Fewer But Deeper Relationships

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Churches can end up with lots of missionary connections.  Gradually, and for a variety of reasons, new relationships are established.  There may be a desire for diversity in terms of geography or ministry type.  Then a daughter of the congregation goes into mission service or the nephew of a mission committee member desperately needs additional support to get on the field.  Soon a modest sized congregation has a dozen or more commitments.  Even the missions committee or GO team has a hard time remembering what is going on in all these ministries.  The congregation as a whole has even less idea, of course. 

Then, when these dozen missionaries cycle through on their home services, the pastors and councils are rightly reluctant to have all of them preach, even assuming they are qualified.  So, the missionary, after three years, may get just a few minutes in the morning service and a lightly attended adult education event.  Prayer letters are sent and usually distributed to the congregation, but only a few are reading them carefully.  People in the congregation wonder what is really going on in these ministries and, perhaps, why the missionaries are being supported.  What can be done to fix this situation?

Here are a few ideas, but I’m hoping that there will be plenty of responses. 

  1. Consider a careful process of paring down the number of relationships based on the church’s statement of purpose, its character and some well thought out priorities, giving plenty of time for missionaries to find new support.
  2. Choose one missionary relationship that can include face to face connection on the field so that members of the congregation can see the ministry and meet the people with whom their missionary is working.  Develop a bilateral church to church or church to community partnership that deepens the congregation’s understanding of world Christianity and enables it to learn and receive from the dynamic quality of Christianity overseas.
  3. Choose at least one missionary relationship that cannot include this kind of connection.  A lot of the most important work in world missions: outreach to unreached people, theological education, etc. doesn’t really lend itself to direct involvement.  In fact, a North American team without good cultural awareness can, in a very short visit, set back the relationship building done by missionaries over a long period.  Don’t allow the church’s desire to connect with people to override good missiology.
  4. In addition to making sure that the prayer letters sent by your remaining missionaries are distributed to the congregation via a monthly newsletter or member mailboxes, make use of short Skype conversations during a worship service from your missionary’s field of service.  Put a link to their website on your church’s.  Watch a video about their ministry during the offering, etc.
  5. When your missionary visits you, make sure they get good exposure to the congregation.  Allow them to preach in the morning service if at all possible.  If not, use the adult education time or evening service to connect with a significant number.  Connect the missionary to a small group Bible study, household or other group within the congregation for connection during face to face visits and between them. 
  6. Pray for the missionaries regularly during the congregational prayer, referring to specific prayer requests and praises the missionaries have provided. 
  7. As part of the process of paring down the number of relationships, deepen the financial commitment to each of the remaining missionaries.  That way, instead of having 15-20 supporting churches, you missionaries might move toward having 8-12 churches with whom they could maintain a deeper connection. 

What else can be done? 

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Great post.  My thoughts exactly.  When we do start fundraising to go to another country, my hope is to get a few churches that we can grow a deep relationship with.

I should have added a seventh point.  As part of the process of paring down the number of relationships, deepen the financial commitment to each of the remaining missionaries.  That way, instead of having 15-20 supporting churches, you missionaries might move toward having 8-12 churches with whom they could maintain a deeper connection.

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