NASHVILLE (BP) – Not too long ago it was normal for Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith, Ark., to take 20-25 mission trips in a year. Perhaps a half-dozen of those would be reached by van, but most required a flight.
COVID-19 changed all that.
“I had many trips ready to go in 2020, but COVID pretty much shut us down,” said Scott Ward, missions minister. “There were three scheduled for that spring break, and I was planning on taking another team to South Asia. About a week before, we decided to cancel.”
Instead, the church took a few trips in 2020 and only one in 2021, to Wyoming. Spring break missions returns next month with college students assisting some of GABC’s church plants in Columbus, Ohio. In May a group will travel to Central Asia, with another returning to the Wind River Indian Reservation near Riverton, Wyo., in July.
In addition, GABC teams will go to Tanzania in June, Panama in July and South Asia in August, Ward said.
The pandemic was an interruption. But as it did for others in literally every part of society, it forced churches like Grand Avenue to take a closer look at how to adjust. A hiccup doesn’t have to become a hinderance.
One church’s way of being part of the Great Commission doesn’t have to mirror others’, said Kevin Prewett, manager of field relations for the International Mission Board. For congregations who scaled back on travel the last two years or those wanting to re-establish a missions culture, it always helps to look ahead.
“For churches that have taken a few trips previously, the pathway is shorter,” Prewett said, “but there are necessary steps for setting up a healthy missions strategy and plan.”
It begins with a church taking stock of how God has blessed it, to discover the ways it has been equipped “both corporately and individually,” Prewett said. “That will help them determine where and how to engage in the overall mission.”
Grand Avenue, for instance, had to adjust for a season on its approach.
“COVID certainly interrupted our mission trips,” Ward said. “But it benefited us in that it forced us to really work hard on our local mission efforts.”
For churches who feel they may not have the resources for numerous trips abroad, Prewett pointed out other ways to support the Great Commission.
“They need to consider what training they might need, what areas of the globe or people groups they want to prayerfully consider and how they want to engage in the mission,” he said. “The question is much broader than simply ‘Should we go on a short-term mission trip or not?’ Looking at prayer opportunities, ways to support field work financially and how would a short-term trip lead to a longer-term partnership are other issues to consider.”
Vaccination considerations have also become the norm for planning mission trips, largely depending on your destination.