How a Small Church Can Be a Sending Church
Dr. Stephen Witmer
This blog originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition.
Jesus entrusts the task of global missions to every Christian and every church, not just to super-Christians and megachurches. That’s the implication of Matthew 28:18–20. Jesus calls for making disciples of all nations and promises his presence to the end of the age. He’s present with all his people; it follows that the task he gives is for all his people.
But small churches may wonder what they can contribute. They hear of large churches that financially support many global partners, have special programs to care for those partners, and regularly send teams to visit. Meanwhile, the small church may struggle to pay its bills, much less a pastor. How can such a church be a sending church?
The good news is that it’s possible. Small churches can care deeply about the Great Commission and be fruitful in obeying Jesus’s command to make disciples of all nations. We just need to be intentional and thoughtful in our approach. Here are four ways small churches can do their part in global missions.
1. Give sacrificially.
Small churches are unlikely to match the missions giving of larger churches. That’s OK. We can be thankful God has given large churches abundant resources, and we’ll all do well to remind ourselves that dollar amounts aren’t what Jesus cares about most.
Jesus once watched a poor widow put two copper coins into a public offering box as many rich people put in far larger sums. Jesus said she contributed more than all the others since she was giving out of her poverty while others were giving out of their abundance (Mark 12:41–43). The degree of her sacrifice defined the value of her gift.
If that’s true individually, certainly it’s true for churches. The missions giving Jesus values most from churches is sacrificial giving. Small churches, here’s some good news: your financial weakness increasesyour opportunity for sacrificial giving.
Some of the most generous churches in the New Testament were the small Macedonian congregations, whose “extreme poverty [had] overflowed in a wealth of generosity” as they gave “beyond their means” (2 Cor. 8:2–3). Sacrificial giving doesn’t require a big budget—just a generous, devoted heart that beats for the glory of Christ. Rather than worrying about how little they’re giving, small churches should prayerfully consider whether they might increase their giving to global missions.
2. Partner creatively.
I pastor a small-town New England church that aims to plant more New England churches. We realize we’re relatively small, with relatively few resources, so we’ve partnered with seven other small congregations to plant churches together. The pastors of the Village Green Collective have grown a deep brotherhood, and our churches share financial resources for the sake of starting new congregations.
That same kind of relational and financial partnership among small churches could be fruitful for the cause of global missions. Why not gather other like-minded small churches in your area to provide support to a missionary? Think of how this might knit your churches together as the task of global missions is advanced. Imagine the possibility of drawing from the members of your partner churches to gather a team to visit your global partner.
Small churches are sometimes known for being isolated and insular. But it needn’t be that way. There are lots of opportunities for creative partnerships. I spoke recently with a bivocational Mississippi pastor whose small Baptist church worked with its denomination to provide thousands of dollars in aid for hurricane victims in his state. This church also partners with their denomination in ongoing global mission efforts. When 80 small churches give together, the overall amount can be significant.
Why not dream of new, creative partnerships you might build with other small churches to see the nations reached for Christ?
3. Invest relationally.
Rather than bemoan the things we can’t do to advance the cause of global missions, small churches are better off considering what we’re good at—and then doing those things.
A small church pastor in Washington state told me he believes small churches are especially effective at relationally supporting global mission partners because the partner can be personally known by every member of a 70-person congregation. Small churches are often more flexible in opening their pulpits to visiting missionaries, which increases the congregation’s knowledge of and relationship with them.
Small churches are like family, and when mission partners come to visit, they can be warmly welcomed into that family as the church outdoes itself to show honor and hospitality. That Washington pastor told me that when a missionary to Africa came to their church for a visit, she shared meals with a large percentage of the congregation.
Although the church I pastor has fewer resources to support our mission partners than some large churches would, we’ve sought to be creative in growing relationships. Our small groups adopt missionaries, pray for them, and send them care packages. We’ve sent small teams (including leaders of our congregation) to visit them. In our experience, there’s almost nothing more encouraging to those kingdom laborers.
4. Love perseveringly.
Small churches tend to be good at loving over the long haul. Their tenacious faith is a means of survival. They love one another not casually but deeply, not fleetingly but enduringly. Mission partners need that kind of long-term commitment, and small churches excel at such rugged love.
I know of one tiny church that supported the gospel work of multiple generations of one family in Papua New Guinea. The pastoral prayer often named each member of this family, including the children; in a real sense, they were enfolded into the church family.
Let’s be honest, small churches. If we’re not as fruitful in global missions as we could be, it’s not because our numbers are too small. It’s because our passion for the global glory of Christ is too small. Our concern for those who die apart from him is too small. Our willingness to be inconvenienced and to give sacrificially is too small.
We don’t need to grow numerically to be a better sending church. We need to grow in our love for Christ and the nations.
Dr. Stephen Witmer (MDiv & ThM ’03), alumnus and adjunct professor of New Testament, pastors Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts. He is also the founder of Small Town Summits, an organization that serves rural churches and pastors.