“I remember when this whole place was full every Sunday. We even had people in the balcony.”
The “good old days” can be an enemy to the pastor of a small church. People can often define success as getting things closer to what they used to be, or believe the best days are in the past, and the future only will bring further decline.
This attitude turns the congregation’s concerns inward, to preservation and holding on to the things that matter most to them. A pastor’s job is to turn his people’s eyes from themselves and the past, and point them toward others and the future. One of the most valuable tools for this purpose is to involve your church in missions.
But truly small churches (75 or fewer) are rarely involved in missions. If the possibility is even brought up, the answer seems to be “If only we were bigger…” at best and “We don’t do that” at worst. Even pastors themselves can think of any material involvement in missions as an impossibility. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In fact, five of the most common reasons given for why small churches don’t do missions are really just bad excuses…
1 – “There’s plenty of need around here.”
That’s true. What ministry are you doing among your neighbors? Churches become ingrown by keeping to themselves. The argument of “Until every person in my community is saved, I don’t have any business going anywhere else” would carry a lot more weight if the churches that thought that way were actually pouring into their towns and neighborhoods. You show me a church that is unconcerned about God’s global mission, and I’ll show you one that will be unconcerned about reaching their own community.
2 – “I don’t feel like we’re called to missions”
This excuse is similar to the first one. Both try to hide a lack of desire to go under a spiritually acceptable veneer. The question is not if a church is called to missions but how. The calling for my church will take a different shape from yours, but we are each called to seek God’s leading with the assumption that the call is already there. The church was called not only to Jerusalem but also to the ends of the earth. Even the poorest churches in Macedonia gave sacrificially out of concern for God’s people and God’s mission all over the world. The biblical mandate is clear. The Spirit will lead each congregation as we seek to obey.
3 – “I’m afraid to try and get shot down or fall flat on my face”
Most pastors won’t admit this fear out loud, but it’s an excuse that keeps us from trying a lot of things, missions included. You don’t want to be the one who starts to build a tower that he can’t finish. It’s embarrassing, and so we often refuse to take a risk. Here’s where it’s important not to go beyond where God is leading. I have tried to initiate things in regard to missions that have gone nowhere, but I have learned to wait on the Lord to give direction and provide in order to show his leading. If you get out ahead of that, failure and embarrassment can follow. As for opposition, in ministry we have to decide what things to let go and where to push. Missions is a hill worth dying on, if necessary.
4 – “We don’t have enough people for a decent-sized team.”
The paradigm for short-term mission trips with which most people are familiar involves teams of at least 10-15 people. If you are a church of 75, that’s a huge number, and if your population is old or your congregation is significantly smaller than that, it’s an impossible number. But there are other ways to do things. One is to form a team with another church or two. Another is to partner with a larger church or missions organization and send your small team with their large one.
A third option is to find a situation where a small team is actually best. I have found that “bush” Alaska missions is a good fit for a small church: it is small town to small town ministry, it is domestic yet fills a great need, and the planes and accommodations often prohibit a large team. The teams of four we put together every year is a perfect size. We didn’t decide to go to Alaska in the beginning, though. We decided to go, and God led us to Alaska. Commit to obey, and God will use what you have to fulfill his purpose.
5 – “We have no money for that”
That’s obvious. A small church doesn’t have money for anything but utilities and to pay the preacher. We don’t have the money at our church, either. But God has all the resources you need and he will lead you to it (or send it on his own), probably from sources beyond your immediate congregation. I will write more about ways a small church can get the money for missions in my next post.
The first step to getting a church to look outward is to push past the lies and excuses and decide to obey. Missions can be a big part of that.
Do any of these excuses resonate with your situation? Do you have any stories of how God provided when you chose to obey? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.