In recent years there has been a shift in how churches support and engage with missionaries. Gone are the days of walls full of photos of supported missionaries the church does not know well. Churches are choosing instead to invest more heavily and engage more deeply with fewer missionaries closely aligned with the mission and vision of the supporting church.
This trend has some benefits to both the church and the missionary. But it can sometimes be challenging to know how best to engage with those missionaries, while encouraging meaningful interaction with the congregation.
Here are a few ideas for engaging with your supported missionaries that go beyond simply passing on information about the work they do.
1. Choose one or two people from the congregation to advocate for the missionary throughout the year while the missionaries are in the field. This can include sharing prayer requests, updates, or including them in special events within the church. Keep the names and faces of the missionaries before the church members in ways that won’t put the missionaries at risk where they’re serving.
2. Do a video update in a service or other church event. With technology available today, this can be easy through FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, or any number of other similar applications. The key to success is to be brief and keep things as interesting as possible. This might mean not doing a traditional update on their work, but rather something personal and fun. For example, in the weeks leading up to Christmas do a 2-3 minute interview with them about traditions where they’re serving or how they bring a taste of home to the holidays.
3. Send a small team to work directly with the supported missionary. This may not always be possible depending on the location and type of work they do. But most missionaries enjoy having a small group from their church come. Those who go on the trip return home challenged and excited about the missionaries and their work and can help create enthusiasm within the church.
4. Be intentional about creating opportunities to meet as many people as possible while they are with you in person. Invite them to events during the week and on weekends. Help set up coffee or dessert appointments with people they may not know. Be creative, while also being careful not to overwhelm their schedule. The goal is not that they are the center of attention during all of these. But you want to give them the chance to meet people from your congregation.
5. Find out about them as individuals. Missionaries are real people who are more than just the work they do. Often, due to the nature of their work, they have interesting backgrounds, hobbies, or pastimes. Learn about their kids and grandkids if there are any. It is always meaningful when someone takes a personal interest and remembers specific details about them.
6. Send them a small care package of things you know they love. Maybe they have a certain candy or treat they like but can’t get where they are. Send them birthday and anniversary cards, and even better, call them on those special occasions to let them know you are thinking of them. These personal touches go a long way in building relationships over distance.
7. Involve them in major church events, including change processes. Searching for a new lead pastor? Keep them informed along the way and maybe even ask their input on criteria to keep in mind. Adding new ministries? Involve them in the process so they know what is going on and feel connected.
8. Work toward building a sense of them being an extension of your local congregation. View them as part of the whole, not something disconnected that the church does on the side. At the same time, the church needs to have a sense of the missionary viewing the supporting church as an integral part of their work and lives where they are. The key? Communicate as regularly as possible. If this is done well, times of home assignment are not focused on updates but are times of face-to-face connection and refreshment of relationships.
9. Be direct and ask them if there are ways that they prefer for you to engage with them. You might be surprised at the ideas they come up with for how to best connect with them.
A strong sense of engagement between missionaries and their supporting churches can be powerful for both. Each is better for the strength of connection, and it serves as a powerful testimony to those who see it. Both sides are encouraged and better equipped to carry out the mission of the church, locally and globally.