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. With your mission trip group, you’ll build houses, teach English, work at daycares, and do other tasks that help local communities.
If you’ve been thinking about a short- or long-term mission trip, do your research first. By choosing the best mission trip organization and project, you can have an amazing experience and enact positive change.
In this guide, we’ll cover both religious and non-religious mission trips, giving you all the vital details. We’ll also go over how to choose a program, what to expect, and how to prepare for a mission trip.
What do you do on a mission trip?
In general, you’ll enhance the quality of life in marginalized communities through improvements in education, healthcare, infrastructure, community governance, environmental sustainability, and other key areas. Expect to engage in tasks like building medical clinics, teaching English, cleaning up litter, and more. Be ready to work hard as a mission trip volunteer!
What you do exactly depends on the type of mission trip you’ll join. In a broad sense, mission trips fit into one of two categories:
- Religious mission trips
- Non-religious mission trips
For both religious and non-religious mission trips, you’ll have the opportunity for self-exploration and the ability to create positive change within a disadvantaged community. And you can make lasting connections with local people and other mission workers or volunteers.
Before you search for programs, understand the difference between religious mission trips and non-religious mission trips. This will ensure you join a project that aligns with your values, goals, and interests.
How do religious mission trips differ from non-religious mission trips?
To gain a better understanding, let’s define religious mission trips and non-religious mission trips.
What is a religious mission trip?
Religious mission trips refer to a religious volunteer experience in an underserved community. Mission trips like these are generally taken on behalf of a church group or religious group, and include things like group prayer with the community they’re serving (which distinguishes them from other forms of volunteer travel).
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.
Note: You may get the chance to preach to community members with the hopes of religious conversion. But 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.
Religious mission trips do go beyond sharing beliefs and inviting others to join your faith. As the name suggests, mission trips have a specific mission. Usually, that mission 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.
In this sense, religious and non-religious mission trips do have lots of similarities. Both types of trips focus on helping and empowering local communities in need.
However, the overarching force that drives these projects is faith. That’s why, on a religious mission trip, you’ll partake in numerous faith-based activities that you don’t on mission trips for non-religious groups. Such activities include:
- Church service
- Community prayer
- Religious discussions
- Talking about your religion with locals
What is a non-religious mission trip?
A mission trip for non-religious volunteers mainly focuses on uplifting disadvantaged people and communities abroad. Volunteers provide their expertise, time, energy, and passion to make a tangible impact.
Through a non-religious mission trip, you can make a difference in a large variety of ways. You can choose among lots of non-religious mission trip organizations too.
For example, GoEco, a volunteer abroad organization with more than 150 service initiatives, operates non-religious mission trips across the world, from teaching children in Fiji to community outreach in Zambia.
Volunteering Solutions (VolSol), a volunteer abroad organization that’s been around since 2006, offers non-secular service opportunities worldwide in areas like women’s empowerment, community development, and childcare.
As you can see, there are opportunities for both skilled and unskilled volunteers. More project examples include:
- Offering medical services in areas without adequate healthcare access (medical mission trips are among the most popular non-religious programs)
- Building houses and schools in rural villages
- Caring for children at a daycare center
- Taking care of the elderly in need
In addition, non-religious mission trips include other types of projects you won’t commonly find with religious mission trips. Initiatives may center around wildlife conservation, marine conservation, farming, sports coaching, business development, and other types of service work.
Beyond helping the local community, non-religious mission trips aspire to provide volunteers with meaningful experiences. These mission trip organizations want to empower you to travel with a purpose. When you join such a project, having fun, gaining new cultural perspectives, and growing as a person should be goals you have.
Now that you know about the types of mission trips, let’s discuss going on one.
Why go on a mission trip?
A mission trip can be a powerful, life-changing 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 meet like-minded people from around the world. And the experience could even inspire you to a life of service and volunteerism.
What’s also great is that anyone can join. Religious and non-religious mission trips suit all sorts of people, including high school students, college students, young adults, mid-career professionals, and seniors and retirees.
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.
To summarize, mission trips can transform you for the better. Go with an open heart and open mind, and you’ll see, do, and experience wonderful things.
What are the best non-religious mission trips?
As mentioned earlier, mission trips for non-religious groups could involve any number of 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
- implementing environmental conservation programs
If you’d like more options and/or simply wish to join a secular volunteer project, know you can choose among a plethora of opportunities. Through non-religious mission trip organizations, you can volunteer abroad and teach abroad around the world, and improve the future prospects of marginalized communities.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best non-religious mission trip organizations.
Founded in 2006 by experienced volunteers, GoEco was recognized as the Top Volunteer Abroad Organization in 2018 by GoAbroad. They carefully vet each mission trip 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. They also have high-quality medical mission trips, like their healthcare support project in Malawi.
Read about some of the most popular non-religious mission trips with GoEco below:
Rural Healthcare and HIV/AIDS Awareness in South Africa
Interested in a medical mission trip? Help curb the HIV/AIDS crisis as you work in rural clinics in Saint Lucia, South Africa. Your tasks include assistance with home-based care, helping families get proper support, and holding awareness workshops to educate and alleviate the stigma of HIV/AIDS. As you volunteer, you’ll get to immerse yourself in Zulu culture and learn about traditional customs.
