June 2018 | Volume 13 | Issue 6 | by Ellen Livingood
Do you have a core missions message for your church?
Church missions programs have a lot of complicated moving parts. Most churches have lots of missionaries doing different things in different places, as well as both global and local projects. There are hard-to-remember names, “strange” missions terminology, and unfamiliar abbreviations. When we expect our congregations to “know our missionaries,” we are asking a lot of people already on information overload.
A sports analogy
Despite living in the hometown of this year’s Super Bowl winners, I am a terrible football fan. I don’t really understand the rules of the game. Multiple times someone has explained to me a play that just occurred on the TV screen. I only half pay attention because I know I’ll forget before I ever see that play again, and since I don’t understand the big picture, what does one play matter?
And then there are all those names of players and their positions. I can’t keep them straight. They will all change next year anyhow, so why bother? Good for Coles, or whoever he is, but he lives in a different world than mine. At the end of the day, football doesn’t impact my life. It’s fine if that’s your thing, but it isn’t mine.
Maybe for you it isn’t football that makes your eyes glaze over. Maybe it’s cooking recipes…or computer games…or missions.
Why should I care?
What makes a topic worth learning about for 21st-century people deluged every day with an onslaught of information they must ignore to survive? Specifically, what would make you willing to really listen about missions? What would catch the attention of Millennials? My personal answer to that question includes four criteria:
My personal answer to that question includes four criteria:
- Give me a sense of relevance. Football isn’t important to my life today. But my attitude would be different if you told me that it is the doorway to connect with a teenage son or grandson who was a fanatical fan. Similarly, if you want me to care about missions, first give me reasons why it is relevant to me personally.
- Show me the big picture. Explain overall football strategy to me in a way (and language) that makes sense even if I don’t know anything about the topic initially. Drawing some simple pictures would help. Likewise, I need to understand the big narrative of missions by seeing it laid out in simple, visual terms.
- Make learning positive and fun. Don’t overwhelm me with football minutia, but do invite me to a football party with good food! On the missions side, quite honestly, many statistics are just depressing: so many hungry children or suffering refugees or unreached people. I need some good news and powerful stories of transformation.
- Create opportunities to engage that fit me. Bring me to a football game to root for the home team, but don’t put me on the field in a uniform, unless I’ve got the ability. In missions, I don’t fit on a construction or medical team. I already give to the church. Find a strategic role that stretches me while remaining sensitive to my interests and abilities.
The core message
What would you name as the five most important and relevant things your people need to know about missions? This is an important question—worth your church missions team wrestling to define. There is no set list. Your list may vary, but here’s mine:
- Global/Local discipling is God’s #1 PRIORITY for our church. Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8
- People are LOST unless they follow Jesus. John 14:6
- The church is growing FAST around the world.
- God has a strategic GLOBAL ROLE designed for you.
- We’re here to help you FULFILL your role and BE FULFILLED by it.
I don’t know about you, but I get excited just reading these simple statements. This list gives me a goal. It gives me hope because it tells me God is powerfully at work. It gives me a sense of God’s divine purpose for me which is intriguing. It assures me someone will help me find my way in this crucial missions journey.
How many “average Joes and Janelles” in your church know and believe these facts? Can you measure how much they understand and embrace this list (or your own)? What if each member of your missions leadership team interviewed five people (especially younger adults) to see if they grasp and believe these five things? Make it safe to answer honestly. Probe to see what they really believe.
Focusing on the essentials
How could your leaders build these essentials into your congregation? The first two items on my list above are theological. Could you enlist your pastor to preach on these topics? The issue of lostness is directly related to the belief in the exclusiveness of the gospel. Ten years ago, Time reported on Pew research that indicated 57% of evangelical Christians were willing to accept that theirs might not be the only path to salvation. Missions is in danger of being gutted from the inside. How can you engage your congregation, especially younger adults and teens, in discussions of the necessity of faith in Jesus in a pluralistic age?
