By Aaron Jozwiak, Pastor of Red Village Church in Madison, WI
A few years back I was helping assess some potential church planters. In the assessment, we were asking some typical questions to one of the candidates about his vision, expectations, and how many people he thought would be attending the church after 5 years. After pressing this candidate with these questions—in particular the question on the size he thought the church would be—the candidate flipped the assessment on us. Matter-of-factly, he let us know that his main concern was not how many people might come to the church, but rather, how many were being sent out.
I felt like I went from being the assessor to the assessed. I currently pastor a small church that I planted a little over 5 years ago with an average attendance between 100-125. While missions was something we talked about from early on, this conversation helped grow my desire to lead our church to spend more time and more energy on sending, rather than just trying to grow numerically.
By God’s grace, we currently have members serving in Mongolia, India, Peru, and a couple of different places in the Middle East. We also have one more who will soon move to North Africa. And we sent out our first North American church plant a little over a year ago.
Leading a small church to be active in missions isn’t an exact science, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are eight things we are doing that prove to be fruitful at Red Village Church:
- Expect missions: God is more than capable of using a small church to make both a local and a global impact. If you pastor a small church, fight against the feeling of being defeated because of lack of size, and remember that the tomb of Jesus Christ is empty. Pray and lead with expectation that God can use your church to advance His kingdom.
- Celebrate missions: One of the greatest pieces of advice I have received in ministry is that “you replicate what you celebrate.” So find as many avenues as you can to celebrate missions in your church. Celebrate missions in your sermons, in business meetings, in one-on-one conversations, in blog posts, and in any other opportunity that presents itself. One of the ways we celebrate missions is by keeping our missionaries in front of the church. Each Sunday we take time to pray for one of our missionaries and to give a brief update on them and their work.
- Prepare for missions: Perhaps the thing that has been the greatest catalyst for our church in becoming more active in missions is a class we offer called “Missions Lab.” In our Missions Lab, we read books about missions, interact with people on the field, pray for missions, and work on mission strategies. Almost all of the people we have sent overseas went through our Missions Lab.
- Take short-term mission trips: Each year our church takes a couple of short-term trips to the foreign field. We use these trips for two major purposes. First and foremost, we go to encourage the long-term missionaries who are already there. We focus almost all of our time on the missionaries and the needs they might have. Second, we go to equip our people who are exploring missions. I can tell story after story of how God used a short-term trip to confirm a long-term commitment in the heart of someone on the team. Short-term trips become a major pipeline to train and inspire our future missionaries.
- Give to missions: Even if you’re in a small church, work to make missions a big part of your budget, because giving is one of the best ways you can celebrate missions. One way we model this is in addition to our budgeted giving, we take one Sunday a year and give 100% of the money brought in that week to missions.
- Count the cost of missions: This is important, not just for the people going on the field, but also for the church. Every time we’ve sent someone out to the mission field, the church as a whole has felt varying levels of anxiety. When you are a small church, the temptation is very present to feel you can’t afford to “lose” someone. If you desire for your church to be more active in missions, take time to help them count the cost as well as the joys and challenges that will come from being a sending church.
- Seize opportunities for missions: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking only large churches have opportunities! While larger churches have some advantages, there are many ways smaller churches actually have advantages, too. In a small church, for instance, there are better opportunities for personal investment, care, and mobilization. As the old adage goes, “It is easier to get a volunteer out of 3 than 3000!” Look with humble eyes for the different opportunities God has given to you and your smaller church. And for the glory of God, seize them!
- Preach the gospel: Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can and will compel people to the mission field. The best strategies cannot replace the power of the gospel. As the pastor of a small church, I try to implement the best strategies I can, but I have even greater confidence the same power of the gospel that fills large churches fills mine as well.