The Send Network Church Planting Blog

How to coach short-term mission teams

April 18, 2017 by Matt Rogers

There’s nothing worse than a need without a plan. Take a home with young kids living inside. By the end of the day on Saturday, it looks like a gremlin has simply thrown everything into every possible crevice of the house. Distraught parents are then left with the challenge of clean-up. The kids are assembled, and the objective is clear. Get this house clean before mom loses her mind and dad loses his temper.

The need and the goal are clear, but in the middle lies the critical factor in getting the work done—a plan. The kids need to know who’s responsible for what, where they are to begin and that “clean up your dirty clothes” does not mean “throw your clothes under your bed.”

The same is true for short-term missions designed to aid church planting efforts. The need is clear, and often obvious. The goal is also intuitive. But, without a plan, church planters will waste the service of others and likely frustrate their mission teams in the process. So, here are six ways church planters can coach their short-term mission teams in order to pursue a clear plan.

1. Begin long before the team arrives.

Don’t wait until the busses roll in to begin to communicate the plan to the team. Certainly, there will be facets of the plan you may not know until the week of the trip, but there is much that you can, and should know. You should know the nature of the work you want done (painting, street evangelism, children’s programs, etc.) and make this clear to the team beforehand via written materials, skype calls and/or personal meetings with the trips leaders.

2. Take the first day to clearly communicate the plan.

The temptation is to hit the ground running. There’s much to do and little time to get it done. But, you cannot assume mission teams will be as ready as you are to get to work. Take the first day to spend time orienting the team to the city, discussing the history of the church and giving clear plans for the week. This means that you, as a leader, will have to develop a plan and not simply hope good things will happen because you’ve got more people doing work. Make sure everyone knows how you will evaluate the success of the week, so you are all working toward a shared goal.

3. Address issues quickly and clearly.

Everyone on the mission team will not begin with the same level of skill or knowledge regarding the execution of the plan. Some will revert to doing what they’ve always done, particularly in the context of their local church. So, a mission team from the deep South may go about evangelism in a manner fitting for their context, but one that is completely out of step with the needs of your community. As soon as you see these trends develop, speak to the leaders and the team about these challenges, and offer ideas for improvement.

4. Spend time with the team.

There’s a subtle temptation at work when mission teams arrive. There is still the ongoing work of the church that has to get done. Since the planters have often shared the vision countless times and labored in the same areas as the mission team, it’s easy for the leaders to check out and go about other tasks. It’s essential that church planting teams battle this temptation and work to be fully present with the team, even if they alternate a member of the church planting team or pastoral staff throughout the week. If you can’t create the margin to be present with the team to coach them along, then you’d be better served to not have the team at all.

5. Encourage clear movement toward the goal.

As with all things, people do what you reward and the primary way to reward work by a short-term team (other than buying them ice-cream) is to encourage their efforts. Rather than vague encouragement, however, you should point out clear actions that were in line with the plan for the week and propelled the group toward their goal.

6. Debrief after the trip.

It’s likely that the mission team who works alongside of your church will do similar work in the future, perhaps even among your church. This means your efforts to debrief the group’s work will serve other churches in the coming years. If the group demonstrated a prideful, inflexible heart or failed to work toward a shared objective, then it’s vital that you let them know. Spend time in-person with the leader at the end of the church or on the phone after the trip in order to point out ways the group can improve their effectiveness in future trips.

What about you? What steps have you found helpful in utilizing mission teams in your church planting context?

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