By Kent E. Fillinger
With 195 countries and 7.5 billion people in the world as of April 2017, we have our work cut out for us in fulfilling Christ’s commission. Therefore, every church should have a clear global-missions strategy.
I surveyed 148 churches in late August to gain a better understanding of the current status of global missions in our movement. The survey size was somewhat small, but the responses included a nice cross-section of churches:
- 37 small churches (average worship attendance of fewer than 250)
- 38 medium-size churches (attendance of 250–499)
- 29 large churches (attendance of 500–999)
- 22 emerging megachurches (attendance of 1,000–1,999)
- 21 megachurches (attendance of more than 2,000)
- 1 church that didn’t specify its attendance
Seventy-nine percent of these churches either agreed or strongly agreed that global missions is a critical part of their ministry and a part of their DNA.
These are the top five financially supported global-missions projects and the percentage of churches involved in each area:
- church planting (82 percent)
- evangelism (82 percent)
- child sponsorship (61 percent)
- discipleship (55 percent)
- theological training for nationals (52 percent)
Megachurches and emerging megachurches in the survey favored “leadership development and training” over “theological training for nationals.”
Small churches were the least likely to be involved in child sponsorship, at 38 percent, whereas 76 percent of megachurches sponsored children.
The churches’ financial partnerships were broken into these categories:
- global-missions organizations or strategic projects
- international missionaries
- local or U.S.-focused ministries
These churches, on average, supported 19 total mission partners, broken down as follows: six global-missions organizations or strategic projects, six international missionaries, and seven local or U.S.-focused ministries.
Megachurches supported an average of 29 missions agencies or projects; emerging megachurches, 23; large churches, 20; medium churches, 16; and small churches, 13.
Criteria for New Mission Partners
Almost three-fourths of the churches (72 percent) said the most important criteria when adding a new mission partner was to support missionaries or organizations that fit with the church’s missions strategy or focus; 31 percent select new mission partners based on the missionary having a personal connection with someone in the church; and 29 percent said they like to support and send missionaries from within their own church when adding a new mission partner.
In megachurches and emerging megachurches, personal connections were less of a driving force behind missions decision-making. These churches opted to pick new partners based on opportunities to send short-term teams to serve or partner with missionaries serving in a specific geographical location (e.g., a targeted country or people group).
The average church invested 14 percent of last year’s total budget in ministry beyond the walls of the church (i.e., from local community service to global missions). Medium-size churches gave the most to missions (15 percent) among those churches surveyed, while megachurches gave the least (10 percent). Nine churches reported spending only 1 to 5 percent of their budgets on missions, while four small- to medium-size churches invested 30 percent or more of their budgets on outreach efforts.
Global-missions giving increased in 59 percent of the churches surveyed last fiscal year, remained the same in 30 percent of the churches, and decreased in 11 percent. Almost one-fourth of the megachurches decreased their total giving to global missions.
The largest proportion of the churches surveyed (44 percent) fund their missions budget using a set percentage of the total annual church budget, while 24 percent designate a fixed dollar amount.
Short-term Mission Trips
Short-term trips are a common missions strategy for churches. Churches were asked how many local or in-state, national, and international trips each took in the past year. Megachurches averaged 12 trips per church and emerging megachurches averaged 11; large and medium-size churches both averaged 7 trips in the last year; and small churches averaged 6. The most popular destinations were a mix of local/in-state and international.
Short-term trips are a great way to engage church members in missions. Among the churches surveyed, 7,239 people went on short-term mission trips last year. Megachurches, on average, sent 162 people on such trips. But sending people on such trips can be costly. Several churches didn’t spend any money from their missions budgets on short-term trips, but the vast majority did. Of the 103 churches that reported spending on short-term trips in the past year, the total spent was more than $3.2 million, or an average of $31,173 per church.
Even when churches helped to offset the cost of a mission trip, most of the trip participants still had to raise some portion of the funds. Not surprisingly, support-raising was the top short-term trip challenge, identified by 57 percent of these churches. Trip selection and scope (Where to go? What to do?) was the second-most common challenge, noted by 36 percent of the churches. One-third of the churches said “post-trip debriefing and life application” and “team training and development” were challenging aspects of short-term trip opportunities.
Overall, 55 percent of the churches surveyed said they agreed or strongly agreed they’d like to expand or revamp their global-missions ministry. How this might change the landscape of global missions in churches isn’t known.
Also, 71 percent of megachurches agreed or strongly agreed they are trying to increase their emphasis on global missions; more than half of the emerging megachurches and large churches said the same. But only 27 percent of the small churches strongly agreed or agreed that they are increasing their emphasis on global missions.
Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and director of partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.