Recently a survey revealed that CRC pastors’ third most valued item for helping their churches be more effective in international missions is moving toward fewer but deeper missionary partnerships. Pastors sensed a need to move from a larger number of rather superficial relationships with missionaries and missions causes, to a smaller number of more intimate and engaged relationships. However, they also indicated that they weren’t sure how to get from here to there. Often some congregation members are excited to connect with many missionaries doing various types of ministry in different parts of the world, while pastors see that most church members are not aware of the congregation’s international mission work partly because there are too many ministries to keep track of.
Here are a few steps that your church might use to move in this direction.
- Pastor(s) meet with the mission committee to assess congregational engagement with international missions.
- The missions committee develops a list of criteria that it believes should characterize its missionary partnership priorities. For example,
- Connection to the congregation (members, members of neighboring congregations of the CRC, those with a strong relationship to the church, relatives of members).
- Ministry of certain categories that fit with congregational priorities
- (unreached people, leadership training, education, community development, radio/Internet ministry).
- Ministry done in particular locations (Mexico/Caribbean, 10/40 window, West Africa).
- Ministry done by particular agencies (denominational agencies, synodically approved agencies, ECFA member agencies, government recognized: 501©3 or Canadian Registered Charity).
- Philosophy of ministry (asset-based rather than need-based, appropriate accountability and reporting, on-field supervision, and systems to ensure the missionary is well trained and cared for).
- Communication expectations (Quarterly or more frequent letters, blog, electronic communication from the field, regular personal visits here, opportunity to go there).
- a grid with points could be developed (or it could be less formal).
A priority list could then be established for which ministries should continue receiving support with a goal for increasing support and interaction with the ones who continue.
Once the committee has identified ministries that will not receive continued support, and gotten that judgment affirmed by the council, it is time to begin a transition. Attrition may be a key part of the transition: checking with missionaries on their intended longevity and deciding how to use that information. If you are going to conclude support, missionaries should get 12 months notice, if at all possible, of the impending change. This will give them time to understand why things are changing, seek other avenues of support, adjust to the new reality, and say goodbye well.
Meanwhile, you will want to work hard at the “deeper” portion of fewer but deeper by developing a plan for
- increased financial support (review current obligations and set new targets),
- greater communication using video, Skype, audio files, sharing info about the country and ministry in the bulletin, church newsletter, pre-service PowerPoint, etc.,
- increased prayer support (regular rotation or special mission Sunday),
- involving members of all ages (Sunday school class, youth group, GEMS or Cadet club),
- as well as better utilizing the missionary during their visits to the church (attendance at council and mission committee meetings, joining a small group, adult ed. or mid-week activity).
Concluding some of your missionary partnerships will probably be difficult, especially if the relationship has been long, if there are personal connections/relatives in the church, etc. It will be important to anticipate who will be most affected by the change and address their concerns, among other things by providing a transition period.
Note: The most strategic work your congregation is currently supporting may be done by someone without deep connections or effective communication abilities in North America. Take the time to investigate the ministries you support before making decisions.