This is an amazing medical mission trip where you’ll see the impact of your work immediately. Click here to learn more and register!
For a full list of GoEco’s top medical mission trips, visit this webpage.
Teach in Buddhist Monasteries in Nepal
Engage in positive cultural exchange with local monks at a monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. As a service worker, you’ll teach English to young monks, enabling them to improve their language skills. You’ll also get involved in other tasks around the monastery, such as gardening, library work, and cooking.
Former missionary workers have made amazing memories here, like Melanie:
“In addition to teaching monks, I got to work at an orphanage in Kathmandu. It was an amazing month that I will endlessly cherish and continue to learn from.”
Ready to experience life on top of the world—literally? Find out all the details here.
For a full list of GoEco’s non-religious mission trips, visit this webpage.
About the Program: Volunteering Solutions, or VolSol, as it has been nicknamed by its 17,000 volunteers and volunteer alums, has been connecting passionate volunteers with great international projects since 2006. VolSol was founded by volunteers who wanted to help international volunteers connect to highly specialized, community-based local projects.
VolSol has a full staff of experienced coordinators who assist volunteers before, during, and after placement, providing resources such as international insurance, a connection to a network of passionate global citizens over 17,000 strong and resources on how to volunteer ethically and mindfully. VolSol is one of the most affordable programs in the world with one week projects starting at just $200 USD.
Where to Go: Volunteering Solutions has programs all over the world on six continents. Volunteers can’t go wrong with projects like Volunteering for Child Care in Cusco, Perú, where volunteers have the opportunity to work with local at-risk children to teach them to become global citizens or Volunteering in Koh Samui, Thailand where volunteers are lucky enough to work in local schools in one of the most beautiful islands in Thailand– and that’s saying something! Volunteers can search through programs by visiting VolSol’s project page on Volunteering Forever, where all projects are described and rated by volunteers like you.
Short-Term Volunteering in Peru
Another adventurous, two-week volunteer opportunity you can sign up for right now through Volunteering Solutions invites you to Peru to volunteer and travel to some of South America’s most spectacular sites. You’ll start with an orientation and intercultural project for your first week in Cusco, where you’ll volunteer in a rural nursery school to provide love, care, and attention to children from impoverished families.
After that, you’ll have some time to explore Cusco by yourself before embarking on a guided Sacred Valley tour, and then an amazing tour of Machu Picchu. This is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in Peruvian culture while exploring the Inca Trail and bringing a smile to the face of some of the country’s neediest children.
Sports Coaching in South Africa
If you’ve always wanted to visit Africa, Volunteering Solutions is offering a chance for you to coach sports at a local primary school in Cape Town. Physical education has only recently been introduced into the school curriculum in Cape Town, so many schools are still building up their resources to accommodate these programs. As a volunteer, you’ll be a mentor to these children, assist teachers with lessons when you’re not coaching, and you’ll teach children how to stay physically fit and motivated to keep a healthy lifestyle. In addition to your volunteer work, you’ll be able to travel throughout Cape Town and visit areas such as Table Mountain, Robben Island, Lion’s Head, and more to gain the most from your adventure in South Africa.
A Broader View (ABV)
Specializing in volunteer programs and mission trips abroad, A Broader View calls people from all walks of life to do something meaningful and good. ABV gets excellent reviews from past missionary workers, with a rating of 4.99 out of 5 across 263 reviews on Volunteer Forever. That’s a testament to the quality of their missionary work overseas.
Specifically, ABV’s medical mission trips earn lots of praise. Look over two initiatives below!
Medical Mission Trip to Honduras
Travel to La Ceiba, Honduras! There, you’ll provide crucial support to understaffed and ill-equipped hospitals and clinics. A lot of the local community lives in poverty and lacks access to healthcare, so your help as a missionary goes a long way in getting people necessary services. Duties include assisting in the emergency room, observing minor surgeries, running errands for medical staff, and doing community outreach. How hands-on your role is depends on your experience.
Many former participants have had great experiences, such as Allison:
“Volunteering in the hospitals and walking through the neighborhoods vaccinating the community was one of the most unique and life-changing experiences I’ve had. Our ABV coordinator in Honduras helped us with everything we needed during the trip.”
Interested in a mission trip to Honduras? Get all the details and sign up here!
Medical Mission Trip to Ghana
Make your way to the town of Kasoa, where you’ll work at an understaffed health center. As a missionary worker, you’ll assist staff and host community education workshops to inform locals about the symptoms and treatment of malaria, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, and other health issues. Your efforts will boost the overall health of the community!
This mission trip in Ghana is available for healthcare professionals or anyone enrolled in a medical program at school. For more details, visit ABV’s site.
For a full list of ABV’s mission trips abroad, click here.
