you're doing something sort of crazy.                                                      

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 7: Train your trip participants well

Traveling on an extended trip breeds rich soil for sowing seeds of close friendship and discipleship within the team. You will be with the same people twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. So, regardless of the type of trip you choose, fashion the trip as a coaching time to grow each person deeper into kingdom ways and Christ-likeness, while also widening their worldview. Right from the start, train participants to look at the trip as a six-month experience that includes pre-training, the trip, and debriefing time, instead of a two-week experience.

Pre-training allows you to set expectations, give them tools, and shape their perspective early, so no one is blind-sided when they land. After all, most disappointment occurs with unmet expectations.

  • Team dynamics training includes goals and expectations, code of conduct, fundraising, building a prayer team, peacemaking, and personality differences.

  • Culture training can include cultural adaptation, worldview, poverty alleviation, community development, social injustice, church planting models, and identity.

  • Spiritual training should include God's global heart as seen through scripture, understanding missiological terms such as people groups, training how to share Jesus and good news in honor and shame cultures, storying, praying for others, and listening in prayer. Also, discover the religious practices of the people group or country you’ll visit.

  • Safety training should include liability forms, staying out of trouble, getting visas and immunizations, staying healthy, addressing child safety rules, and reviewing appropriate gender interactions.

If you’re not familiar with content to use for pre-trip training, you can discover most of it in this book. Use the questions at the end of each chapter for discussion and ask participants to read this book before the trip.

Try to make learning interactive and participatory, exchanging worksheets and a dump of information for a trip to the local temple or mosque and a good discussion.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 8: Apply for Passports First...and Pack Last

  1. If you travel anywhere outside the country, you must own a valid passport that doesn’t expire within six months of your trip dates.

  2. Almost all countries currently labeled as unreached also require a visa to enter. Some, like Thailand or most European countries enjoy good relations with North American countries, and quick visa on arrival options make it easy and inexpensive to travel there.

  3. For countries that require visas before you arrive—such as most majority Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu countries—it’s important to do your research on the correct visa application.

    1. Find out what is needed and follow directions exactly.

    2. Apply well ahead of time.

    3. Get advice from people who travel often to the country.

    4. Be consistent with the type of visa for which you are applying and your purpose for going. For example, a tourist visa application should say you are visiting friends and family, not attending a conference for business.

    5. Apply for the longest option available, with multiple entry options if possible, because you never know when visa restrictions will change, and you might wish you had it later.

Often, in trainings, inexperienced trip leaders spend their valuable training time talking about details like visas and plane tickets, packing and logistics of the trip, often answering detailed, boring, and repetitive questions to individuals within the group. Pass out instructions for visa applications, and develop a packing list for light travel in a carry-on suitcase, to distribute at the beginning of your training session and move on to the meat of the training session. Check out www.madeformore.world for sample packing lists and visa options for specific countries.

Planning a Short-Term Trip Step 9: Debrief Well

Intentional debriefing during the trip, and after the trip, provides perspective. Short-termers need to glimpse the bigger picture and how their thoughts, feelings, and reactions fit into God’s grand plan for themselves, and the world.

Ask questions such as

  • “What challenged you most culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically?”

  • “How did you experience God here?”

  • “What moment stands out as endearing and significant?”

  • “What difference will your new insight make for society, for your family, for your life, and for the lives of others?”

  • “What is the invitation from God moving forward, from this experience?”

  • Coach participants in a one-minute, five-minute, and thirty-minute story plan to share on their return. Often, well-meaning friends ask, just hours or days after coming off an intense and probably chaotic experience in another culture, “How was the trip?”

  • Organize an all-team night to invite friends, family, and supporters to share detailed stories, show photos, and mobilize them to care about the people group and country you visited.

Plan a Short-Term Trip Step #10: Encourage Next Steps for Each Participant

The discussion about what’s next is the easiest piece of the trip to delay or to forget about. If participants grasped early expectations of the trip, they’ll already be looking for ways to maximize the effectiveness of their experience. They’ll be searching for their global role, connecting via social media or free phone apps with their new overseas friends, reading new books, taking new classes, or making an international friend locally.

Perhaps the fortitude and resilience of the field workers touched their heart. Maybe they’ll choose to start receiving the field workers’ newsletters or look for ways to encourage and pray for them. Maybe social injustices moved them emotionally. Help them find avenues to volunteer at local non-profits or learn more about helping address global issues like poverty, sex trafficking, or slavery. If they feel a burden for those who don’t know Jesus in other cultures, encourage them to start attending conversational English classes for international students, or welcome refugees at the airport, or design a future trip to see where God might be leading them next.

God willing, a few of the trip takers will sense a spiritual restlessness in their soul, thinking of the faces they met that don’t have access to Jesus, waking up in the night wondering if they were made for even more. Could those trip-takers be one of the few, called to surrender their life for God’s calling to the nations? Help them find out!