I hear it all the time: pastors wanting to get their people better involved in missions. I recently heard a message by church planter Todd Bell, in which he told of his visit to one of his supporting churches sometime back. He was greeted there by four or five people who all introduced themselves and then asked who he was. This church had supported him for years. There is obviously a big disconnect with our people and missions. As a pastor I wanted my people better connected to the missionaries we supported, and as a missionary I want people connected to me and my ministry. How do we fix this connection problem though?
We missionaries write prayer letters so you can put them in that nice place you have for us in the back of your church and forget about them. Not. We write prayer letters so people will read them and . . . pray. Our people are uninformed because information is not being provided. Years ago, my friend Trent Cornwell went into a church and read one of the prayer letters at the back of the church. Then during his presentation he told the church people this amazing story of how God was moving on the mission field in a certain country. After telling them the story he asked if anyone had heard about this story. No one raised a hand. He informed them that he had read this story from one of the missionary prayer letters posted in the back of their church. Ouch! The lesson is this: they will not read them.
Not on a wall,
Not in a hall . . .
You get the idea don’t you Sam I am?
Now I know there is someone right now saying, “Brother Shawn, I read every prayer letter that our church posts for all 893 missionaries that we support.” If that is you, then on behalf of missionaries around the world, I want to thank you, but know this, you are about as rare as Big Foot. Most church members are not going to go by and read the prayer letters plastered on the wall even though the letters are there for exactly that purpose.
I think the key is diversity of the avenue by which information is made available. Placing prayer letters on the wall is not a bad idea, nor is having a missions book where people can read the prayer letters. Most people, however, are not going to take the time to go and read them, so you have to figure out a way for people to be better informed. People like to take in information in different ways. I do not have a television in my house, yet I am as current or maybe more so on national and international news as my grandparents are. They like to watch Fox News; I like to log on to FoxNews.com. It is just the difference between how their generation and mine get information. Think about all the different ways people are able to access the news: newspapers (they still have them right?), radio, magazines, news websites, television, alerts on your phone, and even on Facebook. Different people choose a different avenue or avenues of information. The same will be true in your church, so provide different avenues for your people to be informed about missions.
- Read them during a church service. Do this, but please do not read the whole letter. I am amazed at what some missionaries place in their prayer letters. Don’t bore the congregation with the small details. Give them the highlights. Summarize the details, and answer these questions: What is God doing? What do we need to pray about? How can we be a blessing to this missionary? How can we help them? If you answer these questions, you can get through quite a few prayer letters during a Wednesday night service.
- News Bite: Place a news bite in the weekly church bulletin based on the information from the prayer letter. Answer one or two of the questions purposed in point 1. Nothing big, just their name and maybe how many reported baptisms last month. Something like that.
- A church newsletter: You could produce a weekly or monthly newsletter summarizing your missionary news for the month. This would take a good bit of work and might not be worth your time, but if you’ve got someone willing to do it and who could do a good job, then go for it. You could print it, email it, or both.
- Big Screen: A lot of bigger churches are flashing their announcements on the projector screen before services. You could do something similar with your missionary prayer letters.
- Link it: Post a link of the missionaries’ most recent prayer letters on the church’s website.
These are just some ideas on how to use your prayer letters more effectively. If you want your church to be a truly missions-minded church then it has to be in front of them all the time. I’m sure someone more creative than I am could come up with a few better ways than these. If your church has a creative way of getting information about missionaries, please share in the comments.