From the Field

How to Build an Effective Missions Program for Your Church

From the Field

How to Build an Effective Missions Program for Your Church

By August 30, 2016August 23rd, 2022No Comments
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There is no one right way to establish an effective missions program.

Each time our organization has helped a church start, reboot, grow, or strengthen its international missions program, it’s a unique journey influenced by the gifts, needs, callings, and passions of all the people involved.

But over the years and across locations, we have seen that programs that have a sustained, lasting impact always seem to include the same essential elements.

As you read these 7 key elements, please remember this isn’t a “to-do” list.

Churches are all different. You and your leaders have a broad range of gifts. Not everything on this list will apply to where your church is at the moment.

This list is to help you get a feel for what you are already doing well, what may need to be strengthened, and, in some cases, what may need to start.

It’s quite likely that God is going to reveal some things about you and your church we don’t touch on here. That’s great!

The greatest value will come from you and your leaders intentionally listening to God and each other as you seek to grow the extension work of your church.

1 | An effective mission program reflects the gospel dynamic between personal renewal and mission effort.

The gospel is God’s message of reconciliation and renewal to the world. Through global missions, we all desire to see people across the world come to faith in Jesus Christ and, through him, find a relationship with God.

But the gospel isn’t simply the door to a new relationship with God – it’s also the power that continually transforms us and sustains us to share his love with others.

It’s what provides both the motivation for engaging in missions and the manner in which we pursue missions.

This means that in order for local ministries and global missions to even exist, the gospel must stay fresh in the lives of all church members.

The goodness of God’s grace motivates and empowers us to follow Jesus into a lifestyle of faith and repentance, loving those who don’t yet know Him. But, in particular, the costs and rigor of global missions will always push us back to God for help, forgiveness, support, and encouragement.

Renewal leads us into mission, and mission leads us back to renewal.

In addition, the same gospel we take to the world also forms and guides the manner in which we pursue missions.

Regardless of the model you choose for organizing your church’s mission work, the gospel changes our tones and relationships with one another and with our partners.

We are always called to be Christ to others. You can uniquely represent him – to missionaries, to your fellow committee members, and to your church.

2 | The gospel should inform every part of the vision.

Losing a gospel-centered message results in the church becoming disconnected from the reality of its calling.

Smaller substitutes become central. Programs become empty activities.

A missional life centered on Jesus and the good news of grace will prevent strategies, opportunities, programs, institutions, personal preferences, or opinions from becoming the driving force of local and global missions efforts.

As a pastor, you’ll play a leading part in your church’s missions program. As you engage the congregation, it is vital to communicate a clear vision of how the church engages God’s mission.

Practically speaking, this means that: Leaders should seek to keep the gospel at the center of their vision and work in practical and clear ways.

Gospel-Centered Ministry means…

  • Reconciliation. Church leaders must engage in local ministries of reconciliation, discerning the church’s context and community needs. Elders and other leaders should model lives being transformed by the gospel before the congregation and a watching world.
  • Kingdom Prayer. A leader emulates Jesus’s ministry model when he or she pursues the heart of God in prayer and leads a congregation to do the same. Since prayer connects to God’s grace and power, every part of mission work should be characterized by dependent and expectant prayer.
  • The Spirit forms the church and guides it into its unique mission. Vision simply reflects this reality. Church leaders recognize the gifts the Spirit brings, fitting them together to make a unique response to God’s mission, both locally and globally.
  • To ensure a shared vision, the pastor and other leaders will often travel to see and engage in cross-cultural work. Engaging in vision and mission trips allows pastors to gain perspective and motivation for leading missions and keeping the local gospel presentation from being enculturated. The gospel’s movement is much bigger than we think!

Every part of church ministry (Sunday School curriculum, mercy ministries, worship liturgy, etc.) should have clear gospel content with practical application of grace to everyday life. Programs should reflect the church’s desire to know Christ and make Him known. Pastors need to ensure centrality and clarity of vision in each of these areas.

3 | An effective missions program is integrated with the entire missional calling of the church.

A church’s missional calling should be characterized as integrative rather than segregative.

Rather than splintering into multiple programs with missions being viewed as “one among many,” all local and global ministry expressions should unite under one central, missional calling. This ensures the programs (or ministries) within a church operate symbiotically instead of independently.

In our present cultural context, this might specifically be applied to youth ministry. Drawing youth ministry into a more interdependent and integrative expression in the church rather than allowing it to satellite (operate independently of the church’s wider ministry), will shape and strengthen the future of the church.

