Thursday, October 14, 2004

Missions Makeover For The Local Church

A common question asked by pastors in the U.S. is in regards to how they can make their missions program more effective. They are concerned that their missions effort has become stale if not dead. Global outreach, for many churches, is a relic of the past and of little interest to people born after 1965. The history of missions reveals the reason for declining interest in world evangelism.

After World War II there was in influx of North Americans going overseas to serve as missionaries. Many of them had seen the world for the first time and were moved by the need to take the gospel to places like the Philippines, Japan, North Africa, and Western Europe. The local churches in America were interested in world evangelism, for many in the congregation had seen the world as well and wanted to be personally involved in supporting those going to the regions beyond to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The economy was far different in the “incredible twenty-five years,” as missiologist Ralph Winters called it, from 1950 to 1975. Missionary support in the ‘50’s was less than $500 a month as the living standard overseas was low and health insurance was hardly ever considered. Sadly, many of those early missionaries didn’t think about retirement and, therefore, didn’t raise money for the day when they would return to the States to live out their golden years.

The cost of missions changed dramatically in the mid ‘80’s. The world economy began to rise, and living overseas became more expensive. Learning from the mistakes of those early pioneer missionaries, the new generation of missionaries began raising money for retirement while health insurance costs went through the roof. With more emphasis on family, schooling for missionary children became a primary concern; this added to the cost of living. Today’s missionary family must now raise a minimum of $4000 monthly support, and the cost of doing missions has become an expensive undertaking. New people signing up for career missionary work are on the decline, and new supporters willing to fund them are even fewer. Pastors know that those providing the core of missionary funding in their congregations are over 55 years of age, with the greatest percentage of funds coming from the few folks remaining alive from the WW II generation.

In addition to the changing economy of missions, the strategic need for sending North American missionaries has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. The “unreached” area of the world is not as large as it was in the ‘50’s. Our pioneer forefathers did their job well, and the nations they went to evangelize are sending their own missionaries today at one-third the support needed by North American missionaries.

Missions is still very important to many North American churches, and those committed to world evangelism are struggling to know how to infuse new life in their global outreach. Today’s trend is more concentrated on short-term missions trips for their congregations, hoping that exposure to the world, will spur them to giving and going as career missionaries as it did the pioneers of old. Another trend is supporting national initiatives rather than costly North American families. In searching for answers on how to make missions more attractive for local churches, here are some ideas that will make the local global outreach more effective.


Fifty years ago, missions were easily defined. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18, “To go into all the world and make disciples,” were a tangible goal that people could see and feel. Just about anyone willing to go was sent. Developing a strategy didn’t seem necessary, as the whole world needed the gospel. As a result of poor planning, the local sending church had no structured policy. Supporting missionaries was, and still is today, an emotional issue, not a strategic plan. My suggestion to pastors and missions leaders in the church today is that they start afresh--that they go back to square one and see world evangelism in the reality of today’s context. To restructure missions today, the sending church must begin with developing a thorough and comprehensive missions policy.

There is both pragmatic and strategic value in a missions policy. Rather than being confused on whom to support, how much, and to which program, a good missions policy will direct the church on a path of purpose for world evangelism. Instead of emotion and personality steering the church aimlessly around the globe in search of purpose, the POLICY makes the decisions, keeping everyone on track as to their stated global objectives.

Key to developing a missions policy is asking critical questions such as: What is the purpose of our missions program? How do we define missions? What do we want to accomplish with the resources our local church has?

I will deal with these questions and much more next time as we continue the discussion of the changing face of missions.