Church Plants and Missions: Putting a Congregational Vision Together, Part 1

We in the Churches of Christ aren’t very good at missions — foreign or domestic. The biggest problem isn’t in the mission field, though. It’s in our churches. We just don’t know what we’re doing.

I don’t pretend to have any real expertise. I just have that wonderful objectivity that total ignorance sometimes brings. That is, I’ve seen it done badly at a lot of places for a lot of years. I don’t know much about how to do it right, but I’m an expert in how to do it wrong. That’s worth something, isn’t it?

So we’ve been going through a visioning process for our missions program, and this is where I am in my thinking — largely based on how not to do it. Maybe the readers can improve on what little I know.

1. Start with humility. You probably don’t know what you’re doing either. It’s okay. None of us does.

2. Put the right people in charge. If you’re a sponsoring church, it’s too big a task for one person, even if you have just one missionary or church planter you support. Put together a team. Put good men and women on the team. (The women are very important.) Make sure some of the members are at a stage of life where they can travel.

3. Get professional help. Call one of the universities and get hold of someone who knows current missiology to coach you on how to do your job. Maybe you pay for him to come visit the elders and missions team. Maybe you just schedule a series of conference calls or even an internet meeting. Or maybe the chair of the team visits the expert for a training session.

Don’t get help from someone 30 years out of date. The world has changed dramatically in just the last 10 years. Old methods may not work any more. Here’s the key: if the guy isn’t an expert in church planting, he’s not an expert in missions. He may be an expert on missions in one country, but he’s not an expert in missions in general.

Check the lectureship agendas. I’ve not yet been to one that covered missions properly. They tend just to let a missionary talk about his work in his country — rather than offering serious training in mission oversight. But any lectureship is likely to have sessions with church planters — and those will be well worth the trip by themselves.

Oh — and there’s the internet thing. It has lots of information.

4. Work with the pros to find a balance among —

* Foreign missions and domestic missions

* Short-term missions and long-term missions

* Proven mission fields and unproven mission fields.

* Support for missionaries and support for mission organizations.

Here’s how I’ve got it figured. The Churches of Christ as a whole should invest about half their resources in foreign and half in domestic missions. Planting churches in the US will create churches with the resources that will plant other churches and send out missionaries. That’s too good a deal to pass on. But some foreign missions have even better success rates. We can’t pass on those either.

We should bias our budgets heavily toward long-term missions — even if it makes the teen minister unhappy. You see, the research shows that short-term missions accomplish much less good than long-term missions. They don’t even really build support for long-term missions.

The way to make short-term missions worth the investment (and keep the teen minister happy) is to coordinate long-term and short-term missions. The goal of a short-term mission trip isn’t to build great relationships among the teens. Nor is it to build loyalty to missions among the teens. It’s to do mission.

Therefore, the teens should do mission, if at all possible, in support of what the long-term missionary supported by the church does. If he’s a missionary to the third-world country, the teens might do service projects that support his work.

If you have a campus ministry, you might have the students do actual Bible studies, grade correspondence courses, help maintain his web page — anything adults could do if they had the kind of free time and energy college students have.

We’ve been fortunate to have several students from our campus ministry go into foreign missions because they were trained to do Bible studies in a foreign field. To go on the annual campus mission trip, they had to attend special classes for months to learn the customs of the area and to know how to help the local missionaries do mission work. And the high level of commitment led to great results — for Christ and the program — and many kids liked it so much they went on to become missionaries.

Finally, we need to invest God’s resources mainly in the fields where the harvest is the whitest. It’s common sense. Why deny people who are begging for the gospel to send someone to a field known to be resistant?

On the other hand, if we send no one to the hardest mission fields, we’ll never know when they become open to the gospel — and we’ll never discover methods that work in those fields.

I figure this is where the old 80/20 rule comes in. Put 80% of our resources into the fields that are begging for the gospel and 20% into fields that are struggling.

Now, this all makes sense on a Church of Christ-wide basis, but an individual church may have to pick one or the other. I suggest they do so in consultation with the professionals and considering their own congregation’s needs as well. You see, a well-run mission effort can do as much for the sponsoring church as for the nation that receives the missionary.

