The missionary wall at Hillside Church in San Jose, California had over 40 pictures on it.
But missions leader Kim Coutts wanted something more. He didn’t just want his church to financially support missions, but for members to experience true partnership in missions. He wanted to create a culture of missions at Hillside.
It was 1996. Kim searched among ReachGlobal missionaries for a partner location, and settled on Tanzania, East Africa, where missionaries labored to reach Muslim coastal tribes and the Indian diaspora community.
Kim targeted key Hillside leaders to join on trips to Tanzania. On the very first team, Kim recruited both the elder board chairman and the lead pastor. Over the next eight years, Hillside would send 20 teams to Tanzania. Around 65 members participated, and a bolt of missions lightning spread like wildfire through the church, transforming many hearts to partner with international missions. For some, Kim’s missional focus set them on a new life trajectory.
Perhaps the best example is someone whose name is easily recognized within the EFCA: Kevin Kompelien. Kevin was the lead pastor of Hillside in the 90s, and the church’s partnership with Tanzania opened doors for him to serve in other parts of Africa. In 2006, Kevin was invited to become the Africa Area Leader for ReachGlobal. That led to deeper connections in the EFCA, and in 2016, Kevin was voted in as president of our movement.
Imagine what God could do by creating a missions culture at your church. Do you have a passion to see missionaries cultivated in your own congregation? I recently asked several missionaries what their churches did to contribute to their desire to serve overseas, and I hope you are inspired by what they shared.
How do we spark a culture of missions?
1. Kindle a fire for missions in the next generation. Barna tells us that only 10% of Millennial churchgoers can define the Great Commission, so that’s a good place to start. But among young people, perhaps even more important is challenging underlying attitudes. Mobilizing Gen Z tells us, “[Gen Z has a] tendency to avoid risk. They have grown up surrounded by anxious adults, in a culture promoting safety as a priority, with devices that convey 24/7 the world’s trouble, personal conflicts, and cruel criticisms.” In trying to hold back a global pandemic, we may have inadvertently absorbed the idea that we need to prioritize safety above all else. But is this perspective compatible with the Great Commission? Elevate missionary stories – past and present – of those willing to count the cost to take the gospel to the nations.
2. Challenge their parents too. Perhaps this is just as important. Mobilizing Gen Z references Barna when explaining, “Career success and physical safety are the top concerns [of church-going parents]. Nearly half said, ‘I’d rather my child get a well-paying job than be a career missionary.’” In my experience in missions mobilization, I have seen first-hand that Christian parents are sometimes the biggest detriment to potential missionaries.
3. Position missionaries as real people. Remember that most sparks happen outside of the program. Yes, missions conferences are great, but keep in mind that the most significant influence will come from much smaller interactions. Matt S., who serves with ReachGlobal among the Indian diaspora, says, “A coffee with a missionary on home assignment does things that no presentation up front on a Sunday ever can.”
[T]hey were inspired as children to consider missions because they watched their AWANA leader, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader prepare and leave for the mission field.
Initiate getting missionaries into your members’ homes. Encourage your small groups to “adopt” a missionary. Strategically place visiting missionaries into your kids’ programs and youth groups. Anything you can do that will help to pull missionaries off those pedestals and make them “real people” is going to help spark a missions culture. Kevin Kompelien says, “You have to ‘drip’ missions into the life of your church.’”
How do we cultivate the next generation of missionaries?
1. Allow them opportunities to fail now. Churches play a huge role in preparing future missionaries for cross-cultural work. Joshua Smith (ReachGlobal Latin American Division Team) encourages churches to create an environment for upcoming missionaries to serve meaningfully. He says, “When you are risk-averse with newer leaders, you are just postponing the failures they are going to have. Those failures will take place in environments where they aren’t as supported.” Joshua’s church in Santa Clarita, California (Faith Community Church, EFCA) welcomed him into multiple ministry opportunities, so that by the time he went overseas, he was able to identify what he was good at—and what he wasn’t.
