A Shift In Missions

By Nick Cocalis, Co-Founder and Missions Director

Do you ever wonder if your short-term mission trip really made a difference?  Would it shock you to hear, that as a short-term missions organization, we have thought the same thing?

The truth is we, at Next Step, think it’s a great question.  Over the last year, it’s a question we have been wrestling with. But through the questions and the struggle, God has pushed us to grow and evolve as a ministry.

This month, we are excited to not only launch a new website, but also a new vision for Next Step: a commitment to create an organization where short-term missions collide with long-term community development.

The Problem:  For the last 100 years, short-term mission trips have been exactly that: short-term.  The truth of the matter is that for most mission organizations like us, the ‘success’, revenue, and future relies on short-term participants.  So naturally, organizations like Next Step dump a majority of their resources and time into those short-term trips.  Now don’t get me wrong, this creates countless individual success stories.  It creates great short-term trips, which in turn fosters new relationships with Christ, much needed service projects, new friendships, glimpses of hope, seeds for future long-term missionaries… the list goes on.  However, the question still remains, how sustainable are these trips?  Are we empowering the communities that we serve alongside?  Are we working ourselves ‘out of a job’ in the communities we’re in?  Is each community better off at the end of the day because of our trips?

The Solution:  After a lot of prayer, conversation, and questions, the solution to us seemed pretty simple: put the same amount of time and resources into developing the communities we serve in as we simultaneously facilitate the short-term trips.  We have a vision to lead an organization that works from the inside out, where our dedication starts with community leadership, listening, humility and investment in the communities we partner with.  An organization that empowers the communities we are in to serve well beyond our short-term trips.  The coolest thing is, as we balance our investment into each community, our short-term trips will only get better.  A short-term mission experience will transform from ‘serving a community’ to ‘serving with a community’.

What it looks like:  Along with the new look and feel of this website, we pray that you begin to tangibly see a new look and feel of what God is doing in this ministry.  Whether you’re going a mission trip, or just reading this blog and thinking about missions, we hope that you feel apart of a movement where short-term mission trips collide with long-term community development.  Next Step is changing the way we ‘do mission trips’.  It’s our goal to have community leadership teams in the communities we serve that select the short-term projects.   We are supporting more and more full-time Next Step staff to serve year-round in the places we lead trips.

We are making an effort to partner with the local church, in order to intentionally connect the families we are working on a home with, to follow-up programs and discipleship long after our short-term trips are done for the summer.  This addresses the spiritual needs of the community much beyond what Next Step is able to accomplish in one summer. To support programs such as this, we recently founded a new nonprofit called the Next Step Foundation. This has been created to continue work in communities that our short-term trips can’t address (NS Foundation blog post coming soon).

We haven’t always done mission trips the right way, and for that, we’re sorry. We will be the first to admit that we will make more mistakes in the future. But Next Step is excited for this new chapter.  A chapter committed to responsible missions.  A chapter with a vision to change what a short-term missions experience can be not only for the students, but for the communities we are serving with.