A good missions program will excite the sponsoring congregation and encourage more generous giving and volunteerism.

The hardest balance, to me, is between missionaries and organizations. Do we support the Eastern Europe Mission? Or the missionaries they support? If everyone insists on supporting the missionary (which seems the obvious choice), then who will support the coach and the trainer and the fund raiser?

Personally, if I ran one of those organizations, I’d insist that x% of all donations go to missions overhead — to support the superstructure needed to make missions work. But that’s just me.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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12 Responses to Church Plants and Missions: Putting a Congregational Vision Together, Part 1

  1. I probably disagree with some of this, Jay, because your whole post is premised on an organizational solution.

    But ignoring that point for a moment, I think the larger issue is that you failed to address the people who actually engage in missionary work. In my experience, a person's willingness to be a missionary does not necessarily lead to actually being effective in that role.

    I suggest we should also be very concerned about identifying people who have the gifts / skills to be effective. Desire is a desirable trait, but not guarantee of effectiveness.

    And then, of course, there is the question of how you define success.

    The most important point you made, you amde at the beginning of your post. The problem is mostly in the congregations — among the people I our pews.

    I'm personally convinced God would draw a lot people to himself, if we focused more on demonstrating his love in the way we treat other folks.

    But, what do I know!

  2. Jerry Starling says:


    You said a mouthful when you wrote,

    I’m personally convinced God would draw a lot people to himself, if we focused more on demonstrating his love in the way we treat other folks.

    We (Eastern European Mission) are seeing this in action in Ukraine in work being done there with the orphans. Read about it here.

  3. Jerry Starling says:

    The link above does not work. Let me try again.
    Try this.


  4. bradstanford says:

    I agree with David. Organizational answers are cart ante horse. Work on getting the heartbeat of the congregation to match God's. Then, all these things will be added unto you as well, including how to organize.

    It's much like focusing on the best methods of finding five loaves and two fishes in a large crowd, without knowing what to do with them when you find them.

  5. nick gill says:

    Guys, your idealism is showing.

    Yes, of course, absolutely, we need to work on "getting the heartbeat of the congregation to match God's."

    But people are dying all over the world without Jesus, and they don't have time for us to wait until our congregation's heartbeat matches God's. So, in the meantime, let's be both-and folks, okay?

  6. bradstanford says:

    To be fair, Nick, the context of this post is what to do inside a congregation that wants to send people out. The rate at which the lost world is getting more lost is already going to be a factor for a church in this mode. It should not be motivation to do something half-way, or in a way that we think is best because we just "have to do something!"

    I believe the Holy Spirit not only provides passion and preparation, but providential timing (three p's – that'll preach!). In fact, the Spirit has been known to delay people (like Paul) from going to places they desired to go, because it was not their job to go there.

    I'm not disagreeing, per se. Perhaps you could give a little more detail about your "both and" remark as it applies to the God's hand on a church, and His timing for spreading His gospel, just to clarify?

  7. Jay Guin says:

    Brad and David,

    I know many churches with good hearts and lousy missions programs. Having a good heart is essential but not enough.

    On the other hand, as noted in the next post and a number of comments, having a well run missions program can change the heart of the congregation. But a church could support Paul himself and be unchanged if the congregation isn't kept informed as to his work and doesn't see his life as an example of how to live for God.

    Missions as a program and the congregational heart live in synergy.

  8. David Himes says:

    I would guess (because I don't know, for sure) that most mission efforts are mediocre to poor because there is no passion from the heart for missions. Evangelism — whether local or distant — is a gift. It is not mine, but I've known many for whom it is.

    The weakness of mission efforts, in my view, is they are founded on organization efforts and require organizational support — which is not inherently bad, but often ineffective, burdened by organizational politics.

    All of what you're original post said is sound organizational practice.

    But if we really got grace and forgiveness and love, people would be evangelizing — locally and distantly — because they could not keep themselves from it.

