What exactly are mission trips?
Mission trips aim to uplift people in need around the world by addressing key problems, much like volunteer abroad programs do. Mission trips also involve spreading religion to a community, which distinguishes them from other forms of volunteer travel.
If you’ve been thinking about a short- or long-term mission trip, do your research first. In this guide, we’ll cover all the details about what a mission trip is. We’ll also go over how to choose a program, what to expect, and how to prepare for a mission trip.
What is a Mission Trip?
Mission trips refer to a religious volunteer experience in an underserved community. Mission trips are almost always taken on behalf of a church group or religious group, and often include things like group prayer with the community they’re serving.
In most cases, people in the host area don’t widely practice the faith of the mission trip volunteers. Service workers strive to lead locals toward God and their religion, on top of serving the community through various tasks. Through preaching, discussion, and sharing of values, missionaries aim to convert local people to their religion.
Mission trips do go beyond sharing religious views and inviting others to join your faith. As the name suggests, mission trips have a specific purpose, which usually combines spreading the religion with a tangible project, like building a house for a poor community, caring for children at an orphanage, or improving access to education.
Additionally, as the International Mission Board, a Baptist Christian missionary society, notes, mission trips play a vital role in supporting permanent missionaries. Short-term mission workers offer key support to long-term mission strategies. They help fuel spiritual passion in locals and empower them to live a life of religious devotion.
So, while you may perform similar activities as you would on non-secular volunteer trips, especially if you volunteer in childcare, education, or construction, mission trips differ in that they center around religious services and spreading one’s faith to the host community.
What Should I Know before Going on a Mission Trip?
First and foremost, understand your options. Generally speaking, you’ll go on a mission trip through your church and with other members of your congregation. Church organizers put the trips together and the adventures serve as a way to more deeply integrate members into the faith, especially the youth.
If you can’t go with your local church, or would like more choices, you can join a mission trip through another church in your area. Ask around and make calls to see what trips are happening. You can also search for opportunities through a non-profit regional or national organization.
For instance, Maryknoll Mission Trips offers lay Catholics around the world the chance to serve as an ambassador for the Catholic faith while engaging in service work. Through their volunteer mission trips, you can serve throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Second, know the mission. This way, you can understand if the trip will be fulfilling for you personally and spiritually. Mission trips very often focus on construction, teaching, childcare, and healthcare.
For example, you could:
- Bring clean water to Haiti with Healing Haiti, a Christian mission organization
- Teach in the Philippines with OMF International, an interdenominational and international Protestant Christian missionary society
- Build houses in India with the Fuller Center for Housing, an ecumenical Christian housing ministry
- Work at an HIV/AIDS clinic in central Nigeria with Mission Africa, an interdenominational, evangelical Christian missionary society.
Third, know you can participate in initiatives specific to a religious sect or join an interdenominational faith mission. The broader, interdenominational mission societies still commit themselves to bringing the news of God to locals. You’ll join in prayer, discuss religious beliefs with the community, and live out God’s words. It’s just your work won’t directly tie to your religious denomination, like it would if you volunteered through your church.
To conclude, consider what you want to do, where you want to go, and what organization you’d like to join. This will enable you to choose a suitable mission trip and have a truly transformative experience.
How Long are Mission Trips?
Mission trips have a specific structure. Often done in a group (not an individual/solo trip), mission trips maintain a very set daily schedule, with allotted time for work, prayer, preaching, reflection, cultural immersion, and entertainment.
How long you stay depends on the organization and specific requirements of your religion. Typically, programs don’t last incredibly long (e.g., five days, one week, two weeks, or a month). With some organizations, you can serve for a few months or more.
Long-term missions do exist and usually require that you stay at least two years. According to The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), a global alliance of churches and missionaries, long-term missionaries are “the backbone of ministries” and are “relentlessly committed” to living out their church’s mission.
Do note that some denominations, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have followers that commonly go on longer mission trips. Those in the LDS church serve anywhere from 18 months to three years abroad.
To summarize, depending on your needs and aspirations, you could take a short-term, mid-term, or long-term mission trip. You’ll find the most options within the one-week to eight-month range, since longer trips require a greater commitment.