Kathy Keller (ReachGlobal Paris City Team leader) shared that her church (also Faith Community in Santa Clarita) kept an open invitation for young adults to join the missions committee. She says, “It made the mission group more like a Bible study or home group and less like a business meeting.”
2. Missionaries multiply themselves. When you encourage the upcoming missionaries to get involved in the life of the church, they start influencing others. Several of the missionaries I spoke with mentioned that they were inspired as children to consider missions because they watched their AWANA leader, Sunday School teacher, or small group leader prepare and leave for the mission field. Matt S. added, “It seemed very normal for people from the church to leave for the field.”
3. Send them to serve existing missionaries on the field. Another strategic way to cultivate a missions culture is by sending teams to serve the missionaries your church supports. When planned with the missionaries’ needs in mind, these trips are not only a wonderful encouragement to the missionary, but also transform the hearts of the participants.
[N]ew missionaries raise funds quickly when their church helps with fundraising.
Be strategic about who you encourage to go on short-term trips. Send your pastors and other church leaders, so that missions culture trickles down from the top. Tracey Coleman, missions advocate from The Springs Church (EFCA) in Missouri adds, “Target couples who might have a heart for missions and they just don’t know it yet.” Talk to a missionary you know, and many times you’ll discover that their vision was first cultivated on a trip to visit supported missionaries.
4. Be willing to release your best. Cultivating a missions culture is about sacrifice—not just finances, but also people. Sometimes your most involved members will be called to go – and many times, your own church staff. Two of the missionaries I spoke with mentioned that when they were interviewing for ministry jobs after seminary, some churches were reticent to hire them, knowing they would be headed for the mission field in a year or two. When the churches who hired them enthusiastically embraced their calling, they knew they had found churches with vibrant missions cultures.
Corporately celebrate your missionaries
Prioritize the missionaries sent out by your church. Missions strategy and projects are good and important, but if you’ve got a homegrown missionary whose calling you can affirm, then make your financial contribution significant, even if it means deviating from your strategy. In this, be careful not to create a hierarchy among your missionaries. Remember that strategic church planting needs not just evangelists, but administrators, teachers and member care. Don’t treat your “support staff” as second-class missionaries, but celebrate the unique ways they contribute to the global mission field.
Establish a partnership that goes beyond financial support and a picture on the wall. Can you work together with them to determine where God is calling them? Could you send a church representative with them when they go on a vision trip? Can you send friends or pastors to visit them when they are on the field?
Find a good balance between holding them accountable in their calling and conduct, but also being a safe place for them to be vulnerable about their struggles and failings without fear of financial reprisal. This could look different for every missionary—but it is crucial for them to feel like you deeply care about them for more than the work they do.
Be their advocates. As a pre-field missionary coach, I’ve noticed new missionaries raise funds quickly when their church helps with fundraising. Tracey Coleman says, “When missionaries are raising support, we invite big gatherings to our house. We let the missionary tell their story, and then we share what donating to missions has done for us personally.”
This is any missionary’s dream scenario. By celebrating the missionary’s story and work, you create opportunities for them to gain more support from people who know you.
Missions culture birthed my story too
On Hillside Church’s first trip to Tanzania in 1996, the missions team stood under a massive baobab tree on a 17-acre coconut tree plantation. Haven of Peace Academy, an international Christian school, recently purchased the property and the team prayed that God would bless the school and provide staff for it.
Four years later, I arrived on the newly built Haven of Peace Academy campus to be their fifth grade teacher. I served there 16 years and played a significant role in helping the school grow. When my dad, Kim Coutts, prayed under that baobab tree, he had no idea that his prayer would be answered by sending his daughter to Tanzania years later.
Creating a missions culture at your church may be costly. It may cost you your pastor to the missions field. It may cost you your daughter, and your grandchildren may be raised 10,000 miles away from you. But isn’t the kingdom of God worth it? Don’t we truly believe the gospel is the greatest treasure in the universe? To God be the Glory!
Send a Response
Share your thoughts with the author.