First Baptist Church of Orlando saw a steady increase in overseas short-term missions come to an end in 2009. Not only did designated giving for missions decline 12 percent, low participation forced the Florida megachurch to cancel two overseas trips and postpone a third.

Global impact pastor Bill Mitchell believes a trend toward more domestic short-term trips might be under way, and expects participation to increase this year.

"It's better to get people doing missions with a $500 to $1,000 trip than having to continue to cancel $3,000 trips because people can't afford to go," he said.

Mitchell's comments reflect a development first noticed by David Armstrong of Mission Data International (M-DAT) two years ago. His sampling of leading agencies showed that overseas trips have decreased by 15 percent since 2008. That is the first downturn since M-DAT began measuring in 2000. Further, groups sending people overseas sent fewer and smaller teams, he said.

This paralleled another trend Mitchell noticed over the past four years: inquiries to M-DAT's search portal about domestic trips have steadily increased, while searches for international trips have steadily decreased.

"I expect to see a further increase in the percentage of people choosing a United States trip over an international trip," Armstrong said.

Georgia-based Adventures in Missions saw participation in its international short-term trips shrink from 57 percent of all mission volunteers in 2005 to 26 percent in 2009. It expects the numbers to rebound in 2010, primarily because of trips to Haiti.

The impact of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Great Recession have all played a role in dimming overseas missions, said executive director Seth Barnes. So has drug violence in Mexico. ...

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