What Should I Expect on a Mission Trip?
Ready yourself mentally, spiritually, and physically for:
- Being outside your comfort zone: Mission trips may take you to off the beaten path destinations. Come with open eyes and an open mind—and welcome new experiences. It will broaden your perspective and even broaden your palate! As the Virginia Theological Seminary states in their blog, “expect to be challenged. Expect to be changed.”
- Staying flexible: This is an adventure! Not everything will go as planned. Come ready to adapt to unexpected circumstances.
- Acclimating to the host culture: Study the local language, customs, and traditions. Remain humble and ready to learn.
- Time for reflection and sharing: Document your experiences and thoughts. Group reflections and discussions give you the chance to share challenges, observations, experiences, and more.
- Faith-based activities: Mission trips center on faith, so you’ll attend group discussions, community prayers, and church services (which you won’t with volunteer abroad trips).
- Teaching locals about your religion: Most mission societies strive to share their religion in a way that aligns with the host culture. You’ll learn how to preach or discuss your religion in a manner that is culturally appropriate and makes sense to the community.
Note: Some mission trip programs focus solely on providing aid, and don’t engage in religious conversion activities.
Additionally, most mission trips require that you sign a mission trip covenant. This sets clear expectations for your behavior, attitude, and responsibilities. The community covenant is very important, so keep a copy of it with you after reading and signing it.
Since every mission trip has different expectations and structures, take the initiative to ask questions before going. This enables you to prepare yourself properly and puts yourself in position to have a successful and life-changing mission trip.
How Much does it Cost to go on a Mission Trip?
Total cost is similar to a volunteer abroad trip, which we estimate to range between $980 – $3200+ for an affordable short-term trip. As you can see, prices can vary dramatically.
When calculating the cost of a mission trip, consider the following:
- Location: Some destinations cost more than others. Proximity also plays a role. If you live in the United States, airfare and accommodations to Central America will cost less than flying to Asia.
- Length of stay: Accommodation, food, and other essentials add up over time.
- Program: Who’s facilitating your mission trip? They may have program fees, but will handle a lot of the details and prep work for you.
- Financing options: Does the mission society fund part or all of the trip? If so, you may not pay much at all. Are there fundraising activities before going? That could lower your expenses. Many churches and mission societies utilize donations to fund mission trips, so that could make your adventure more affordable.
How are Mission Trips Different from Volunteer Abroad Trips?
Again, know a mission trip isn’t the same as a volunteer abroad trip, like those you would find with an organization like Global Vision International (GVI). GVI, a volunteer abroad organization that’s been around since 1998, offers non-secular service opportunities worldwide in areas such as women’s empowerment, community development, and childcare.
Yet mission trips and volunteer abroad excursions do have lots of similarities. As you can see, many of the projects GVI has are similar to mission trip programs.
Both mission trips and non-secular volunteer adventures give you the opportunity for self-exploration and the ability to enact positive change within a disadvantaged community. You can make lasting connections with local people and other mission workers or volunteers.
Moreover, a mission trip or volunteer trip can be a powerful experience that broadens your perspective, gives you better direction, teaches you new skills, and rejuvenates your body and mind. You can also learn about a foreign culture. And the experience could even inspire you to a life of service and volunteerism.
Note: Certain mission trips may be designed for specific age groups and have set lengths of stay. Keep that in mind when searching for a program. If you’re looking for the best mission trips for college students or the best mission trips for adults, inquire with your church or mission trip organization. They’ll help you register for the most suitable program.
Now, where mission trips and volunteer trips mainly differ is the religious aspect of the service adventure. Mission trips call you to not only dive deeper into your faith, but also to carry out your ministry’s mission and invite others to your faith. Non-secular volunteer trips don’t have this element.
On a mission trip, you’ll partake in numerous faith-based activities, like:
- Church service
- Community prayer
- Religious discussions
- Talking about your religion with locals
You could also preach to community members with the hopes of religious conversion. However, some programs may require that you be a long-term missionary to have the authority to preach and convert locals to your religion. Ask about that beforehand.
What are some Good Alternatives to a Mission Trip?
