top of page

The Sending Pipeline Part 1: Overview of the Sending Pipeline

As a Sending church develops a vision and strategy, the first step of implementation is to develop a sending pipeline. The goal of a sending pipeline is to mobilize church members towards the missions vision and strategy that you have set before them. The destination for people in the pipeline may simply be to pray, give, and care for Sent-Ones. But our hope is that for some it will lead towards focusing their ministry on internationals or refugees in the city, regularly going on short-term trips to support sent ones and their ministry, and for some to go overseas long-term.

Many churches are program driven, meaning that they offer programs to their people like a menu at a restaurant. Women’s Bible study, Men’s Coffee, Small Group for the Organic Foodies of the church, Christian Vespa Riders, etc. These programs are not inherently bad, but they highlight an unfortunate goal of many churches: meet needs that are more consumer-driven than mission-driven.

Many of these programs have no doubt been thought through well and been well intentioned by church leadership and members in the churches. These programs often exist either because, “it’s what we’ve always done” or someone in the membership suggested it and the leaders in the church didn’t want to say “no.” But, while these programs create a lot of activity, they do not lead their members from one degree of discipleship to another.

While this isn’t inherently sinful, it is inefficient and does not lead the disciples of the church along in sanctification and mission. Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck say in Designed to Lead, “The Church is uniquely set apart to develop and deploy leaders for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel.” They go on to say, “The full extent of discipleship is the development of disciples who are able to lead and develop others, not merely people who gather together for worship once a week.

Why Develop a Pipeline

It is the goal of the church to develop the leaders of families, businesses, societies, and of course, the church itself. When our focus is on providing a mere menu for our people, our goal often becomes simply pleasing people, or following the trail of the latest good idea or trend. When our programs in our church are carefully crafted for the purpose of developing leaders, we become less busy, more efficient, and more focused on fulfilling the Great Commission. Developing a pipeline for a church clarifies the vision of that church for leaders and church members so that all church activity is leading towards the making of disciples and sent ones. This is how we will fulfill the Great Commission.

"The goal of a sending pipeline is to mobilize church members towards the missions vision and strategy that you have set before them."

That said, I have observed in global missions a tendency to take the latest greatest idea in missions within the local church and implement it with little thought to how that fits in the sending pipeline. While well-intentioned, this creates sideways energy. Many churches I’ve consulted with have a flurry of activity in cultivating awareness. They do a missions conference, a night of Secret Church, a weekend trip, and it’s often the same people that come. These events are wonderful, but they are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

Differentiating between a means to an end and the end is a simple and powerful question to ask yourself as you develop a sending pipeline. When we offer any conference, class, short-term trip, or training, we must answer the question “how does this offering fit into the pipeline of creating globally aware disciples in our churches who move towards engaging in international missions at home or abroad?” This is why the sending pipeline is a foundational step to the missions sending process.

Two Questions to Answer

So, when we think of pipeline, we are asking two questions:

  1. What are the markers we want to look for in our people to see that they have arrived at a new level of global missions understanding and practice?

  2. What are the programs that move people from one level to the next?

Geiger and Peck help us to understand that “the locus of leadership development is the Church.” Many missionaries today are people who got interested in missions because a parachurch missions organization offered them a short-term trip opportunity or a book encouraging missions. Global missions has often been relegated to missions agencies and to parachurch organizations. The church should be compelled from the scriptures to develop leaders and to especially develop leaders that have a vision for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth.

But how do developing missionaries and developing leaders in the church co-exist? It seems like it’s pretty different to create a missionary than it is to create a business leader or an elder. While it is true that there are specialties in training a missionary, my personal opinion is that 80%-90% of what a missionary needs to know, has experienced, and implemented is learned in the natural discipleship rhythms of the church–for everyone. A good sending church creates disciples that consider themselves Sent-Ones.

"Our churches should create disciples with great theology, emotional health, disciple-making, and evangelism."

Humble missions leaders should consider how missions shapes the mission of the church, how the characteristics they desire for their Sent-Ones to be should be implemented in the discipleship of every believer. So missions leaders should not think so much about how to create a totally separate missionary development pipeline, but should first look at the vision, the values, and the pipeline of their church. Study it, talk about it, know it, and then create their pipeline as a complement to their church’s pipeline. Too often I see missions leaders creating separate programs for training missionaries in areas that pastoral ministry departments really should be training them in. Work as a missions leader to care about the discipleship of all people in your church towards a sent culture.

Levels of the Pipeline

So let’s take a look at how a global pipeline could be constructed in order to move members in a church from new member to missions awareness to Sent One. On the figure below you see 6 descriptions and 5 lines. Each of these descriptors describe a level of global missions that we can work to move our members through. Each of the lines represent a phase of moving from one level to another.

The Levels can be defined as follows:

  1. New to Missions - Members that have not come to an understanding of God’s global mission.

  2. Globally Aware - Members who have an understanding of God’s global mission.

  3. Global Christians - Members who are beginning to orient big and small decisions on how they can be a part of God’s global mission.

  4. US Senders or Potential Goers - Members considering going overseas.

  5. Committed Goers - Members who have made the choice to go overseas.

  6. Sent - Members who go overseas.

Our churches should create disciples with great theology, emotional health, disciple-making, and evangelism. As church leaders, we need to help our people understand these foundational ideas as they go through the process of being sent from our church to the workplace, the neighborhood, or the international mission field. In the following posts we are going to look at the lines that connect each of the levels of the sending pipeline and what it takes to go from one line to another.

As you read this 6 part series, download the Sending Pipeline Template & an example from the Cornerstone Global Department.


Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for 2 years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as chairman of the board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church planting movements amongst college students worldwide.

bottom of page