Like many families, churches are trying to balance their monthly budgets and make those valuable dollars stretch in a way that best honors God. Churches that are involved in missions want to make a huge impact in global outreach and be good stewards of God’s resources. As churches explore expanding their involvement in missions, the world map in the church lobby all too often becomes the benchmark for a successful missions ministry. Churches support missionaries so they can put pins in more countries or have a missionary on each continent.
Frequently you will see churches supporting ten, twenty or thirty missionaries at a small monthly amount. Missions involvement for most churches is a mile wide and an inch deep. Making a broad impact is nice, but making a deep impact would result in greater influence and bring greater glory to God. Churches that support 30 missionaries at a low level should prayerfully consider reducing their number of supported missionaries down to three to five and really dive deep into their ministries and lives.
When investing more substantively into fewer missionaries a church and its leadership will truly get to know their missionary partners. As that relationship and trust grow a church can care for the needs of the missionaries they support like they would care for their own congregants. Missionaries are more prone to be honest and forthright with supporters they genuinely know. The vast majority of missionaries are not cared for by a church family, not even their home church. They have few people to turn to when a missionary is in need. A church that has deeply invested in a missionary can share the grace and mercy of Christ with them.
Churches should continue to send short-term teams and interns, if that is what the ministry needs. In addition church leadership should consider visiting the missionaries on their turf for a “house call.” Spend time doing neglected chores on the missionary’s home, babysit the kids, do the grocery shopping and counsel the missionaries. Get to know your missionaries in their environment. Walk in their shoes for a few days or a week. Love your missionaries how they need to be loved.
As your church continues to visit the same ministry site, year after year, your congregation will get to know the national partners. By better understanding the culture and the people you will have a greater passion for them and their needs. It will benefit both your home church and the national church to view each other in a fraternal relationship instead a paternal one.
Over time and through regular contact you can have a more substantive impact on the ministry with which you partner. You honestly get to know the missionaries and ministries and can be viewed more like a partner and less like an ATM. If you go deeper you are creating a truly substantive, cross-cultural partnership. The depth benefits the missionary’s ministry and the spiritual growth of your congregation. Everyone begins to understand what it means to be a global Christian.
If you spend time with your missionary partners once every few years, at furlough, or once a year, during short-term mission trips, a substantive relationship will not be created. Without substance your missionaries will not open up to you and you cannot help them with their spiritual health. Call your missionaries on their VOIP phone. Almost every missionary has one and it is not an international call for you. Send them an e-mail to let them know the church prayed for them today. Remember their birthdays and anniversaries with electronic gift cards. Help them fund a small vacation or new electronics. You can help your missionaries heal.
A larger financial contribution from your church to your missionaries will ensure two important things: 1) Their need to find fewer supporters meaning they travel less during furlough, and 2) If they have fewer supporters they may visit your church for a couple of weeks instead of just one Sunday every four years. Many missionaries have twenty or thirty supporting churches and dozens of supporting individuals. Nobody can keep in contact with that many ministry partners. A missionary with just a small number of large financial partners can invest more deeply in those relationship.
When churches support missionaries and international ministries by writing a small check once a month neither the church nor the missionaries truly receive a substantive benefit from that relationship. A generous investment of time, energy and finances into a missionary or global ministry helps the missionary feel connected and helps the church grow in their understanding of God’s Great Commission.
As part of this increased investment churches must insist on reciprocation from the missionaries with whom they partner. No longer can churches tolerate missionaries who do not communicate and interact with church partners. Missionaries should communicate and churches should demand it. There is no excuse, in the 21st Century, for not receiving regular contact from your missionary partners.
When a more substantive relationship is formed the church, the missionaries and the nationals all benefit. Above all else, God receives greater glory from churches and missionaries who are connected and healthy.