September 2020 | Volume 15 | Issue 9 | by Ellen Livingood
Increase Your Impact
Power up your focus by tapping more of your church’s God-given potential
“Couldn’t we be having a greater global impact?” churches often wonder even when they are involved in an exciting missions focus. They look around and recognize, “We have a lot of expertise in our church that is not utilized in ministry.” So what’s the solution?
Tapping a FEW gifts. Historically most churches’ missions programs have been invested primarily in supporting missionaries. While the relationships may be decades long and built around deep friendships, in almost all cases the church’s support decisions are based on the missionaries’ gifts and passions rather than the churches’. Church members are often involved only through giving and prayer.
Tapping MORE gifts. In recent years, many churches have chosen to adopt a strategic missions focus because they want to be passionately engaged as a congregation with a specific God-sized vision and goals. This focus may be an unreached people, a city, a region; or perhaps it revolves around a ministry such as serving at-risk youth or establishing a training center. Often a focus involves in-depth partnering where benefits are intentionally reciprocal. A focus usually provides multiple ways to be involved via short-term trips and friendships that are nurtured face to face as well as virtually. However, many times these focuses revolve around just one on-site worker or ministry. The impact both on the field and in the linking church is limited because it engages a limited breadth of congregation’s personal passions and experience.
As time goes by, many of these mission-focused churches develop a vague sense of uneasiness. “Couldn’t we be doing more?” they wonder. “We have a lot of expertise in our church that is not utilized in ministry.” While they wholeheartedly believe in concentrating on an initiative that is understood and owned by the whole congregation, doubts may arise. “Should we initiate another focus somewhere else to more fully engage our people?” they ask, even though one of the key reasons they adopted a focused approach was to avoid spreading themselves too thin.
Tapping the MOST gifts. Before adding another focus, it is wise to consider incorporating additional projects or partners to the church’s current initiative(s). This not only provides more ways to accelerate progress toward reaching the initial goals, but also involves untapped areas of the congregation’s passions and resources.
One example. A number of churches sent workers to Azerbaijan to help establish a church-planting movement among the unreached Azeri people. Over the years, their network helped them to engage in many additional ministries that provided support to field workers and national leaders while also connecting the interests and giftings of more people in their congregations. See their list of diverse opportunities below.
HOW ONE NETWORK HAS EXPANDED CHURCHES’ IMPACT
Over more than two decades, the North American Azerbaijani Network has helped local churches to expand their impact via involvement in many diverse efforts seeking to further the ultimate goal of reaching Azerbaijanis and forming indigenous, reproducing Azeri churches. Here are just some of them:
- Helping to set up a computer lab and training displaced people in computer skills
- Supporting the cost of Bible translation into several minority languages as well as helping to fund the printing and distribution of Scriptures and the publishing of a first-ever study Bible
- Assisting with an ESL school
- Providing staff and support for English and outreach camps
- Funding the translation of discipleship materials
- Supporting, training counselors, and providing food at an orphanage and mental institution
- Underwriting radio and satellite TV program production and broadcasts
- Contributing toward the cost of Azeri church outreach activities
- Training church leaders for deeper spiritual life and evangelists for outreach to a nearby people group
- Helping persecuted leaders pay fines/bail and legal defense costs
- Supporting the expansion of work beyond the people-group homeland to populations in nearby countries
- Encouraging local leaders to inaugurate an evangelical alliance
- Working together to find ways to reach Azeris here in North America
- Providing advice to agencies and other churches on Azeri engagement strategy
STEPS TO FINDING COMPLEMENTARY MINISTRIES
- Begin by talking to your focus facilitator/partner about your desire to engage in multiple ways to fulfill your shared vision. Find out what additional resources or ministries they think might further your mutual goals. Pray and brainstorm together, assuring them that you are not going to reduce either your church’s support or involvement with them. Rather, you want to complement what they are doing and potentially make their work more effective in the long run. Confirm that you do not expect them to have the capacity to coordinate other efforts.
- Mine the value of one or more global networks. As illustrated above, a network is often the best place to learn the bigger picture of what God is doing and discover opportunities to expand your impact. Network leaders can offer wise counsel regarding potential projects and partners, as well as define best practices. The most helpful network is usually one that is geographically focused on your people group or region. A ministry-oriented network such as the International Orality Network (ION) or the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) can also be of service in understanding options, resources, and potential partners. The Linking Global Voices website is a searchable goldmine of information on hundreds of different networks and network leaders.
