Missionaries need a strong support team in order to thrive in their ministry. While the sending agency plays an important role, there are elements of missionary care that congregations are uniquely equipped for.
“There’s a biblical model for congregations caring for missionaries,” said Renee, Resonate Global Mission’s member care coordinator who served as a missionary with her husband in Central Asia for more than 20 years. “The church at Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas and cares for them when they return. There’s a clear relationship between the church and the sent that I think we’ve lost in the modern world.”
Churches and missionaries are partners in mission—two halves of a team that God uses to extend his kingdom worldwide. In addition to supporting missionaries through prayer and finances, congregations play an important role in caring for missionaries’ well-being. Here are eight ways your congregation can come alongside missionaries and support them so your ministry together can thrive:
“Most churches don’t overcommunicate with their missionaries,” said Renee. “They tend to undercommunicate.”
Stay in touch with your missionary—even if it’s a small note of encouragement or asking them how your church can pray for them.
Ask your missionary how to best communicate with them. Some missionaries live in countries where Christians are persecuted and communication requires a little extra care. You can find communication guidelines addressing security concerns here.
2. Read their prayer letters—and respond.
Make an effort to read your missionary’s prayer letters. It will give you a better idea of their work and how you can pray for them. But don’t stop there! Respond. Even just one or two sentences of encouragement will let your missionary know you care about them and are praying for them.
3. Be a listening ear.
Communication is a two-way street. In addition to sharing updates from your congregation and sending notes of encouragement, allow your missionary space and time to share updates from their ministry—both while they’re on the field and during home service.
Missionaries need more than three minutes during a church service to share about their work. Consider scheduling another service or a sharing time when they’re able to share more stories about how God is working. While missionaries are on home service, your church could host a lunch and learn, a workshop, or a Q&A session. If he or she is still on the field, consider setting up a video call.
4. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to be vulnerable.
In addition to allowing space for missionaries to share the joys of their work, let them know they can be vulnerable with your congregation about their challenges.
“Missionaries are normal people with normal struggles,” said Renee. On top of that, she notes, they’re often serving in a new culture and away from home. The nature of their work means a lot of transitions, especially with teammates who come and go. Missionaries also have to keep up a public presence through their prayer letters and service times, which can put a lot of pressure on them.
“Let them share success stories—the joys of the work—but also let them know they can be vulnerable and share some of the struggles they’re experiencing,” said Renee. “It’s a good opportunity to encourage and pray for them.”
5. Provide for their physical needs.
Ask your missionary what needs they have on the field you may be able to meet, either by sending an item or collecting money for missionaries to purchase the item in their country of service.
“I remember our home church asked us this one time,” said Renee. “We told them that after living for eight years in a [cold region], we were desperate for a dryer so that we didn’t have to hang our clothes on a line [outside]. Our church bought us a dryer.”
When missionaries come to Canada or the United States for home service or a quick visit, anticipate their needs. Do they need a car to get around? Toys for kids? Groceries or gift cards to area restaurants?
6. Visit them.
Ask your missionary how your church can support them through a visit on the field. It might just be learning about their work and seeing their ministry firsthand, or there might be a practical need your church members can fill—like providing childcare for a missionary retreat. Resonate works with many missionaries to provide meaningful opportunities for groups to visit the field.
7. Be gracious to the kids.
Missionaries often visit many churches while they’re on home service. When they have a family in tow, they often have to consider what’s best for their kids—and kids can get overwhelmed meeting so many new people in a short amount of time. It’s nice to see your missionary’s entire family while they’re visiting, but don’t pressure them to bring their kids to every service, dinner, or event. Give them grace for space.
8. Form advocacy teams within your congregation.
Instead of every member of your congregation caring for every missionary your church supports, appoint small groups to adopt a missionary. They can serve as a liaison between the missionary and the entire congregation so you can share updates from your missionary throughout the year and present any prayer requests or needs.
“It’s easy for months and months to slip by—and congregations don’t think about them at all,” said Renee. Consider sharing regular updates from them during a service or put their picture up on the screen during an offering.
Missionaries can often feel forgotten or unseen while they’re on the field, but remember that you’re partners in mission; they’re part of your church and its vision.