Sadly, for many Western Christians, the amazing global growth of the church is a well-kept secret. Many believers have the impression that Islam is taking over the world and Christianity is shrinking. How can you communicate to your congregation that the Church is exploding across South America, Africa, and parts of Asia? This infographic is one example of communicating this information.
You will find other information in places like the Operation World DVD and the book, The Future of the Global Church.
Personalizing roles in global missions
The last two items on my list of five essentials requires a church missions leadership team to work hard. If global roles are custom-designed by God for each individual, then it is essential to know the gifting and passion of our people as well as to identify or create opportunities for them to engage effectively.
Just a generation ago, options for those who didn’t go as long-term workers were limited to praying and giving. But today there are unlimited ways that expertise and interests can be used—many in cross-cultural ministries right in our own area but others on the other side of the globe.
We also need to disciple younger generations in sacrificial giving and intercession. These are not likely to happen unless we rethink how we are engaging new and younger believers in these areas. Longer-term going is also possible today via both the traditional missionary model but also new options of service as Kingdom professionals and influencers. Are your people aware of these new types of opportunities?
Communicating these fundamentals
Once your missions leadership team has defined your essentials and developed opportunities, you are ready to consider methods of communication.
Since we live in an era of visual and narrative communication, those need to be the center of every missions communication strategy. Enlist younger adults to guide your expressions. Don’t be afraid to spend some money to create attractive graphics and to make them visible in your building, on your website, etc.
Are there people in your congregation who have already been reshaped by these concepts? Capture their stories on video and in writing. Make sure that each highlights several of your missions fundamentals within their three-to-four-minute narrative. Record as many stories as possible, including people of both genders and multiple generations.
Don’t forget your children and teens. Even young children should be able to understand all of your core truths expressed in simple terms. Work with Sunday-school and weekday-club teachers to find creative ways to incorporate these fundamentals into the lives of boys and girls. In turn, they will help their parents to grasp the truths as well.
Create ways for children and families to have an active role in global service. You may be surprised how many children and teens have a friend in school who comes from a different country.
Recruit your teens to develop a creative video around one or more of your missions fundamentals. Their ideas may help you reach the entire congregation in fresh, new ways. Don’t be afraid to challenge youth to step up to more demanding service opportunities.
Brainstorm how you can incorporate these essentials into newcomers/new members classes or new believers’ discipleship. New Christians’ hearts are usually wide open to missions because they understand what it is like to be outside the community of faith. And newcomers to your church may be looking for ways to get involved and to feel as if they belong. Don’t wait—be proactive in letting them know as soon as they begin attending that you will help them find their global role.
Rethinking adult short-term ministry
Many of the skills and passions of your people can be engaged around the globe via short-term trips. Instead of thinking of sending teams of people, consider sending one or two to accomplish a specific task for/with your workers or national partners.
Hosting one or two is far less of a logistical challenge for those on the ground, and it means that you send competent people to accomplish specific goals that meet needs. Work with field personnel to determine the types of resource people they can use, and when and how. Here is a list of Short-Term Ministry Ideas that may help you and field personnel to brainstorm practical areas of service.
Knowing all our missionaries
For decades, the educational practice was based on the model of Know > Feel > Do. The theory was that we must give people facts which then lead to an emotional response which leads to action. Missions mobilization has been almost exclusively based on this model.
But 21st-century culture has turned that order on its head. Today people begin with action (do) or relationship (feel), and because of those become willing to learn (know).
Feel > Do > Know
Do > Feel > Know
Contemporary believers are eager to learn about a global worker only after they have built a relationship with them or engaged together in ministry. This means they want to go deep (with one or two missional relationships) not broad (knowing a little about a lot of workers). How can your missions leadership team reshape goals and communication to harness this new reality?
So getting your congregation to know all of your missionaries may not be your goal after all. But if you help them embrace God’s global purpose from the perspective of their divinely-designed role in it, you will start a missions revolution.