Like clockwork, that thought crosses the mind of every pastor or missions team member each year. It strikes about six months before the event is planned to occur, once the realization sets in that last year’s event was a whole lot of work with little discernible fruit.
Is it worth the effort? Will people come? Do people even care about global missions anymore? The answer to each of these questions is “yes”—but only if you avoid five mistakes churches often make with their missions conferences.
Mistake #1: Not including enough people in preparation
Missions plays a unique role in the life of the entire church. The body of Christ engages on mission together. Yet many churches make the mistake of tasking the same, few, overcommitted volunteers to organize, plan, and execute their missions event each year—then expecting turnout numbers to surge year-over-year.
Instead, pastors and churches should think of planning and executing a missions conferences as a miniature training ground for a real overseas service project. Missions revolves around teamwork, and missions conferences should too. Recruit whole teams, not just individuals, to handle every aspect of your event. If your attendance goal is 100 church members, build five teams of 10 to plan and execute the various facets of the conference. It is difficult to underestimate the enthusiasm that comes when your planning committee begins thinking of itself as a real mission team.
Mistake #2: Not boldly asking the church to give
“Paul, just ask.”
My friend admonished me with these words once when we were partnering together on a key project. I had spent 25 minutes explaining the project, but when it came down to the “ask,” I was timid and could not get the words out. He leaned towards me with a smile and encouraged me to simply make my request. My fear was unfounded—he was expecting an appeal, after all.
Every missions conference must include a definitive, well-articulated, bold ask. This call to action should consistently appear in print, from the pulpit, and on the lips of your missionaries and presenters. Some examples might be:
- “Would you join us in raising $10,000 for our Bangkok Urban Ministry Outreach?”
- “Please take a moment and fill out your pledge for the year.”
- “We need $100,000 over the next 12 months; will you help us get there?”
These calls to action are simple, but that’s the point. Even a simple, straightforward ask is often difficult to communicate before a large audience. Though making direct requests can be daunting when funds are involved, you can lovingly remind your congregation that you don’t seek the gift merely but the fruit that increases to their credit (cf. Philippians 4:17).
Craft your exact ask for your project or missionary, write it down, pray fervently, and present it with humble courage.
Mistake #3: Failure to set and communicate goals
Try this experiment: invite someone to your missions conference with a line like, “Join us this weekend for a wonderful time.” Then, invite someone else by saying, “We only have three days to educate our entire church about church planting in North Africa. Would you help?”
Your two invitations will receive vastly different responses. That’s because one approach clearly communicates the objectives of the event (to educate), while the other is promoting a subjective “wonderful time”—leaving the hearer to fill in the details about your actual purpose.
Being explicit about your event’s objectives invites your congregation to buy into the vision in a way which polite niceties do not. Some of these possible objectives might include:
- Increase the number of people giving to missions by 10%
- Educate singles on an upcoming mission trip opportunity
- Raise $2,500 for our missionary’s van
Mistake #4: Failure to inform your presenters about your goal
We had just heard a speaker issue a heart-rending plea for us to pursue the mission field. The Holy Spirit was silently moving upon hearts of the listeners as they asked themselves, Am I called to go?
Just then, when the speaker finished, the chairman of our missions team stood up and took the microphone.
“And that is why we need to give generously! Please take out your commitment cards.” Give? I thought. We were all ready to go! My neck is still sore from the whiplash.
Before your presenters step behind your pulpit, make sure they understand the event’s goals and can articulate them well. If your goal is to call people to serve, ensure that your speaker isn’t there to fundraise. If your goal is to raise support for a project, make sure the plenary sessions aren’t built around the theme of “go.” Preparing your speakers and holding them accountable may feel awkward, but your church will deeply appreciate the unity of the messages.
Mistake #5: Not celebrating
Imagine a momentous missions weekend ending with the simple, informal benediction: “Amen, thanks everyone. See you next week.” Wait, what? We just prayed for a half-dozen unreached people groups and took a special offering. What did God do? How much came in? Do we need more? Should we be singing and dancing, or fasting and praying?
Ministry events often fail to close the feedback loop. I have often made this mistake myself. Inspiring visions and massive goals are presented, yet the congregants in attendance rarely learn whether or not the goal was achieved. And when faithful church members only hear asks but no wins, donor fatigue is inevitable.
Leave time at the end of your event for celebration. Give gifts to your missionaries in front of the congregation so that your people can rejoice in the Lord’s provision. Save the best for last. Clap, sing, shout, hug, cheer, and applaud! Our Lord deserves this kind of glory, and his servants need this kind of encouragement. Celebration is an easy (and biblical) way to accomplish both.
Consider what Paul describes happening in the Corinthian church:
“For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:12-15 ESV)
In conclusion, don’t sabotage your annual missions push before it begins by failing to build a team, make an ask, set goals, prepare presenters, or celebrate the wins. With planning, prayer, and intentionality, your church’s event in 2019 can be more than just another missions conference.