- Find out what tools or ministries are already engaged in your focus people/area/ministry. What needs or opportunities are being addressed? How effectively? Why? Talk to nationals and experienced expat leaders who have specialized expertise. Listen carefully. What are gifted leaders already doing or envisioning? What outside resources would help them expand their impact? Each conversation will give you a better idea of needs and opportunities.
- Study similar strategic initiatives in nearby areas. For instance, if you have adopted a people group, find out what types of ministries have been effective in building the church among a nearby people. Will the same tools or methodologies be likely to work with your people? For example, could a well-designed social media presence identify seekers and potential people of peace? Might microenterprise, small/medium-size business development, job training, or some other tools expand local capacity to lift people out of poverty and allow the church to better support itself?
- Talk to the leaders of organizations in various areas of specialties. Find out how they might contribute to furthering your vision and goals. What would it look like to bring their services to your area of focus? For instance, you might talk to the JESUS Film Project staff about what it would take to have that video or other media tools dubbed into your focus people’s language. Or discuss with KidZ at Heart how to train children’s workers. Could Global Recordings help get Scripture stories to your people group?
In order for any additional partners/projects to be the best fit for your church, you need to match field opportunities with your congregation’s untapped interests, skills, and resources. For example, do you have a number of tech people who would be excited and engaged by the challenge to see an evangelistic website launched? Are there businesspeople in your congregation who could help start some marketplace initiatives? Do you have educators who would love to help develop literacy classes or conduct teacher training? Over and over, churches have seen someone with limited concern for missions suddenly be willing to get involved because they have interest and perhaps experience in the specific project. Leaders for any new aspect of your initiative are also likely to emerge from those with special interest in that particular effort.
Consider the stage of development of your strategic initiative. What is needed right now or within the next couple of years? For example, if your focus partners are just beginning to penetrate an unreached people, launching a Bible translation project may make sense while a leadership training program would not be needed until later, after churches are reproducing and potential leaders are emerging.
Prayerfully evaluate your capacity and the priorities of your partners and others on the field. Trying to incorporate too many different auxiliary ministries into your focus can be worse than not adding any. What is God burdening local leaders to do? Are there on-the-ground people ready to spearhead this new ministry with your support? Do you fully understand the costs related to the aspects of ministry expansion you are considering?
Make sure that your original initiative partner(s) are involved in all discussions. What do they believe would help further their ministry and goals? How would the initiatives be complementary?
ASSURING SUCCESS AFTER EXPANDING YOUR INVOLVEMENT
Be a connector. Encourage or create opportunities for workers from your various initiatives to come together to share ideas and resources. It may be helpful to sponsor a retreat that physically brings together workers to talk and pray. One church focusing on an unreached people sponsored an annual gathering of all workers, both expats and nationals, working among their adopted people group. The energy that was created by sharing ideas in this context fast-forwarded the work of reaching an entire people. It also helped the church know how to better support the most effective ministries.
Consistently remind your congregation of how each of your partner ministries furthers the basic goal of your global initiative. For example: If at-risk children are your focus, explain how microenterprise projects and community health services will stabilize families and help children stay in school. If you are seeking to evangelize an unreached group, make sure your congregation understands how social media will contribute or how marketplace workers will develop bridges for the gospel.
Your various efforts need to tie into one united narrative, even though each is a different chapter of the story.
One local church chose an unreached district of a Southeast Asian country as their focus. Their primary goal was to expand the disciple-making movement among this UPG. Rather than focus solely on their church planters, they researched needs across the area. Conversations with local government officials and school administrators surfaced the need for water purification systems and computer labs. Located in a high-tech area, the church saw that both needs matched skills and interests in their congregation.
Several IT professionals who had never expressed interest in missionary work agreed to spearhead setting up school computer labs. A couple of engineers were intrigued by the challenge of designing and installing simple water purification systems and quickly signed on. As the projects unfolded, the church’s focus narrative back at home intentionally highlighted how each of these diverse ministries multiplied good will in previously antagonistic communities and furthered the ultimate goal of gospel penetration. As never before, church members were “plugged into” their personal role in God’s grand plan to reach this people group. Wasn’t this what Jesus had in mind?
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