How Small Churches Can Serve a Global God

Even small churches can impact the nations through short-term trips and partnership with missionaries and national believers.

In 2016, our church plant consisted of a small core team.

We wanted to reach our community, but we knew that when God sent us to plant, he had his eyes on the nations. We wanted to participate in his global mission as early as we could.

When a potential supporting church asked how they could help us, we asked if we could join them on their upcoming mission trip. We were too young, and I was too busy with the details of church planting, to handle the logistics of—or even know where to start with—an international partnership.

That trip led to a relationship with a translator in Southeast Asia, which led to a cooperative effort for church planting and strengthening on the island of East Timor. After a few years of annual trips, we began to dream about what God might do.

We’d met a young man named Julio who aspired to pastoral ministry, though he had little opportunity for training. On a flight, I wrote in my missions journal, “What if our little church [fewer than 100 members] could sponsor Julio to come to America on a student visa?” He could learn English for a year, enroll at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, experience our church community, and go through our pastoral residency.

It seemed like a crazy idea. But God blessed it.

Small Church, Big God

Fast forward to May 2023. We’re weeping, hugging, laying hands on Julio, and sending him back to East Timor after three years of training in biblical studies, ecclesiology, and pastoral ministry. After sitting under expositional preaching for the first time and experiencing a healthy church community, he’s better equipped to minister in his country.

Just last month, Julio worked with a team to translate the book of Titus into Makasae—one of many tribal languages in East Timor without a Bible. Titus is now the first completed biblical book in Makasae. Last week, a team from our church left for East Timor to reunite with Julio to encourage and help train his church.

We’re still not a big church, but we’ve seen God work wonders from our little neighborhood in South Louisiana to an island in Southeast Asia.

Here are a few tips for small churches considering a more global reach.

1. Think relationally.

Missional partnership is about relationships. Find like-minded people you can trust and whom you want to support.

The translator we met on our first trip was reading the same books as we were. She was passionately evangelistic. She was a joy. We wanted to know who’d discipled her—and we wanted to support that man’s work wherever it led. His heart led us to the need in East Timor.

Find an opportunity to do a trip, perhaps tagging along with another church or organization. Prayerfully watch for colaborers your church can support with full confidence. The best kind of cooperation is relational.

2. Spend wisely.

Many smaller churches can’t afford to meaningfully engage in short-term missions, but some can’t afford it because they’ve prioritized other things. For church ministry, you need God’s Word, a place to preach it, and people who gather to listen and respond. Most other things are extra—not bad, but extra.

What’s in your budget that’s more for preference than mission? Did your church plant drop $100,000 on a soundboard—but you can’t afford a budget line for vision trips to scout missions partners? We shouldn’t be legalistic, but we should all heed the Lord’s exhortation: “Consider your ways” (Haggai 1:7).

3. Dream big, but stay focused.

The world is big. The need is big. But God is bigger. Your small church could play a big part in one strategic place.

Lift your eyes to the potential. Allow yourself to pray big prayers and dream big dreams that may require big sacrifices—but as you do, stay focused. Don’t establish a Great Commission committee that feels pressure to embrace multiple partnerships at once. Jesus’s intention isn’t for small churches to spread themselves thin in loose partnerships just so their missions portfolio could be filled.

Just as one member can’t do all the work in a church, one church can’t do all the work in the world. You can’t be everywhere and do everything, but you can meaningfully partner in one or maybe even two places. Your little church can pour itself out for one unreached people group and perhaps, over the years, make a real difference.

Small Churches Needed Too

Let’s not leave the Great Commission only to big churches and organizations. Let’s not limit missions involvement to an annual offering. Let’s not lose touch with God’s heart for the nations.

Even for littler churches, global missions can have a face and a name and a place. God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. Through the faithful ministry of small churches, God loves to show that the surpassing power belongs to him and not to us.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Gospel Coalition on April 2, 2024. Used with permission.