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A short-term mission (STM) is the mobilization of a Christian missionary for a short period of time ranging from days to a year; many short-term missions are mission trips. The short-term missionary is a fairly recent innovation in the global missions movement, but many short-term missions agencies are seeing great fruit in trips that consist of a week up to a year.
Generally, missionaries have been men and women who dedicated large portions of their lives to serving overseas in Christian service. In the past 50 years, the church has moved toward mobilizing young people for short-term trips that have a long-term impact. One of the first short-term missions organizations began in the 1960s under the leadership of Loren Cunningham. It was called Youth With a Mission (YWAM) and introduced a novel concept: that young people could be missionaries.
Generally, missionaries were expected to have extensive theological training before going into the foreign mission field, but YWAM provided short-term opportunities for young people who had a passion for Jesus Christ to share their faith in a way that was powerful and effective. Eventually, YWAM began offering courses to train missionaries as a substitution or supplement to formal theological training.
In 1970, there were very few youth groups doing short-term missions in the United States. However, during the 1980s and '90s it has been observed that missiologically progressive local churches began to take a project approach to missions, capitalizing on directing present energy into short-term missions trips, vacations with a purpose, designated projects and offerings, and ministry teams. Whereas more missiologically conservative local churches tended to take a process approach to missions, which draws upon over 200 years of Protestant missions history worldwide.
The project approach has matured in the modern Short-term Missions (STM) movement and become a standard annual feature for thousands of Christian youth groups, church groups, and individuals across the United States.
However, there is a limit to what short-term missionaries can accomplish on a given project. There is also debate as to how effective short-term missions are in actually recruiting candidates for the long term. The confusion often centres on a misunderstanding of the differing purposes of short term vs long-term missions. (In fact this tension is often exemplified by the usage of a term such as 'vs.' ). When both long-term and short-term teams recognise their individual interdependence on one another, there can often be observed an exponential growth of missions, by missional people.
Many short-term Missions Organizations or "sending agencies" are addressing these issues and others through the adoption of Standards of Excellence in Short-term Missions.