There are many factors that can get in the way of making supporting missions a church priority.
- Pastoral crises
- Marriages on the brink of divorce
- Budgetary shortcomings
- Politics between groups in the church
- Basic human exhaustion from overwork
As church leaders route energy to other needs, it is extremely common to see missions giving drop at our churches. It’s just a reality. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
People give to missions for very specific reasons, and they stop giving to missions for specific reasons.Here’s how you can spot problems and fix them before they make a long-term impact on your missions program.
Why people stop giving to missions
The better we understand why church members stop giving to missions, the easier it will be for us to boost missions giving and refortify our resourcing relationships with the missionaries following God’s call on their lives overseas. Here are a few ways to do that.
1. People stop giving to missions because of lost trust
Obviously, outright lying harms a charitable giving initiative. We’re all aware of this.
But even more basic than that is simply follow through. Not following through also corrodes trust.
Faithful, sacrificial givers need to regularly hear how God is using their resources for kingdom impact. When leadership goes silent and breaks the communication cycle, givers perceive a lack of follow-through.
Follow the example of the Apostle Paul. Every one of his letters in the New Testament contained a report on his missions work in some form. Give an update. If you don’t have the time, delegate the update to a church staff or volunteer member.
2. People stop giving to missions because of lost investment
When someone hears about a need and truly gives sacrificially, only to realize that their gift did not produce expected results, the “generosity switch” in the giver’s heart can easily turn off. The more sacrificial the gift, the more this becomes a risk.
I was once in the room as a pitch for a missions project was being made. A missionary had a truly unique opportunity to help an outreach ministry become self-sustaining through business as mission (BAM). It would only take a $10,000 investment. Heart strings were pulled, and the gift was given.
Fast forward two years. The business never materialized, the investment money was long gone, and the missionary’s platitude (“At least we tried…”) rang hollow for the giver, who had hoped to make an impact and instead felt like they threw their money away. It will be a long time before they give again.
When we ask people to give to a missionary or mission project, church leaders must do the work of asking the hard questions about accountability:
- What will this gift accomplish?
- What is your detailed, month-by-month timeline?
- What are your short-term goals and long-term goals?
- When will you report the results?
- Who are you accountable to?
- When do we celebrate?
Think of givers as kingdom investors (see Matt. 25:14-30), and talk to them using the language and tools of a businessman looking for investors. This will include appropriately and responsibly using phrases that often make people in ministry uncomfortable, such as return on investment, gain, profit, benefit, value, advantage, payback, worth and significance. People who take seriously their obligation to steward the resources with which God has entrusted them love to make worthy investments—even if the only return is spiritual.
3. People stop giving to missions because of lost love
When personal relationships or key ministry relationships are allowed to wither, giving withers as well. Intellectually, we are inclined to give to people and projects we trust, but emotionally, we generally give to that which we love. Churches that provide their people with real stories and reasons to love their missionaries will find that generous giving follows.
God loves a cheerful giver, and loving relationships breed cheerful attitudes toward supporting mission projects. Express love to your givers. Learning to do this well is a soft skill that will nourish your donor base rather than leaving it uncultivated, and consequently unfruitful.
How to boost giving to missions in your church
How can we turn the tide and reengage missions givers?
Speaking as a former pastor, I can assure you that you don’t need to do it all on your own. Here are four leadership tactics to help resolve a dip in missions giving without overloading your pastoral plate.
1. Allow your congregation to solve a problem.
Find a problem that your congregation can fix. Purchase a needed vehicle for a missionary or ministry. Build a building for an overseas church plant. Fund a child’s education in an unreached context.
As people see the visible impact of their gifts, trust is built.. The Apostle Paul employs a similar leadership strategy with the Corinthians: “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia… For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need” (2 Cor. 8:1, 13-14). Paul tells the Corinthians of a specific need and then makes a specific appeal.
It’s not healthy to focus only on the optics of giving. But if a congregation has been faithfully giving to missions for a long time without seeing the fruits of their giving, pastors could witness greater zeal in generosity by showing their flocks the tangible results of their contributions—the salvation of souls, the discipling of new believers, and the expansion of the kingdom.
2. Get into homes.
When your missionaries and ministry partners get into the homes of church members, relationships deepen meal by meal, facilitating further acts of generosity. The Apostle Paul used his own residence (while on house arrest!) for ministry: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him” (Acts 28:30).
A gift is a transfer of value, yet real value is also contained in relationships. Relationships most often form over meals, in houses, and among families, and less commonly through email blasts or cold calls. Give those in your church who are passionate about missions the relational attention they deserve.
This doesn’t require any sermon prep time, formal meeting planning, or elder meetings.
Rather, what is required is simple networking opportunities in which partners in the gospel can share and connect about missions in a tangible and effective way.
3. Produce an annual report.
Assemble an attractive, professional, formal report highlighting the impact that your church has had through its missions giving. Accountability and impact spur generosity. Some of the Apostle Paul’s own letters were written as missionary reports.
Consider 1 Corinthians 16, for example, in which Paul details the affairs of his ministry—asking for money (vv. 1-4), detailing travel plans (vv. 5-9), discussing ministry partnerships (vv. 10-11), sending emissaries home to visit and speak (v. 12), exhorting (v. 13), providing elevant ministry news (vv. 15-17), and expressing sincere affection (vv. 19-24).
Givers are often analytical and want to see exactly how their dollars and cents played out on the missions field. For them, this is simple diligence, but for missionaries involved in spiritual labor that is often anonymous, arduous, and seemingly fruitless, this tendency among givers can be burdensome. Rather than being burdened by others’ hunger for tangible results, view it as an opportunity to minister back to givers by summarizing, as specifically as possible, the fruit of their gifts.
4. Celebrate small victories.
People celebrate what they love and love what they celebrate. Savor the small wins in your church. The Apostle Paul does this in many of his letters. In Romans 16, Paul gives a shout-out to 26 different people, and he names the unique contribution of every single one of them. Follow his example. Give public praise. Send thank-you notes. Throw parties. Host lunches. Be celebratory about missions.
Excite people that, at the end of the day, God wins—his kingdom will fill the earth, and his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Celebrating missions victories is one way to help your congregation remember the great endgame of God, which spurs more sacrificial giving toward kingdom ends.
Following these simple steps can liberate if you are a church leader who feels weighed down by guilt over declining missions giving.
Thankfully, the Lord has supplied you with a variety of means to encourage his people in kingdom generosity, apart from adding to the already-taxing demands of local church ministry.
Allow your congregation to solve a problem. Get into homes. Provide an annual report. Celebrate small victories.
Very often, God works in big ways through some of these small, consistent practices of faithfulness. Implement these strategies in your church and trust that God has a plan to connect your local church with his global mission.
God is at work in you and your church for the sake of his kingdom.