Likewise, all parts of a healthy mission program work together as a whole.

This includes sending short-term teams, receiving international visitors, supporting long-term missionaries, creating international partnerships, sponsoring development projects, etc.

They don’t compete with each other for time, money, or attention. The intent of an effective program is not simply to argue for its priority and a piece of a budget but to communicate its centrality to God’s mission for the church.

4 | An effective mission program requires a focused team or committee to implement the clear, shared vision of the leaders.

While the pastor and elders discern the church’s calling and set the vision, it is important to have a missions team that will own and apply that vision in tangible ways.

Primarily, this means that leaders should empower the mission team to identify and engage people in global missions to fulfill the vision.

Trust between the leadership team and the mission committee is essential and takes time to build and maintain. Without it, committees feel stuck and can’t move ahead with implementation, and the leadership team will feel frustrated that specific initiatives don’t seem to match the gifts and calling of the church.

A few best practices help the relationship run smoothly and effectively:

  • An effective missions committee is often led by the senior pastor. Alternately, a person who shares the vision discerned by the leadership may be appointed to effectively mobilize people around that vision.
  • Ideally, some committee members should be pursuing missions themselves or have served as missionaries. However, former missionaries need to submit their ministry passions to the needs and vision of the church. It’s all too easy for former missionaries to misshape committee mission work to suit their own ministry projects and passions.
  • The missions committee should find effective ways to engage people in global missions by praying, giving, encouraging, going, etc. Evaluating what is effective will require the committee or team to watch for results of their work, to listen to people’s feedback and track the lasting impact of the committee’s work. Part of the evaluation might include asking some bigger questions:

    Is the gospel at the center of all mission strategy and work?
    Is there unity of vision for the work being done?Does the mission work produce results that are appropriate for the church?Are we seeing some results from our support on the field?(Evaluating field progress needs to keep in mind the needs, difficulties, and culture on the field. Progress in Guatemala will look different than progress in Austria.)
  • An effective program looks for ways to display the tie between local and global missions. For example, a local ESL program might be joined with a short-term team doing ESL as a part of a global mission team’s outreach.
  • Good partnerships are a key part of seeing local and international outreach benefit each other. Partnering well with others and having an inclusive, open approach can help your congregation stay engaged in global mission.

Related Post: Where is God Calling Your Church to Go? 13 Questions to Get You There.

5 | An effective mission program mobilizes and releases both money and people for increased mission work.

The leadership team of a church and a missions committee demonstrate the value they place on the work of global missions by regularly finding and releasing money and people needed to push the vision forward.

God will provide what each church needs in gifts, people, and resources for the part of world mission to which he calls them. But like everything else in the church, these come by faith and sacrificial giving, not merely out of an easily recognized surplus.

This isn’t easy. Investing in missions can feel difficult as local and global needs vie for attention, workers, and finances.

Often, the pastor or leadership team needs to take the initiative in framing the issues associated with investing in missions to produce healthy results.

For instance, many missions committees slip into the default mode of asking, “How big is our slice of the financial pie?”

Instead, leaders need to consistently teach people to ask, “How can we grow our financial stewardship and recruit more people for all mission work?”

In other words, how can we help make the pie bigger rather than fight over the size of the pieces with other church ministries?

As a church seeks to mobilize more resources for mission work, “making the pie bigger” often involves things like:

Integrate local outreach and global mission. Seeing local and global outreach as a single expression of the church’s calling, makes it easier to avoid pitfalls like ineffective short-term teams, or becoming a church that has an either/or approach to local or global mission.

Local outreach and justice/mercy ministries should be supported by the mission team, who can: 

  • Help find volunteers for local and international outreach.
  • Make useful connections between local outreach and global mission work.
  • Connect those who have a passion for giving with appropriate ministries.
  • Model the unity of the missional calling of the church as they promote both local and global mission efforts.

Pursue the unique benefits that come from each type of global mission work. Short-term and long-term work will attract different audiences, participants, and funding sources. Likewise, people will be attracted to different types of mission work (church planting, evangelism, justice/mercy ministry) and different parts of the globe.

An effective mission committee looks for ways to “increase the pie” in each of these areas.

Support long-term mission work and missionaries. In many cases, long-term relationships and sustained work provide some of the most effective mission work. As people get to know long-term missionaries and develop relationships with them, their interest in going, giving, and praying increases.

