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Is Your Church Contemplating International Mission Work?

Why become involved in international missions?

The conventional wisdom is that U.S. mission efforts peaked in the 1950s and are now in significant decline. The data, according to Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow, disagrees; in fact, fueled by easy and inexpensive travel options, electronic networking resources and the rapid growth in immigration to the United States, today there is more contact between American churches and foreign nationals, and more U.S.-sponsored mission efforts across the globe, than at any other time in U.S. history. Human ties bind U.S. Christians to Christians around the world in unprecedented ways, and mission support is a natural component of those ties. To learn more, read an interview with Wuthnow on the website of Faith & Leadership, an online magazine of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity. 

In the article, Wuthnow explores the vital influence American Christianity continues to have in the world. A well-conceived international mission project can provide a sense of walking in Christ’s footsteps to those who support mission efforts or send missionaries and can transform the life of both the sending and receiving congregations. International mission programs that lead to long-term relationships can enhance the lives and ministries of church planters and leaders in the developing world, creating significant ripple effects in the foreign country while providing new perspectives on what it means to be church for U.S. congregations and denominations – perspectives that can expand and reinvigorate our congregations.

For example, when the Texas United Methodists raised more than $1 million for mosquito nets in Africa, significant relationships and learning resulted. In this video interview, Texas Bishop Janice Huie explores the benefits to both sending and receiving congregations of international missions.

How to engage in an international mission

According to experienced leaders of mission-supporting churches, missionaries don’t start congregations in foreign countries; God does. And U.S. congregations deploy their resources more efficiently and effectively when they partner with overseas pastors and churches. Because of that, the proper role of domestic congregations and denominations is not to plant a denominational flag or a sister church in a developing nation, but to discern where God is already establishing a church and find ways to support that effort.

Also, by sticking with a particular project for years, domestic congregations can establish significant relationships with foreign Christians, learn about real needs and fit both long-term support and short-term mission trips into a comprehensive, results-generating effort. That translates into more powerful results from the effort and a more faithful contribution to the building up of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

To learn more about how a mature and long-term mission partnering effort benefits both the sending and receiving congregations, read “Maturing missions,” on the Faith & Leadership website.

For help in starting or improving an international mission effort, see the embedded links in the article on Mount Pisgah Church, below.

Example of successful international partnerships

Mount Pisgah Church, a United Methodist congregation in Alpharetta, Ga., has a long history of working with foreign Christians. In recent years, the church has been winnowing the number of foreign missionaries it works with in order to focus its attention and support on efforts close to the hearts of its congregants. In this article, Mount Pisgah mission leaders discuss how the church became involved in foreign mission work and why the congregation is becoming more intentional. The essay includes links to several online sources to help congregations establish or improve international mission efforts.

The big picture: Understanding congregational life and practice in the developing world

During the last century there has been a significant shift in where the majority of Christians are located, and in how those Christians live and worship. In 1900, 80 percent of the world’s Christians were in Northern Europe and North America. Now, 60 percent of Christians live in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Therefore, it is no longer appropriate to picture mission work as sending a brave Christian into hostile lands to learn a foreign language, translate the Bible into the local dialect and teach new converts. Rather, the fact is that the country of Nigeria has more Anglicans than has the United States, and some mission-minded Third World congregations are sending missionaries back to more industrialized countries, convinced that Northern Hemisphere Christianity is in need of renewal.

That said, it remains true that U.S. churches are significantly more prosperous than are Southern Hemisphere faith communities, and U.S. Christians have access to resources that are simply not available in developing countries. Hence, Southern Hemisphere Christians need partnerships with Northern Hemisphere Christians to gain access to the means to provide mission and ministry in their own communities; and Northern Hemisphere churches need relationships with Southern Hemisphere Christians in order to experience new ways to celebrate Christ’s incarnation and to discover how God continues to be active in the world.

Helpful resources

In this short video, African AME Bishop Paul J.M. Kawimbe shares his thoughts on post-colonial mission partnerships between North America and Africa.

The Faith & Leadership site also provides extensive links to resources on mission work designed to help form transformational leaders, and spark the imagination through real stories.

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