I’ve had the great privilege over the past decade to visit many churches in the United States to talk about missions. One of the things that I’ve noticed in these travels is that there are some churches whose missions giving is out of all proportion to their size. That is, if you were to break down their financial support of missionaries as a percentage of their church’s entire budget, it would be significantly higher than many other churches, some of which may be several times their size. I’ve seen churches (in poorer areas no less) that gave as much to missions as churches four or five times their size. And I’ve seen churches in a single year make an enormous leap in the amount of money that they give. All that to say, there is clearly a lot of room for financial giving to missions from local churches to increase. Most churches could do more, perhaps much more.
This has led to some observations about what makes certain churches especially powerful givers. Let me just say that this is not a post about how much is right for churches to give. That is a very important conversation, of course. But this is a list of observations for churches that do not do as much for missions financially as they wish.
1. Organize designated missions giving
It is common for churches to give to missions as a portion of their entire budget. This seems at first like a great way to guarantee a stable amount of money moving to global missions. Of course, most of those churches also would gladly receive other designated offerings for missions. But as the church is already consistently giving something, the leadership is unlikely to regularly keep this need in front of the congregation. The portion of the total budget set aside for missions will likely be a sensible and cautious percentage. But here’s a question worth considering: is global missions something that Christians should give to sacrificially? If so, it is likely that by asking people to give directly to missions, the amount the church gives will increase dramatically. The churches I mentioned above teach their people to give directly and sacrificially to the church’s mission and assure them that 100% of the money that is received will be used for missions.
2. Support individual missionaries
Many churches direct the bulk of their missions giving to various organizations and agencies. I think this really stifles missions giving. First, because people don’t particularly trust organizations. And not without good reason! But also because there is a lack of a personal connection there – it’s much more abstract. The churches I mentioned above, however, send money directly to missionary families that they know personally. Of course, most of these missionaries are approved and directed by some agency or another. The point, though, is that there is a straight line drawn between the money that the giver puts in the offering and that family that they met one time. The money goes from the church directly to the missionary. This also puts pressure on missionaries to maintain accountability with real churches and believers back home, a situation which I cannot commend enough. Further it puts the church’s contribution to the mission in much more concrete, understandable terms. If you give to a large agency, you of course can see that your money is being invested in many missionaries’ works. But it won’t feel quite as solid as saying something like, “Our church supports 25 missionaries.”
3. Bring missionaries into the church
It is no surprise that giving to missions at many churches is minimal, because the people in the church never see any missionaries! Inviting missionaries to preach at a church will first of all make the mission field more real to the congregation. Missionaries should share with churches stories and details of the work from the field, which will greatly encourage believers. They should preach the Word – but preach about the mission! A church that regularly hears about God’s will for the nations will likely be a church that gives sacrificially to the mission. Of course, I would suggest that a church only bring in missionaries whose work they would at least be interested in supporting financially. Ironically, I hear of many churches that don’t bring in missionaries because they can’t afford to support any more. But how is missions giving ever going to increase without exposure to missionaries? Let me speak on behalf of many missionaries and say that we don’t mind going to a church to preach and encourage a church about missions without a guarantee of financial support. If we can help draw attention to the church’s missions involvement, it may mean the church will be in a position to help us or others in the future. Further, I would advocate that churches exercise much more care in deciding to support a missionary. More on this below, but many churches just take on nice missionaries they meet until they can’t support any more. Later on they see ministries they’d truly like to partner with, but they’re broke.
4. Narrow the church’s definition of missions
I’ve written about this in length recently, so I’ll keep it brief. Of all the things happening in the name of ‘missions’ today, I don’t think there is anything that will thrill believers like the news of people hearing the gospel, of new disciples of Christ being made, and of new churches being planted. If a church’s missions budget primarily goes to other things, I would not expect the church to give sacrificially to missions. If, as I have argued elsewhere, this core work of missions belongs in a category all its own, then why should we use ‘missions’ money to do all sorts of different things? Plus, when you decide to use the church’s missions money totally for this core work, your money suddenly seems to go a lot further! First, because there are many ‘missions’ endeavors that you can eliminate as potential partners. Second, because the financial gifts of your church could be a major help to a church plant, but it will do precious little towards solving world hunger or something.
5. Have a missions conference
In addition to regularly having missionaries come and visit, many of these churches set aside a few days a year to put special focus on the mission. Often those churches encourage families to use this time to make a decision about their own missions giving for the next year. They may invite several missionary families to spend the entirety of these days with the church, which gives many families in the church an opportunity to build relationships with them. The church may also host a guest speaker who will preach multiple messages about the mission. A conference like this is a great opportunity to renew the church’s vision for and commitment to the mission. I have seen churches take radical steps forward in giving after conferences like these.
6. Report and pray regularly for missionaries
When I was a kid, my pastor did not let a service go by without reminding the church of our commitment to hold the ropes for our missionary families. At our midweek prayer meetings, we read updates from the field. A great big world map hung on one wall with markers for all the families we were partnered with. Simple things, really. But it just kept the global need for the gospel on the congregation’s radar. We learned as a church to celebrate what God was doing in congregations on the other side of the world. Other churches have developed strategies of their own to ensure that each missionary they supported was being cared for in prayer by members in their church. I would say that it is unusual for a church to give sacrificially to missions without some kind of plan to do this.
7. Get members on the mission field
Not just to help missionaries, though that’s nice when it is a possibility. But more to learn about missionaries. To see what their work is like. To see what their field is like. To become a more informed missions supporter. Even to consider becoming missionaries themselves. Every year, my pastor took a group of men with him to Asia. In fact, my first experience in missions was tagging along on a trip with him. It is no great wonder that the church as a whole is convinced of the value of world missions, that several families have gone as missionaries, and that there are many who have given sacrificially year after year.
Final note: it is important for us to recognize how much more we could do as churches for missions not least because it will keep us from setting out to find some other financial well for missionaries to drink from. Young people going into missions need to know: there is no financial crisis in missions.