Unite short-term mission work to long-term teams and trusted international partnerships. This keeps people focused on the unique calling of the church, while still encouraging new people to come aboard, instead of dividing energy and resources.

Recognize that giving often comes from new sources. Some will only respond to global mission work, or a particular mission need. That’s okay! Often, as people begin to give in one area, they begin to give in other areas, as well.

Value the importance of giving to global missions. A strong global missions program often captures people (and their resources) who are not passionate about local ministries.

Likewise, there are people with a heart for global missions who will respond with deeper generosity when given the chance.

In each case, the total resources being freed up for mission work increase, often allowing previously allocated money to be redirected.

6 | An effective mission program benefits the church’s overall health by preventing it from becoming too self-focused.

It is all too easy for churches to become self-focused instead of other-oriented in ministries and plans. An effective missions program helps check this tendency by reminding us that we are called to be “pipes,” not “buckets.”

God’s blessings and grace are given to us so that they may run through us to others.

An effective missions program keeps the larger realities of the Kingdom in focus, even as we engage in our day-to-day lives.

This can happen in a number of ways:

  • Local ministry and global mission, both needed in every church, form a single, holistic response to Christ’s call. Global missions can’t be reduced to local efforts. Saying “everyone is a missionary in the church” does not remove God’s calling to global mission. In the same way, local ministry work can’t be replaced by having a strong global mission program. Churches are called to both.
  • In global missions work, the church takes up God’s heart for the world. God loves the world, even His enemies. He welcomes the stranger and the alien. He loves everyone with an undying passion, even those who do not think, act or look like us.
  • Global missions work pulls the church out of its own culture and its religious subculture and forces us to re-examine our gospel clarity. Our unexamined traditions and cultural forms are tested when we have to communicate a clear gospel message across languages and cultures. The church needs this skill to reach its changing home culture.
  • The church imitates Christ, who left heaven and suffered to reconcile those who were enemies to God’s love and favor. God’s Son left “home” to enter our world. Global mission joins that “incarnational” model. Rather than asking others to become like us or enter our culture, we become like Christ as we “become all things to all people” so that we, too, “might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22 ESV).
  • The church responds to the call of Christ to take up our cross and follow Him. That “cross” is not only our painful struggle to grow in holiness but also includes the suffering we experience when we take the gospel to the world. The church joins Paul in filling up “what remains in the sufferings of Christ.” (Col. 1:24).
  • Through global missions, the church can embrace opportunities to love and serve those who will not add to the local church’s members or finances.

When the church offers grace and love to lost and dispossessed people who cannot benefit the church, it gives a clear testimony to the love of God.

7 | An effective mission program provides a strong continuity that helps the church avoid pitfalls and manage change in loving ways.

By paying particular attention to a church’s relationship with missionaries and regularly revisiting the vision for missions established by the leadership team, an effective mission program often helps a church love people well while moving forward with new work.

A good mission committee can make a huge difference in the life and work of committed missionaries by communicating changes and helping them through the shifts that come in ordinary church life.

Some missionaries or partnerships your church supports will outlast the tenure of a pastor, elder, deacon, or committee member. Ensuring that the committee is intentional about stewarding “institutional memory” for the church helps your global outreach partners feel well cared for and loved.

Likewise, some missionaries will rotate on and off the field more quickly than your congregation may realize. By helping to communicate these changes to your church, the committee often provides a vital link between the stated vision of the church for mission work and the actual expression of it.

An effective mission committee also proactively brings its experience of seeing God work in and through global missions to the life of the church.

It’s possible for a church to become so identified with its home culture, or religious subculture, that members don’t realize when decisions, methods, structures, and strategies have started to stray from gospel principles.

By continually asking, “What does the gospel look like when it’s preached and lived out in cultures other than my own?” missions committees can often help churches avoid pitfalls.

Free Guide for Deepening Your Churches International Missions Program: Going Global

Over the years, we’ve worked with churches seeking to deepen international engagement. Going Global is an effort to collect some practices and key ideas we’ve developed—or seen developed by others—designed to help you learn what others have done well and to also avoid common pitfalls.

Download Free Guide
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Josiah Bancroft

Josiah Bancroft

Josiah serves as Serge's Senior Director of Mission. As a pastor, a church planter, and a missionary, Josiah has a heart to see God’s grace and power work in new ways in the church and throughout the world. A graduate of Covenant College and Reformed Theological Seminary, Josiah planted three churches in the U.S. before he and his wife Barbara joined Serge with their three children in 1992.