Conference to re-evaluate effectiveness of missions

rethinkmissions FTWBy Brittney Horner and Jordan Corona

These days, many people have a T-shirt from a missions trip or a Facebook photo holding an impoverished child.

Multiple Baylor departments and organizations have partnered to create the ReThink Missions Conference in an effort to discuss how to make missions more effective.

The conference, on Monday and Tuesday, is sponsored by the Baylor School of Social Work, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor Spiritual Life, Hankamer School of Business and Baylor Missions.

The event is free and open to the public. Online registration is available until the start of the conference.

“It used to be that missions were something you committed to for a lifetime,” said Dr. Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor School of Social Work. “Now we have many opportunities to work together.”

She said the purpose of the conference is to discuss how Christians and church congregations should think about missions.

Steve Corbett, one of the guest speakers at the event, co-wrote a book with Brian Fikkert, challenging conventional thinking about helping the needy.

“When Helping Hurts” has sold more than 225,000 copies since it was published in 2009.

“Students should reflect on how they think about poverty from their own experiences,” Corbett said. “What frustrates them? What seems to work?”

In addition to guest speakers, there will also be workshops focusing on specific topics. Dr. Dennis Horton, associate professor of religion and associate director of ministry guidance, will be leading a workshop called “Rethinking Short-Term Missions Trips.”

Horton received a $5,000 grant to conduct research on whether short-term trips are effective. Horton, along with the help of five graduate students, surveyed 100 long-term missionaries who had hosted, on average, about 30 short-term teams each. The study, titled “Short Term Mission Trips: What the Long-Term Missions Personnel Really Think About Them” is a blueprint for how missions can be the most effective.

“We found that the number one pitfall of short-term missions was the time and energy it required of the long-term missionaries to host the team coming in,” Horton said.

The study did not conclude that short-term missions were unhelpful. In fact, more than half of the missionaries said short-term missions contributed.

“Short-term missions can be helpful if they work with the agenda of the long-term missionaries,” Horton said.

Horton also said unskilled short-term missionaries, such as high school or college groups, might actually harm the community.

“Manual labor can actually hurt,” Horton said. “Send experts who can teach our people skills, rather than make unemployment even worse.”

Horton said the most effective mission trips are the result of returning to the same place and building relationships.

“Don’t bring a huge team — five to nine people is best, because they relate one-on-one better,” Horton said.

Cindy Wiles, director of the Kinnexus Network, said participants should attend with an open mind and willingness to think of missions from a new perspective.

The Kinnexus Network trains congregants of networked churches for mission work.

“Students should be willing to embrace the responsibility of responding to poverty and to ‘lostness’ responsibly,” Cindy Wiles said.

Cindy Wiles and Dr. Dennis Wiles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Arlington, will speak Tuesday morning at Truett Chapel. They are set to be part of a panel discussion with Steve Corbett.

Dr. Mike Stroope, associate professor of Christian missions at Truett Seminary, will mediate the panel of guest speakers.

“The goal is to be constructive about how we can be involved in the world,” Stroope said.