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May 07

Mission Trips Part 1: Pros & Cons of a Large Mission Team

I’m starting a blog series this week on mission trips.  We are in the middle of our mission trip season at our church, and I just got back from a great training weekend.  Our church is sending out eight teams this summer, each varying in size.  One of the tensions that we are often discussing with our team is size.  What is the ideal size for a mission team?  Is bigger better?  Does a small team have more merit in the role of discipleship?  Can a team be too big?  Can it be too small?

Over the last fifteen years I have led both large and small mission teams.  Here are some pros and cons when considering a large team:

 

PROS OF A LARGE TEAM

  • Large teams can potentially do MORE:  Teams that are doing construction, VBS, visitation, evangelism and helping mission partners with their mission can do more with a large team.  Several years ago we took a large team to Mexico, and installed 6000 square feet of roofing shingles.   That job required a large team.  Notice I use the word potential, as it is critical that a large team is well prepared in order to actually do more.
  • Large teams give more people an opportunity to SERVE:  As a pastor, I want to see the value of service and missions in as many people as possible. If someone is willing to give a week’s worth of vacation, income, and free time, then I want them to be part of the team!
  • Large teams allow for more people to have a powerful mission EXPERIENCE:  Most everyone who has been part of a mission trip experience knows that it can be life changing.  If we limit that experience to smaller teams, we are essentially saying that not everyone can have that experience.  A large team opens up the opportunity for more people to experience growth and life transformation.

CONS OF A LARGE TEAM

  • Large teams need to become SMALL:  A little bit of an oxymoron, I know. While the beauty of a large team has one mission, one training plan, one curriculum, etc., it is imperative that the large group becomes small for effectiveness, mobility and deeper connections.  For instance, we divided up our Trinidad team into three VBS teams who will go to three different locations during our trip.  In our planning we had to divide those three teams into four smaller sub-teams in order that everyone could be heard and included in the planning process.  A large team will have to continually make sure that people are connecting and engaged in the process.
  • Large teams require a much higher level of DETAIL and ORGANIZATION:  Last year we sent a large team to New Orleans.  Due to the size of the group it was cost prohibitive to put everyone on one flight, so we had to break into three flight teams.  In all, our team required 12 legs of flight to get to and from our mission trip location.  We required more ground transportation, food preparations, leisure day activities, security, and making sure that no one got left behind anywhere.  A larger team will have to make sure that their systems and processes are well communicated and executed multiple times.
  • Large teams need to be reminded of the VISION of the trip more frequently:  When the team has a lot of people, that means there are many voices, opinions, ideas and leaders on how and why the mission trip should be led.  For a large team, it is easy to buckle under the pressure of the challenges, and consider a small teams, or changing the priority of the trip (self-serving instead of serving others) in order to satisfy preferences, hidden expectations or tradition.  The vision of why we have a large team in the first place (sure as more work, people serving, more life transformations) must be communicated frequently.

Does this mean a large team is the way to go?  Not necessarily.  The size of the team should determined by the purpose of your trip.  Before any dollar is spent, or one detail is planned, we need to be able to answer the philosophical question of why.  Why are we doing mission trips?  If we believe that mission trips should be for the spiritually elite, and provide a highly specialized experience for them, then a large team is not needed.  If the purpose is to help people own and build the value of missions and service into their life by growing through the mission trip process, then we want to open up the opportunity to as many people as possible.

Tomorrow I will share my pros and cons about small-team mission trips.  I’m curious to hear from you, though:

What has been your mission team experience?  In your context, do you see a large team or small team more beneficial?

  • Dan Haugh

    Todd. thanks for sharing your thoughts.  I agree wholeheartedly and echo/share your experiences as well.  I think the key of small or large groups is unity, intentionality, and clear and commented vision.  blessings on Grace’s trips this summer!

  • Todd_Szymczak

    Thanks, Dan.  Hope you and your wife are doing well!