A recent survey suggested that 40 percent of evangelical churches in America don’t have a written strategy guiding their missions work. The survey also suggested that the 60 percent of churches that do have a written strategy are markedly more engaged in international work than those without a written strategy.
This shouldn’t surprise us. A vision doesn’t always spark action, but it’s still true that action nearly always follows vision.
If you need help developing a mission strategy, these pointers might be helpful, or you could subscribe to our monthly missions resource for churches.
But before you get there, it’s worth pausing to think about four common myths that often keep churches from developing missions strategies. These are sometimes unstated myths, but whether you’ve heard them or not, chances are we’ve all believed some of these at one point.
“We don’t need a strategy”
The thinking here tends to be that “we’re just following Jesus,” so we can forgo written strategies and formal plans.
That doesn’t really work for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are that it actually goes against Jesus’ own assumptions about the wisdom of good planning (Luke 14:28), the fact that Jesus was clearly cognizant that he was himself following a strategy set out long ago (Luke 21:22; 24:25-27; John 19:28), and that other biblical writers affirm that God’s plan of redemption was set “before the foundations of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
It’s certainly true that our strategies must remain subservient to and flow from the ultimate strategies and examples in Scripture, but that doesn’t free us from the responsibility to bring that strategy to bear on our communities and the world. And that invariably requires forethought.
A missions strategy is really nothing more than a plan, and the simple fact of that matter is that very few of us can accomplish complex tasks without first making a plan. It’s just how God wired us.
I can remember to get dressed and brush my teeth in the morning, but completing a project at work forces me to sit down and figure out how I’ll get it done. Engaging the lost world around you is much more complex than brushing your teeth, so there’s no shame in planning how you’ll go about it.
Planning isn’t evidence of a lack of faith or an unwillingness to follow the Spirit’s leading; it’s the simple admission that we are fickle and easily distracted people, and that we will be far more faithful to God’s leading if we commit ourselves to a course of action before distraction takes us off track.
“We don’t have a vision”
This myth tends to pop up in churches that still believe international missions falls inextricably under the expertise of mission agencies, while local churches are best equipped to do other things. Tasks like missionary assessment, preparation, training, accountability and care sometimes feel like things best left to the “experts,” so the local church takes a step back.
While it is true that a good mission agency can provide critical support to a church’s missionary-sending activity, it’s untrue that international missions is a mysterious world that the local church knows nothing about. Culture and language change from place to place, but God, humanity and his world are the same wherever you go. This means that principles for good local ministry will generally translate internationally.
Chances are, you have a sense of how God has called and equipped your church to minister in your community, which has in turn shaped a core part of your church’s identity.
That activity and identity don’t need to be set aside when you think about how to minister internationally. Instead, start by asking the question, “How has God equipped us to reach his world?” Then prayerfully consider what that means for your international engagement as well.
“We’re too small, too new or too poor”
This idea is usually coupled with the notion that “We’ll do that when we’re bigger, more established or have more resources.” Together, these beliefs keep us from seeing what God has called us to today by convincing us that it will be easier to follow him tomorrow.
Of course, it is true that investing ourselves intentionally requires selectivity, or saying “no” to some things so that we can say “yes” to others. But if we make our selections today based on the belief that we will be fundamentally different people tomorrow, we are letting our strategy be hijacked by a very clever lie.
The notion that a community’s missional calling somehow depends on its size, experience or resources is rooted in the mistaken belief that God’s people are more limited by these things than we are empowered by the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.
In fact, our vision and strategy should boldly flow from God’s character and activity, rather than being tentatively sketched based on what our timid hearts can grasp right now.
“There’s so much to do here” or “We’re called to local ministry”
This is based on the mistaken beliefs, referred to above, that local and global ministry are fundamentally different, and that the church is called to local engagement while agencies are called to engage globally. These beliefs fall short because they fail to grapple adequately with the interconnectedness of God’s people and God’s world.
The world is getting smaller by the minute, and it’s no longer nuanced enough to think of local and global missions as distinct ministry types that have no bearing on each other. For more on this topic, read this article.
Furthermore, it is far more possible today for North American churches to learn from and minister alongside majority world churches. The possibilities for learning and engagement are endless, but we need a strategy to direct our attention.
Rather than writing off local ministry for the sake of global ministry, or vice-versa, a wise missions strategy will try to bring the two areas together. It will force you to look for areas of expertise in your local ministry that could be put to use around the world. It will cause you to think about the relationships that you have around the world and make connections that could improve your local ministry.
It’s one thing to individually become a global Christian, but a church missions strategy will start your congregation down the path to becoming a truly global Christian community that is open to, engaged in and learning from what God is doing around the world.
Sending out healthy and prepared missionaries is a church-wide effort. To help your church succeed, TEAM puts together a free monthly missions resource with tips and tools just for churches. Click here to learn more and sign up.