Mission trip initiatives involve aid projects in areas like construction, healthcare, education, and childcare. Common duties include:
- building and repairing houses, schools, and churches
- providing basic medical treatment
- teaching English and other subjects
- caring for orphans and disadvantaged children
You’ll find many similar volunteer abroad programs. However, volunteer abroad programs also include activities like wildlife conservation, marine conservation, farming, sports coaching, elderly care, business development, and other types of service work.
So, if you’d like more options for your service adventure, you can look into volunteer abroad programs (as discussed), as well as teach abroad or even intern abroad programs. They won’t have the religious focus that mission trips have, but they do allow you to get a taste of the world and make a positive difference in marginalized communities.
These alternative programs will offer you a different selection when it comes to location, activities and tasks, and length of stay. You can come individually or with a group of your friends or family. And you can travel for as short or as long as you’d like (most mission trips have set lengths of stay).
To help you search for alternatives to a mission trip, we’ve compiled a list of the best organizations below.
Reminder: The volunteer organizations below aren’t missionary organizations, but they do offer volunteer trips. And you can make a positive impact on an underserved community.
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ)
Founded in 2007, IVHQ has sent more than 103,000 volunteers abroad. A leader in volunteering, IVHQ offers short-term and long-term service trips in Africa, Asia, Europe, Australasia, and the Americas. For instance, you could:
- Teach in a rural village in Zambia (from $270 for one week)
- Help startup enterprises in Jamaica succeed (from $395 for one week)
- Assist with childcare in Laos (from $260 in one week)
See even more of IVHQ’s volunteer abroad projects here!
Plan My Gap Year (PMGY)
With volunteer experiences available in 17 countries across South America, Africa, and Asia, Plan My Gap Year offers volunteer programs in the areas of childcare, medical care, teaching, wildlife preservation, and more. Their programs range in length from one week to 40 weeks or more. Through PMGY, you could:
- Care for disabled children in Ghana (from $624 for two weeks)
- Teach English in a slum school in India (from $579 for two weeks)
- Rescue wildlife in Bali (from $519 for one week)
To view all of PMGY’s service projects, click here!
If you want to do service work in Latin America, Maximo Nivel has tons of wonderful programs in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Do medical volunteering, work with kids, join an eco-agriculture project, protect sea turtles, or get involved with hands-on community development work. Maximo Nivel even has internships in fields like human rights, education, and medicine, giving you the chance to gain practical experience and do good.
For a full list of Maximo Nivel’s volunteer abroad opportunities, click here!
Known for their affordability, transparency, and strong commitment to local communities, Love Volunteers operates in more than 34 countries. From community development work in Bosnia (from just $569 for four weeks) to medical internships in Uganda (from $429 for two weeks), Love Volunteers has a variety of volunteer projects in a variety of locations. They’re highly rated by past volunteers—a testament to their quality of work.
To check out all of Love Volunteers’ service opportunities, see their site!
Established in 1992, Projects Abroad has become a highly trusted name in volunteering abroad. They’ve placed more than 100,000 people in programs, and have been featured by the likes of the BBC and CNN. They have projects across every continent. Through Projects Abroad, you could:
- Support female entrepreneurs through a micro-finance internship in Tanzania (from $2,520 for one week)
- Coach sports in Samoa (from $2,565 for two weeks)
For a full overview of Projects Abroad’s programs, click here!
Founded in 2006 by experienced volunteers, GoEco was recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2018 by GoAbroad. They carefully vet each project to ensure high standards for quality and safety. Through GoEco, you can do good around the world, from North America to the Middle East to Australasia. GoEco’s wildlife conservation programs, like their desert wildlife initiative in Israel and orangutan rescue program in Indonesia, are particularly great.
To read about GoEco’s volunteer opportunities in medical care, childcare, construction, education, and other fields, start on their homepage!
Making the Most of Your Mission Trip
A mission trip can make a lasting impact on your life and the lives of others. They focus on spreading religion, but do go beyond that. Mission trips are also about helping communities that need it most. The core of your mission is to serve fellow human beings and make a tangible difference in people’s lives.
Remember: The more you give, the more you’ll get. If you give of your time to volunteer, serve others, and make a difference, you’ll feel satisfaction beyond words. So, start exploring and find your perfect mission trip today!