International Churches as Strategic Gospel Multipliers

International churches can serve as a base camp for enhancing the gospel witness in a city.

How do you envision the gospel spreading to new places, among peoples who have never heard of Jesus Christ?

Odds are, you have a pretty definite, unarticulated idea of what that should look like. Do you picture canoes, malaria, and a lonely missionary setting foot into a virgin jungle? That is certainly one way. Another way for strategic gospel advancement is English-speaking churches in non-English speaking contexts—often called “international churches.” International churches can serve as a foothold or base camp for further gospel witness.

Let me give four examples of what that can look like.

1. Expats need Jesus, and expats can show Jesus.

People who speak your language are sprinkled across most major cities around the globe. They are retirees, business people, and university students, and they are typically embedded in those cities with their own sets of relationships. Imagine if God allowed some of us to be a means of helping some of them be brought to faith and discipled. What might that do for the gospel’s witness in each of those countries? If an international church teaches these expats to work as unto Christ, equips them to give an account for the hope they have, and disciples them to care about the spiritual well-being of their colleagues or fellow students, what might God do? Such work amounts to training missionaries already on the field.

I believe that more foreign Christians in my Middle Eastern city will be good for the indigenous church in this city because, just like the scattered church of Acts 7, faithful Christians proclaim the gospel wherever they are.

2. Intentional, normal Christians can join the work.

David Platt, when serving as president of the IMB, presented the notion of multiple pathways for non-career missionaries to get overseas. His excellent idea remains difficult for a single parachurch organization to implement on its own. It takes churches building a missions-centric heart to broaden the vision of ordinary Christians moving overseas to do mission in the ordinary practices of life. Multiple pathways provide different avenues to meet people. For instance, the retiree in our church meets different kinds of people than I do. So too do the business person and the college student. Having people live and exist in different capacities multiplies the kinds of people in our city who have more natural opportunities to show Christ to the community and engage in gospel conversations.

An international church is the missing piece in making that vision of multiple pathways viable. Churches in the States need good churches on the ground where they can send retirees and college students. While a house church made up of missionaries can certainly be a landing place, that church is a lot harder to see from across the ocean. An international church that meets in a more traditional meeting place, perhaps has a website and presence in the community, is easier to discover. It’s also easier for a church in the U.S. to see such a church as a valid option for sending members.

A few years ago, an older businessman with several clients in our region moved from Florida to our city. He and his wife wanted to move where there are few believers so they could be a witness. Our church helped that desire become a reality.

3. Missionaries need pastoral care.

A friend who works for a large sending organization has observed that this current generation is the most mobilized generation for missions the church has ever seen, at least in terms of numbers of people who have moved overseas for the sake of the Great Commission. It’s also the least effective generation for missions—not in terms of eternal kingdom impact (which we are in no position to measure), but in terms of workers’ duration. These days, the majority of those commissioned are back in their home country within five years. And one of the most commonly stated reasons for their return? Insufficient pastoral care.

Most missionaries I meet are confused about their own need for a local church. Never mind the detrimental effect it has on those they disciple, their lack of a church also damages their own durability. The missiologists promoting rapid multiplication may object to how their strategy is being implemented, but the fact of the matter is, many young missionaries trained in those methods understand the strategy to require them to avoid participation in any church. Sadly, local believers learn from this example. They believe what they see in the missionary’s life, not what the missionary says. Consequently, they learn to affirm the idea of a church, but to never submit to a specific one. We need to do better than this. One way is for missionaries to join international churches. In doing so, they model what they want others to do.

In other circumstances, the relationship between a missionary and the indigenous church is fraught with difficulties due to cultural differences, economic disparities, or local history. Add to that the challenge of language, and many missionaries find themselves with no meaningful church attachment—even in places where churches exist.

To help with this, many sending organizations have developed increasingly sophisticated member care infrastructure. Member care employees essentially function as itinerant pastors for missionaries. But rather than innovating a system of pastoral care outside the context of the local church, why not utilize a church to build up missionaries, as a church does for all Christians? We never graduate out of our need for a church. Perhaps church involvement would help flagging missionaries persevere.

For multiple reasons, an international church can provide missionaries with the kind of pastoral support that every Christian ordinarily needs. John Calvin perceptively wrote, “We see that God, who might perfect his people in a moment, chooses not to bring them to manhood in any other way than by the education of the church,” a school we spend our whole lives studying in. Missionaries also need that school—not just at the initiation of their labor, but throughout it. Engaging in an international church may reduce the amount of time a missionary can invest among local believers, but it will also help them to endure—and perhaps increase the quality of their time discipling local believers.

4. Language differences among churches can provoke kingdom cooperation.

Meaningful church cooperation has always been a challenge. It is a messy, inefficient process. Ungodly competition often displaces godly cooperation simply because it’s easier to do it yourself than to expend energy learning about other ministries.

Being a church that meets in English in a city where most people do not speak English, our elders have often felt the pressure to build strong relationships with other local churches. We need somewhere to send new converts who don’t speak English but do speak the majority language. The “problem” of being an English-speaking congregation in a non-English-speaking city is a gift from God. It puts a pressure on us to invest in and pray for the health of indigenous congregations so we can know and trust them enough to entrust souls to their care.

Personally, I think the simple decision to encourage new Christians to join other local churches has done more to advance a mentality of kingdom cooperation among churches in our area than any sermon or conversation. Our members’ care for Christians who have now joined other local churches has enabled local believers to see our members’ interest in their churches no longer as the attention of a competitor, but what it is: Christian love.


International churches can work as strategic platforms for enhancing existing gospel work in a city. This happens through a variety of approaches to cooperation and encouraging more people to relocate to an international city to live ordinary lives for gospel purposes.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by 9Marks on November 7, 2023. Used with permission.