“This summer, this church is going on a misson trip,” Jeff Horch told his congregation early last year. “Not just a small group of us,” he continued, “not just 10 or 12, but this whole church is going to hop on a plane, and we’re going to fly . . . to Clinton, Iowa.”
It just so happens that Jeff is associate pastor of ministries at the EFC of Clinton, Iowa. That’s right: Over the summer, the people of his church took a three-week, short-term mission trip to their own neighborhood.
Jeff says the idea began brewing among the staff and elders out of a desire to better engage their community. “Summertime rolls around, and we’ll send teams to short-term mission trips, and the church is very generous in supporting those. But the idea was, what if we sent our whole church on a mission trip to our community?”
They brought the vision to the congregation early in the year so people could start praying and planning for “Mission: Gateway.” Becky Pluister, one volunteer who has spent many summers doing overseas missions, said, “I was excited to get other people in the church thinking, Wherever we live, that’s where God has placed our mission.”
Courtesy EFC of Clinton, IowaHands-on mission: Volunteers from EFC of Clinton, Iowa, spread mulch and pulled weeds at Eagle Heights Elementary School as part of their church’s community mission trip.
So Becky stepped up to coordinate one specific project on the mission trip: the clean-up crew. She called local school superintendents and park directors and asked, “We’ve blocked out this whole week to serve you; what can we do?” Based on the lists they gave her, she coordinated with the church and led three work days.
“I loved that our church had every age group involved,” she says. “We had 3- and 4-year olds who were picking up garbage and 80-year-olds who were painting fire hydrants.”
In fact, Becky felt that the wide span of ages serving together was one of the key blessings for the church. Because of those shared experiences, people connected with others they may never have had a chance to even talk with before, and those relationships have lasted.
Along with city clean-up, the EFC of Clinton spent its three-week mission trip in five other areas: preparing and serving food for a rescue mission; serving meals to first responders; leading five-day clubs for kids; building a home with Habitat for Humanity; and helping with RAGBRAI—an annual bike ride across Iowa that brings thousands of people to Clinton, where the ride just happened to end on the last weekend of the mission trip.
“We tried to create projects with as low a hurdle as possible,” Jeff shares, “so that many people could just jump in—things that don’t require a lot of special skill or talent, just willing bodies.”
For other churches that are considering a similar “local missions trip,” Jeff’s advice is keep it simple. The logistics of taking 300 people on a mission trip were a challenge, but everyone knew the primary goal: love and serve the community.
Church leaders also encouraged people to find their own individual ways of serving, in addition to the planned projects. Some of the greatest testimonies came from those spontaneous, God-given opportunities to share the love of Christ with a neighbor or coworker.
“I think one of the great things about taking a mission trip to your community,” Jeff says, “is that you never have to say goodbye.” Instead, Mission: Gateway was just one step in deepening the church’s commitment to love its community.
And it was a big step. Mission: Gateway involved almost the entire church. People who might never have gone overseas gained a heart for missions. Students now serve at the local rescue mission regularly. Other church members continue to bring meals. Friendships were formed, both inside and outside the church.
And the community was touched. One city worker had tears in her eyes when she saw the huge team of people cleaning up after the bike ride. Others saw the team T-shirts and asked why they were doing this work. The EFC of Clinton, Iowa, was able to share Christ’s love because they followed the call to “go”—to their own city.