    "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." (Blaise Pascal)

    I'd love to hear, more often, about someone who is so convicted about being an evangelistic somewhere, that they go without an organization and a plan. And I appreciate organization and planning — but I'm unconvinced God needs they kind of help from us.

    And in the end, only God can draw someone to himself.

  9. nick gill says:

    And I appreciate organization and planning — but I’m unconvinced God needs they kind of help from us. And in the end, only God can draw someone to himself.

    David, I think this kind of writing ignores the incarnational nature of the mission of God. God didn't need Adam in order to manifest sovereignty over creation. God didn't need Moses in order to rescue Israel from Egypt. God didn't need to incarnate. God didn't need the apostles to organize compassionate relief for the Greek widows.

    It doesn't have anything to do with what God needs. It has to do with what "two or three of you" agree upon "in My name." (That sounds, at least a little bit, like organization) And it has to do with the fact that people cannot work together without organization (or at least order). Just as God spoke order out of the primordial chaos, we are to continue His work of ordering.

    I do agree that order/organization/ (even an organism) without the Spirit is dead, no matter how much work we put into it. But we're not talking about what God needs, but rather how God created us to function, and that includes a certain measure of order/organization.

  10. nick gill says:

    I’m not disagreeing, per se. Perhaps you could give a little more detail about your “both and” remark as it applies to the God’s hand on a church, and His timing for spreading His gospel, just to clarify?

    I think what I'm trying to say, Brad, is that God's hand on a church is (almost) never a domineering one. The letters to the churches, both in Revelation and in the NT canon more generally, show that things work out in God's time when God's people work God's mission. Repenting from a failure to have one's congregational heartbeat aligned with God's probably won't be an immediate switch. 3000 Jews repented and declared allegiance to Jesus on Pentecost, yet it was a long time before their heartbeat was aligned with God's enough to begin working God's mission to reach all cultures. In the meantime, there was organizational work that began to address both issues — that's the brilliance of Acts 6. The apostles decide that their work must be getting and keeping the believing community aligned with the heartbeat of God (I love you metaphor!), but they can't wait until that time to take care of the suffering widows, so they (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) organize a group of believers whose hearts are already there and give the task to them.

    See? both/and

  11. bradstanford says:

    Then we *are* saying the same thing.

    "…things work out in God’s time when God’s people work God’s mission"

    And this can't be done without aligning the congregation to God's heart. Which obviously takes time, as you stated:

    "…yet it was a long time before their heartbeat was aligned with God’s enough to begin working God’s mission to reach all cultures."

    Which was OK with God. God is more concerned with the state of the lost than we are, and yet He didn't immediately send most of the church out. Just a few, who had already been aligned because they were with Jesus when He was here (talk about the ultimate training program!).

    As we back out of the world to get a bigger picture, one church is sending, another is planning, another church just got planted all at the same time. The cycle continues every day: sending, planning, planting, in the right time for God's purposes.

    Suffering Widows, to me was a "give them your coat" situation, rather than a "train to plant a church" situation. There are some parts of community you just don't have to train for: meeting needs. Hunger communicates without having to know the language!

    This is one of those subjects that would be a lot easier – and much more encouraging – to discuss in person. Thanks for clarifying. I enjoy your thoughts very much.

  12. nick gill says:

    God is more concerned with the state of the lost than we are, and yet He didn’t immediately send most of the church out.

    And we were doing so well! See, I don't believe God prevented most of the church from going out. I believe the church was sent to the world from the moment the Spirit descended at Pentecost. Fear, prejudice, and comfort held the church back (just like now — not much has changed – Jesus is risen and still we doubt and delay), until those nameless guys (who I can't wait to meet!) in Acts 11 are brave enough to submit to the call of the Spirit and preach the gospel in Antioch. I'm not at all convinced that the delay from Acts 2 – Acts 11 "was OK with God."

    Yes, there were a few instances before then (Samaria, Cornelius, Candace's treasurer), but that was the first time disciples moved out of their comfort zone without a specifically-recorded kick in the tail by the Holy Spirit.

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