In spite of the weaknesses of evangelical Christianity in the United States, it does appear much more healthy and robust when placed alongside the average congregation in Wales, the only principality in the United Kingdom where this author has gained sufficient experience to make any credible observations. The average congregation in the valleys of South Wales consists of twenty-five adults: 75% of them would be over 60 years of age and the remaining attendees would be younger couples with infants and/or young children. Two generations are virtually missing from most congregationsâ€”teens and adults who are old enough to be parents of teens.
While appearances can be misleading for a variety of reasons, this transplanted Mississippian believes that Christians in America could make an important contribution to the overall spiritual climate in Wales and the other three principalities of the UKâ€”England, Scotland, and Northern Irelandâ€”but in ways that might surprise them. More about that in the next post.
Unfortunately, most local churches have jumped on the short-term mission teams (STMT) bandwagon, adopting a country like Wales, or Romania, or Myanmar and then sending large teams over the summer months to do street evangelism, acts of kindness, entertainment (clowns, puppets, choirs, bands, etc.), sports-related clinics, and conducting holiday Bible clubs or visiting local schools (when permitted) with hopes of inviting the children and their families to some sort of evangelistic event. My well-meaning brothers and sisters in the Southern Baptist Conventionâ€”maybe other groupings as wellâ€”are often oblivious to the relative non-impact these sorts of “come and see” events have among second- and third-generation post-moderns who live and breathe the purely secular atmosphere of Britain.
Those who serve on the mission field don’t relish the logistical nightmares that come with a large STMT; however, most American pastors and church staff seem oblivious to the burden this places upon us. Several things come to mind: housing, transportation, and meals. It’s one thing to have two people stay in your home, put a few extra beans in the stew, and drive them around in your four-seater or five-seater automobile. But what do you do when fifty or sixty people show up at the same time? Well, the mission team often spends a fortune booking every hotel or B&B in the area, hiring large mini-buses or coaches, and arranging commercial caterers to prepare and serve the meals at specified times.
I’m aware of one large mission team that spent close to $100,000 not that long ago: it worked out to approximately $1,800 per person and that just covered airfare, lodging, food, and ground transportation for ten days. For that amount of money, we could have completely underwritten the salaries of three full-time missionaries for an entire year! As I weigh the pros and cons, it doesn’t take a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary to figure out which option makes more missiological sense. But thenâ€¦given the choice of “no STMT” or “STMT warts and all,” most of us would say, “C’mon over and help us!” We would bite the proverbial bullet, but there must be a better way.
Were there no advantages of bringing an STMT to our area? Yes, they covered a lot of ground, distributed thousands of tracts, and spoke to hundreds of people over that ten-day period; the team members themselves were given a very brief but hopefully memorable experience in cross-cultural missions; and local believers were greatly humbled and encouraged that so many people gave up their summer vacation to serve the Lord alongside them in Wales. Depending upon the age and Christian maturity of those American team membersâ€”sometimes a huge variable in and of itselfâ€”the whole experience could change their life forever or, sadly, they might have forgotten the entire thing within six months.
So what are the alternatives? See “Short-Term Mission Teams :: Think Outside the Box!“