Every person doing missionary work, whether short-term or long-term, whether based in the USA or around the world, has the same desire: to connect with churches so that they would provide mission support to their work.
However, this is a dream that is not easily realized! Several challenges present themselves to any missionary asking any church, “Can you support my mission service?” And so many missionaries, after banging on doors and getting nowhere, give up on this.
And truth be told, if a missionary needs “fast money,” churches are not the place to go.
But there still remains some value to having one or more churches support your mission.
I was once a self-supported by-faith-only missionary, and I found it beyond difficult to gain any church support – it was hard enough to get personal support. Later, when I was a senior pastor (at Bear Valley Church, Denver, CO), we had a large mission’s budget that included almost fifty different line items. There was some small but steady turnover and a more significant stream of new applicants. We had a missions committee and a missions pastor. Still, given my love for missionaries, I was often at least in the conversation around any applicant for support from us.
Thus, I believe I can offer some KEYS to making good contact with churches.
8 Keys to Making Good Contact with Churches
The biggest value of church support is that it’s “long-term.” Yes! Once you get into a church budget, you can stay there for a long time. Churches do experience cycles (usually marked by the change of senior leadership), and that transition can be a time when the church takes a hard look at its mission support budget, but… if you stay in good communication with them, you have a great chance of surviving a change in leadership.
Getting a church to accept you is a process – not a quick interview and an instant commitment. Churches move slowly; they have mission committees, budget committees, deacon groups, and elder groups – some system of church leaders who make these decisions. OH, yes, these decisions to add a new missionary move at the speed of fingernail growth! And, on top of all that, every church has an “annual budget cycle” that does not usually start and end on January 1st. Plus, they have a waiting list often – so the key objective for a missionary applicant is.. how to get on that waiting list.
I recall an applicant who had “walked in” without any appointment or pre-planning, caught me when I was available, and proceeded to show me his materials that described his work – and I was interested. But his first question was, “Do you think your church can support me, starting right away?”
I was flabbergasted and baffled at his ignorance of how churches work. But I wanted to try to use this as a teachable moment and give him some coaching.
“First off,” I said, “I have no authority to do that—you are asking me a question to which the only possible answer is ‘no,’ and that’s never a good approach.” The questions he could have asked to which I could say something positive are like these:
- A) Can you tell me who to talk to about applying for support?
- B) Can you tell me the process by which a person here applies for support?
- C) Can you connect me to the person I need to talk to?
Ironically, if he had looked at our website, he would have seen that we have a Missions Pastor on the staff. That would be an excellent place to start – or, if he started with me, just to get acquainted, he would have at least known to ask, “Can you introduce me to the missions pastor?”
I also queried him, ‘So what do you know about our church?” Nothing was the answer. He was visiting relatives in our city and thought it wise to drop in on some pastors. But he would have developed a better rapport with us if he had taken the time to know something about our core values, our mission statement, or the broader community that we served here in Denver. He did not even know our denomination!
Every missionary should start by approaching their home church. If you don’t have a home church in the USA, even though you may be living abroad, you are “shooting yourself in the foot” before you can ask other churches to help. The universal church is the bride of Christ, but the local church is the cultural expression of that theology.
Any pastor or missions pastor or committee chair you can engage in conversation with will ask: “So, where is your home church, and do they support you?” To answer, “Oh, I don’t have a home church,” is an instant knockout (in my humble but accurate opinion) because it carries the connotation of “I don’t need a local church to do my mission.”
When I was given the name of the “home church,” my next question would be, “Do they support you?” When the answer was “no,” I would ask, “Then why is that your home church?” A missionary is “one sent out by another,” NOT “one who goes on a trip.” The Greek “apostello” (from which we get “apostle” literally means “One sent out for a purpose by another.”
The Latin translation of that verb is “misseo” from which we get “missionary.” The agency that handles your money may consider themselves the “sending agency,” but they are only a “missionary support administrative service.”
GOD, of course, is the ultimate sender of missionaries, but He usually works through a local church to launch that missionary into church services.
The point here is for any applicant to our church; we would call their home church for a reference early in the process. That home church could tell us a lot more about their missionary than he might be able to tell us himself without appearing to be boastful.
