If you’re involved in missions at a small church you are probably all too familiar with the “Big 3” obstacles: 1) limited pool from which to draw volunteers, 2) much smaller financial resources, and 3) limited time to dedicate. I’m guessing if you are reading this you are likely either a pastor of a smaller church where missions is just one of your many responsibilities, or you are a volunteer member of your church’s missions committee. It is likely that you had an amazing short-term mission experience that changed your life, and you want to see everyone at your church impacted the way you were.
I know that’s my story. God got a hold of me in college through short-term missions and never let go. I eventually settled at a small church, and began my quest to turn my small church into a mission’s powerhouse. My pastor and I had a great vision. We had a great location. We were eager. Yet things didn’t work out. We did a couple of small trips early on, but then things fizzled out. This was a source of great anguish to me. How could I fail in something so eternally important? But God brought me upon a realization — I was chasing a cool vision and idea instead of chasing after God.
Full disclosure? There is no sure fire way to start a missions program, or 12 steps to success for the small church. My church is hardly involved in missions to the extent I hope to be one day, but we’ve got a start.
I’ve learned a lot from failing and from seeing success. All I can do is share with you what I have learned, and pray that God will use it for His glory. So let’s take a journey together.
First, YOU can’t be the missions PERSON. You can’t do it alone. Whether you are a pastor with other responsibilities, or a layperson from you church with a full-time job, you have limited time to dedicate. You need a group to share the responsibility with you. Begin asking around to see who might be interested in forming a mission group with you. I’d try to stay away from the word “committee” if I were you, though. That tends to scare people off. Simply start a mission group for people who have a heart for the world, want to help people, and see others meet Jesus for the first time. What will this group do? We’ll handle that a little later.
Second, lay a foundation. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your church’s mission program. You can’t expect people to go from being uninformed about missions, to signing up for a trip to Africa over night. You don’t have a big pool to draw from. You can’t just put out a call and have a team come together simply by pure statistics. One in a hundred signing up for a mission trip works at a big church, but not in a small church. We have to lay a foundation first.
People typically respond to world missions in the following process: apathy, awareness, awakening, action, and finally advocacy. Unfortunately many of us try to jump in at the action and advocacy stage instead of the beginning.
Make getting missions into your church’s budget the first step. Put your money where your mouth is. The reality is, we tend to care about where the money is going. If money is going to missions, then people are a lot more likely to care about it.
As a mission group, begin making other people aware of the world around them. This can be done through a monthly prayer time for the nations. You can include prayer for the nations in your church service. Another idea would be to create PowerPoint slides that can scroll before or after church with facts on a different country each week as well as ways to pray for that country. The book Operation World is a great resource for this. You could even plan a “Missions Sunday,” or have a month where you focus on missions at the church.
Then comes awakening, the linchpin to a strong missions program. This is perhaps the hardest and least under your control. Awakening is all about God awakening someone’s heart. In my experience, awakening happens most often when we personally see or experience something. You might want to hold a special showing of a movie like, “End of the Spear,” “Kony 2012”, or another missions related film. You may also consider a small, introductory weekend mission trip or local service day just to expose people. But make sure it is not intimidating, and that you have laid the foundation of awareness before jumping in here.
Finally you will be ready for the action stage. Hopefully by this point, you have a strong missions group, and a whole spiritual community that is aware of, and passionate about the world around them. Before you plan mission’s trips, however, be strategic about where you will go. Focus on partnerships rather than a shotgun approach of going wherever people suggest. You may even consider mission fields that are closer and less expensive rather than destinations that require lots of travel time and money.
Finally, don’t be afraid to partner with other churches in your community. Many of us who are a part of small churches don’t have large amounts of money in our general budget, but we would have some. Partner up with other small churches, or even with a larger church. Not only can you combine financial resources, but also you may even be able to collaborate on trips. This relieves some of the leadership and recruiting stresses on your church.
I have to be honest; my church isn’t nearly where I hope God takes us someday. I’m guessing yours might not be either. Don’t get discouraged. Continue to pray for your church and seek God’s direction. Rally people around you to pray. Above all else, we know one thing: that everything significant in God’s Kingdom is preceded by prayer. I pray that God would use our small churches for great things!
Questions for the author? Contact Tory at firstname.lastname@example.org or 520-404-0841.