16. Church Partnership in Missions (Part III)

Implications for the Church Oriented Sending Agency

The Partnership Trend

Stemming from a college professor’s interest in his international students, members from a local church began to build relationships with families from that people group.  Some of the church members went on to minister full time to these people in their homeland.  While there they facilitated visits from other members of the church who came short term to serve and to pray.  Both at home and in the land of this people group, the church is focused on being part of God’s mission through direct ministry partnership rather than simply remaining supporters of a mission agency’s vision. (1)

In an article outlining effective missions outreach for churches, Geoff Tunnicliffe (2) notes the trend of many churches to connect to their ministry partners relationally. Rather than focusing on giving to missionaries based on a sense of obligation to missions, commitment is developed through direct contact with those serving cross-culturally and through involvement in their ministry.  Also these churches have a balanced concern for both local and global outreaches, integrating the two as part of one essential vision rather than as two separate enterprises in competition for attention and resources.  In addition, churches and agencies are seeking to develop partnerships for the purpose of fulfilling their mandate for missions and inviting the other to participate with them at fundamental decision making levels.

Important Adjustments for Agencies

If this trend is an accurate indication of the direction many churches are headed, then mission agencies must make an important adjustment in order to develop and maintain support from these churches.  Rather than seeking to develop a vision and ministry that is presented to churches for their endorsement, the agency must develop these together with churches in order to ensure commitment.  Rather than convincing churches to support their ministry emphasis and strategy, the agencies must serve churches by providing the tools and means so the individual church’s missions emphasis can be fulfilled. Rather than viewing the agency as the workers and the church as the supporters, both agency and church must be active participants from the inception of the planning to the fruition of the vision on the field.  Unless there is hand ons participation by the church, there will be little buy-in of the ministry.

The mission organization that seeks to be church oriented will help their churches move from supporters to participants.  They will work with the individual churches to help them develop a vision and strategy so that they actually become part of the missions experience and take part in making ministry decisions that affect the missionaries’ work and the mission agency’s focus.  The goal is to move people from awareness and support to ownership.

Building Ownership Leads to Commitment

Denominational loyalty is dying and along with that support for denominational agencies.  Non-denominational agencies struggle even more as people’s willingness to commit to a name or an organization wanes. Approaching a church for support relegates the agency to simply one voice among many and where there is no direct relationship, any sense of obligation on the part of the church member will be limited.

Rather than despairing of people’s lack of loyalty and concern, it needs to be recognized that this problem may very well result in a greater solution.  A powerful missions vision with the potential of impacting people can only be developed in the context of the church and it is the desire of many agencies to move in this direction.  Such a vision cannot be transplanted from a missions organization to a congregation through a brochure and 10 minute presentation on Sunday morning.  It must be developed through interaction with the church with a focus on the church’s vision and passion and involvement.

This change requires a greater flexibility within mission agencies than has been evident in the past.  They must subordinate their concerns to the missions vision of the local church and be committed to lend their expertise and organizational system for the benefit of the church’s missions mandate.  Fields and candidates would be evaluated with the church’s participation and input, rather than in the agency’s boardroom.  All promotional materials and contacts with churches would be designed with the view of building ownership rather than soliciting support. 

Mission Agencies as Educators

Mission agencies would need to reeducate the church concerning its role in missions so that the congregation can move to the next level of involvement.  For example, when a church approaches an agency concerning candidate they would like to have accepted by that agency, the first step is not to evaluate the candidate, but to meet with church representatives concerning the church’s role in world missions. (3)  The church would be challenged to become participants rather than merely supporters and senders. The agency would present itself as a facilitator of the church’s missions effort, rather than taking sole responsibility for the candidate and requesting support.  The ministry and requirements for the missionary would be worked out according to the perspective and needs of the church.  If the church is unable to financially support the person completely, a strategy of enlisting other churches as partners would be required.  People would be appointed to work with the candidate and the agency throughout the application and support raising process and beyond.  Other church members may need to be sent to the field with the candidate to assess the appropriate ministry and to provide input and support.

Such a church oriented focus changes the agency’s role from overseeing the field and candidate in place of the church to working with the church in such oversight. This does not lessen the agency’s responsibility, but increases it to proactively and creatively incorporate the church in the process. Agencies can no longer say to the churches, "Help us in our missions efforts." Instead they must say, "Let us partner with you in your missions efforts."


  • (1) Camp, B.K. & Livingood, E. 2002. Design Your Impact Workshop. Dana Point: Dual Reach. p. 7.
  • (2) Tunnicliffe, G. Church Strategies for Missions in Faith Today, July / Aug 2002. p. 29.
  • (3) This is the purpose of the Design Your Impact Workshop.
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Author: Mark Naylor DTh (missiology)

I have been with Fellowship International since 1984. Karen and I served in Pakistan for 14 years and returned to Canada in 1999. I have continued to be involved in Bible translation traveling twice a year to Pakistan. My current role with Fellowship International and Northwest Baptist Seminary is as Coordinator of International Leadership Development