Find and use any personal connection to the church you wish to enlist. Mission money usually flows through relationships — and when a missionary applicant comes in the door accompanied by one of the church’s members, that applicant will get a warmer reception if you haven’t got a single connection, research, or research. Watch last Sunday’s service online – that will give you a conversation starter for your meeting with the pastor or whoever.
Bring excellent printed material with you to the first meeting. Do NOT come in and ask for support and if you find an interested church, say, “Oh, I can bring you materials (brochures, reports, etc.) on our mission later.” No, no- you must have that with you—enough that answers the who/what/when/where/why questions- as the person you meet will almost certainly be passing this on to those who actually ponder these things.
Another applicant, one time, was leaving Denver to plant a church in northern California. He had been active in our church singles group- so we had a relationship, and he knew us- and knew that we supported a lot of missionaries. He plopped down in my office and told me a bit about the lead pastor he would help and what would be our role. So I asked, “well, what kind of church is this, and what is their vision and strategy? Who exactly are they going to try to reach?”
His answer was stunning: “Oh, you can find all that on our website.”
“But do you have some stuff in print that I can give to the missions committee?”
“No,” he answered, “maybe I can print up some things and send them to you.”
He never did do that!!! Instant death to his application. And I heard later that he never really raised any support- rather, went out to California and got a job- completely supported himself that way, which is, honestly, a great way to help a church plant.
Persistence. Again, money flows through relationships, and building relationships takes time. Even the US Marines don’t always take the hill the first time they charge up it. So, make a plan, find some likely churches, and reach out to them.
Expect a variety of discouraging answers:
- a) our church has its own missionaries we support.
- b) we only support missionaries of a certain denomination or doctrine.
- c) we are “full-up” with missionaries already.
But if you have the match of denomination and doctrine, establish a foothold:
- a) do you process by which I can be added to a “waiting list?”
- b) can I apply again next year – can we keep in touch?
- c) can I add you to our newsletter list so you can get to know us?
Build upon the relationship with the church you DO have for support.
Given that you likely have one or two or maybe three churches supporting you, realize that those pastors might be the best “references” and ‘connectors” you could ever ask for. Ask them, ‘hey, I will be in town next month. Could you maybe set up a coffee with another pastor or two, to whom I could share our vision.?”
Or once you are in town, ask your supporting pastor, “Hey, can I go with you to any pastors’ meetings or prayer meetings just to meet people.”
Have GREAT printed material.
Churches have a building on the main street that everyone can see.
Your mission has nothing like that- so one way to overcome that is with excellent materials.
- a) Start with a professionally made business card (nothing cheap or homemade).
When you present your card to another person in the business world or the church world as staff, they will usually give you their card – et voila! You have their cell phone and email. Now you can follow up with them and slowly cultivate that relationship.
- b) Ask yourself a hard question: “What do my donors (and support churches) need from me? You already know the easy question, “what do I need from my donors? But this is the hard one: what do THEY need from ME?
The answer is, They need to know what God is doing through your ministry.
They don’t need your list of prayer needs,” they don’t need to know how poor your support list is, etc., because supporters don’t give to “needs” as much as to “vision.”
If you have endured reading all the way down to hear, this one teaching point will be well worth your time. People give to “vision”.. much more than to “need.”
In this element of raising mission support, your job here is to communicate to them the “opportunity” of supporting your mission. They can partner with you and, without leaving home, join in on what GOD is doing through <this program> and <that endeavor> and <these projects.> Paint a picture in words that show how God is using your mission—the numbers are not the point here story – “statistics tell, but stories sell.” So tell stories – in print, in the video, through email, podcasts – and people will be moved to join you.
Becoming Better Disciples and Stewards
All of us in the missions business, in any aspect, are “storytellers” of the greatest story on earth. Remember that whenever you enlist a church (or a person) to support your work, you are ministering TO them- yes- as they are ministering TO you.
You are helping them become better disciples and stewards, and God will reward them. Minister to your mailing list by casting the vision of what is being done and what could be done, and they will come to your aid!
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