Established in 1989, Frontier has placed more than 103,000 volunteers in projects overseas. They’re known for their incredible amount of projects, from childcare to conservation to human rights initiatives. Through their non-religious mission trips, Frontier offers services workers a way to contribute to deserving communities, learn about another culture, and explore their own beliefs and faith.
If you’re looking for missionary work overseas, definitely consider Frontier’s two programs (details below!).
Uganda Missionary Work
With dramatic landscapes and welcoming people, Uganda provides a unique experience for missionaries. Dive into life in the local community as you do healthcare outreach work, build community infrastructure, help with childcare, and host environmental awareness workshops.
Missionary workers who’ve joined this program have great things to say, like James:
“It was an adventure of a lifetime. I was made to feel welcome by everybody in Uganda. The work was great—hard and long but loads of fun. The culture is different from ours and it was fascinating to find out how life works for them. I would highly recommend this project.”
For more details on Frontier’s missionary work overseas in Uganda, click here.
Ecuador Missionary Work
Head to the vibrant city of Quito, where you’ll enrich the lives of disabled and underprivileged children at a local school. Duties include organizing recreational activities, running vocational training workshops, helping with medical care, and more. Along the way, you’ll get to learn about the Ecuadorian way of life!
For more details on Frontier’s missionary work overseas in Ecuador, click here.
What are the best religious mission trips?
First and foremost, your impact as a service worker will be felt and appreciated.
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.
Your exact role depends on what project you join and what your goals are. That’s why the best service project for you may not be the best one for someone else.
As you learn about the best mission trip organizations, look for those that put the needs of the local community above all else. You have plenty of great choices, so do your research. You may even find the best mission trip organization for what you want to do right in your hometown!
When searching for the best mission trips, it’s vital that you first understand your options. Generally speaking, you’ll go on a religious 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 religious 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 mission trip 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.
Additionally, know the mission. This way, you can understand if the trip will be fulfilling for you personally and spiritually. Religious mission trips very often focus on construction, teaching, childcare, and healthcare.
Some of the best mission trips include:
- Bringing clean water to Haiti with Healing Haiti, a Christian mission organization
- Teaching in the Philippines with OMF International, an interdenominational and international Protestant Christian missionary society
- Building houses in India with the Fuller Center for Housing, an ecumenical Christian housing ministry
- Working at an HIV/AIDS clinic in central Nigeria with Mission Africa, an interdenominational, evangelical Christian missionary society.
You should also know that 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 your beliefs and faith, what you want to do, where you want to go, and what mission trip organization you’d like to join. This will enable you to choose the best mission trip for you and have a truly transformative experience.
Are there alternatives to mission trips abroad?
Yes! Through volunteer abroad programs, you can participate in community service work that’s similar to mission trips.
Below, we’ve highlighted four great international volunteer organizations that operate service projects overseas.
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 120,000 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 $3,660 for four weeks)
- Coach sports in Samoa (from $3,260 for four weeks)
For a full overview of Projects Abroad’s programs, click here!
Alai International aims to empower volunteers to make a positive difference as they roam the globe. With 475+ programs across 41+ locations, from Mongolia to Ethiopia to Colombia, you can certainly find a suitable program, whether that be teaching at a school or environmental conservation.
Visit Alai International’s site to learn more!
How long are mission trips?
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. Length also varies depending on if you sign up for a religious or non-religious mission trip (see details below).
Length of religious mission trips
Religious 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 mission trip 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.
Length of non-religious mission trips
Mission trips for non-religious groups 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. Projects are often flexible with how long you stay.
For instance, through GoEco, a popular provider of medical mission trips, you can stay for as short as two or for as long as 12 weeks (and sometimes longer). Each mission trip organization differs, so check in advance.
What should I expect on a mission trip?
As long as you prepare, you’ll have a smooth experience. 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 (for religious mission trips): Religious mission trips center on faith, so you’ll attend group discussions, community prayers, and church services (which you won’t with non-religious mission trips).
- Teaching locals about your religion (for religious mission trips): 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 religious mission trip programs focus solely on providing aid, and don’t engage in religious conversion activities.
Again, while you may perform similar activities on religious and non-religious mission trips, especially if you volunteer in childcare, education, or construction, where the two types of mission trips mainly differ is the religious aspect of the work. Religious 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. Secular mission trips don’t have this element.
Additionally, know most mission trips require that you sign a mission trip covenant (religious) or agreement (non-religious). This sets clear expectations for your behavior, attitude, and responsibilities. The community covenant or agreement is very important, so keep a copy 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?
The total cost of a mission trip 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. Many mission trips include meals and lodging with the initial costs, so you won’t have to worry about those expenses once there.
- 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.
Making the most of your mission trip abroad
A mission trip can make a lasting impact on your life and the lives of others. Many mission trips 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!
Nick Callos · Writer
With a BA in English Literature & Writing from Boston College, Nick researches and writes about volunteer, intern, and teach abroad programs worldwide. He has studied abroad and taught English in Chengdu, China, and aims to help fellow travelers make a lasting impact on the communities they visit.