I claim four nationalities. I was born in Norway, have an Irish father, grew up in Scotland, and married an American. I could have two passports in addition to my U.S. and British passports, but who needs more than two? It does seem somewhat ironic, though, that I’d be serving in a small town in Kentucky where most residents have no passport at all.
Most churches in the United States have fewer than 100 in attendance, and many of us are serving in small towns. We have very real challenges when it comes to mobilizing our churches for missions. Many of our members have never traveled overseas. Many others cannot afford to spend thousands on airfare to go there. Moreover, a church that isn’t experiencing growth will often question the wisdom of committing resources beyond its own community.
But even a small church can be strategically involved in international missions. The missionary movement has never been divorced from the church; it is the church.
The scope of the missionary challenge coupled with the force of Christ’s command to the church to go and make disciples of all nations suggest that every church, however small or remote, must grapple with the question: “How are we being faithful to the Great Commission?” I pastor a relatively small church (140 people) in a relatively small community (around 20,000 people), but I thank God that we haven’t allowed those statistics to hinder our vision or reduce our capacity to take the gospel to the nations. Over the past year we’ve sent close to 30 of our own members to support the work of church planting in Scotland, partnered with other local churches to train persecuted pastors in southern Philippines, and helped to commission two gospel workers now serving full-time overseas. It is possible for a small church to make a big impact.
Just a few weeks ago I was with some of my church members from Kentucky walking the streets of a Scottish town in which there is no gospel-preaching church. We were praying together, sharing the gospel with those we met in parks and at bus stops, and meeting in the home of a family among the only believers in the town—dreaming with them about seeing a gospel-proclaiming church launched in their midst. A little congregation committed to a place like this can have a huge effect. Encouraging believers, providing extra boots on the ground to assist their evangelistic efforts, and committing to raise up and fund the work of a church planter willing to settle there are some practical ways we’re seeking to fulfill this calling. Make no mistake: a small church willing to sacrifice for the sake of gospel advancement can bear great fruit.
Picture four pastors from America traveling to the southern Philippines together, working with persecuted pastors and spending a week in the jungle teaching biblical theology and equipping the local saints for ministry. Two of these men have never before traveled overseas and serve in churches that have never engaged in international missions. It can, does, and should happen. How, then, does a small church in a small town develop a commitment to the nations? Consider these four ways.
Preach the Gospel
Statistics and images from the mission field might stir emotions, but only the gospel will (rightly) move believers to act. When confronted with the fact that many are born in places where the gospel has never been preached, God’s people are challenged to respond. Preaching a great God who owns the whole earth, who desires the worship of all people, and who is glorified by the proclamation of his Son, has enthused our members about international missions. Preach a biblical theology that highlights the missionary thread running throughout God’s Word.
Pray for the Nations
Pray for the nations during worship. Pray an informed prayer. I will often use resources like Operation World to highlight a particular people. Lead the church to pray specific prayers for missionaries with whom you’re in contact. Use Skype or prerecorded videos messages to allow the church to interact with missionaries directly. Adopt a people group and keep everyone informed with regular updates, needs, and prayer requests.
Commit to an international partnership. Our church partners with a missionary as well as with some churches and church planters in Scotland, which is slowly becoming unreached. Our objective, then, is to plant churches. Consider partnering with other congregations in your area to adopt a people group together. This year we partnered with three other churches to advance this work in Scotland. Our church is committed to seek partners both in the United States and the United Kingdom in order to see ten churches planted in Scotland over the next five years.
Finally, consider going, but go as a partner to the workers already there and humbly respond to their direction. Strive to work with trusted missionaries and agencies. Make sure you do gospel-centered work and aim to develop a local church. Encourage your members with financial assistance, if possible. Our church offers scholarships to subsidize up to 50 percent of the trip costs. The local Baptist association also provides funds for pastors to travel for missions, and has even developed partnerships to provide assistance to churches engaged in missions. If we trust in the sufficiency of the gospel and affirm our call to the nations, then we must recognize that every church has exciting missionary potential—-no matter its size.