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Sunday, July 01, 2012 

Six Challenges for the Church in Missions: 2) Reaching Both the Community and the World

For a long time many evangelical churches focused on (1) discipling believers within the church and (2) reaching the nations abroad. Reaching the community was not a major focus. In the last two decades, however, there has been a strong movement to reach our communities. Many recent books focus on how a church can reach its community and/or grow in size.

Many of these books begin with the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19) and suggest that the “heart” of the Great Commission is to “make disciples.” However, most books only apply this concept to reaching one’s community. What is missing in these books is discipling “all nations.” Cross-cultural missions is not often mentioned and when it is, it is limited to a passing mention on a page or in a paragraph. Not long ago I proposed “The Great Commission-Driven Church” as a workshop title to be presented at a missions conference. One pastor said to me, “I’ve studied the Great Commission church and taught on it and I was hoping for something more global.” It seems the Great Commission has been domesticated in popular church literature.

Pastors and church leaders seem to be looking primarily to megachurch models for how to do church. These model churches usually have a missions program, but it is not a major topic in their books or at their conferences. Most new churches are focused on reaching the unchurched community; global missions is not a major focus. Several years ago I asked the receptionist of a young church plant, “What are you doing in missions?” His response was, “We are a mission.”

In 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, the authors report putting their teenagers to work Sunday morning “on the mission field” (2004, 159). They were referring to having them work in the church programs. Recently, one young church planter was asked what his church was doing in missions. His surprising response was, “We have a miscellaneous budget line item for that kind of stuff.” Another young seeker-sensitive church of more than 1,200 people reported a missions budget of one percent in 2004.

Doing church in a culturally relevant manner is increasingly expensive. It is difficult for churches to maintain the percentage they have previously given for missions. Megachurches that have large budgets also have large internal expenses. Churches which have more than one thousand congregants rarely give as much as twenty-five percent of their regular income to missions. Traditional churches with large missions budgets are spending more on staff and facilities. Many are becoming more seeker-oriented. Seeker churches spend increasing dollars on facilities and accoutrements that will result in a more inviting atmosphere for secular people.

The non-negotiables are changing. At one time the missions budget was sacrosanct in many churches. Now, as one worship pastor told me, “We have two PowerPoint projectors in the worship service. Each projector has two bulbs. Each bulb costs $1,700. And if one blows, you have to replace it.” A volunteer technical assistant in a church with six hundred members told me, “In five minutes I could write down two million dollars worth of sound equipment we need.” Many younger churches desire to do more missions, but missions must wait on higher priorities.

Fifteen years ago, church purpose statements frequently specified reaching “the world.” Current purpose statements are shorter and less specific. Missions is treated as a program rather than part of the church’s purpose. One missions pastor told me, “In our church, missions is one of 125 ministries and it must compete with all the others for pulpit time, resources and volunteers.” In highly professional, time-delineated worship services, time is not available for missionaries to tell their stories. Brief interviews or video clips must suffice to let church people know they are involved in missions. Many churches are reducing the number of missionaries they support so they won’t be overloaded with trying to keep themselves and their people informed.

The effort to reach our communities deserves to be supported and applauded. How to balance that with reaching the rest of the nations for Christ is the challenge.

Practices for maximum global impact:
—Support your church’s local outreach efforts. The goal is not a great missions church, but a Great Commission church. The Great Commission includes people who live both near and far.

—Recognize and build on the fact that a renewed emphasis on local outreach can be a springboard to cross-cultural outreach.

—Invest in local outreach largely through recruiting and deploying volunteers. Reserve a large percentage of your dollars for cross-cultural and overseas ministry.

—As you train for local outreach projects, take the opportunity to stretch people’s minds to consider the internationals in the community. Help your people progress from low-risk community projects to building relationships to reaching across cultural barriers to befriending internationals.
—Research the demographics of your community and take steps to reach people of other cultures and nationalities.

—As you connect with local people from other countries, consider whether you can leverage those relationships to begin ministry in their home countries.

—Develop and integrate basic missions education as part of your ongoing education and discipleship ministries. Cooperate with ministry leaders to assist them in including missions education and awareness in their ministries.

—Communicate widely and broadly the opportunity and responsibility we have as a Church and as global Christians to expand the kingdom and influence the course of world history.

—Make sure the church is truly involved in reaching other cultures, regardless of the emphases of popular church models and books.
—Make global missions an ongoing priority in the budget, schedule and activities of the church.

—Cooperate with other key church leaders and influencers to help keep missions on the church radar screen.

—Revise your church’s purpose statement so that “all nations” or the “whole world” is an unambiguous part of your purpose.

—Consider what it means to your church operation for the Great Commission to be part of your purpose rather than one of your programs.

—Persuade people to take “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement” (http://psp.godsperspective.org), a dynamic, college-level course where participants discover what God is doing around the world and consider what part they are to play in God’s purposes. It is offered throughout the year at extension sites around the world.

- by David Mays

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