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Exploring Alternative Pathways to Missions

Fourth Church is situated in a midsize city in the midwest. Their city has seen a lot of growth the last few years as people have moved in from other parts of the US, and they have also received quite a number of immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world.

Alvaro is a new mission pastor at the church and has responsibilities over both their global and their local work. Historically, the church has given a lot of financial resources to different partnering organizations around the world. They love taking short-term trips and do them well and very strategically. They have even sent out a couple of families from their church in the last few years.

But Alvaro knows there has to be more than giving money, taking short-term trips, and sending out long-term traditional missionaries. Don't get me wrong, all of these are good things to do. But he wants more for his church. He wants a more holistic approach. He talks with his pastor and other elders, and they support him in his vision to increase the number of opportunities for strategic engagement and people participating in it. He has a small mission team that helps facilitate what they currently have going on, so he calls a meeting to share his dream. This is where things get interesting.

The First Meeting

Alvaro pulled out all of the stops for this meeting. He grabbed some coffee from Indonesia, South America, and The Horn. He loves his coffee, so he got there early to set up the coffee bar and get his room in order. Incidentally, all of these coffees were from areas where their church was sponsoring work or had a few missionaries on the ground. He got a nice conference room in the church that had the largest white board in the building. He was thinking big.

We are missing so many other ways to engage a place or people if we limit ourselves to short-term trips and long-term sending.

Finally, it was meeting time, but when his mission team showed up, they were not prepared for what Alvaro presented to them. They were used to approving short-term trips for the coming year, divvying up financial resources for their partners, and praying for the work they would be doing that year. This is typical for many mission teams. When you ask churches about how their congregation engages in mission, often they will talk about sending short-term teams and long-term traditional missionaries. Both of these can be viable pathways for sending, but we are missing so many other ways to engage a place or people if we limit ourselves to these two endeavors. So, when Alvaro posed the question of how they could expand their view of mission engagement, they sat in silence. They were able to talk about the places they are currently sending teams and have workers and how they pray for them, But it was too big of a jump for them to consider other ways to partner.

Alvaro, however, does not give up easily. He spent the rest of the meeting casting vision and promised to meet with them again in two weeks. He wanted them to pray and dream about other ways they could engage. He gave them a city that he had in mind and asked them to do some Google research about it and write down everything they could learn about the city, people, and culture. He asked them to look up universities in that city. He asked them to search for global companies that were located in that city. He asked them to see what business sectors they were known for.

The Second Meeting

At their second meeting, he was even better prepared. He went to the local international store and found some snacks and coffee to bring to the meeting. He was able to reserve the same room and the big whiteboard. He also decided to invite the family pastor, the student pastor, and a few business and medical professionals to the meeting. He also invited a couple of recent retirees that were missionally activated. He told them what he was wanting to accomplish. When the meeting started, he had a full room around the conference table. He prayed, and then they went to work.

Alvaro began working through his list and asking the group questions. He was amazed at their involvement and ideas. The lights had finally come on, and they ended up talking for over two hours.

The discussion went something like this:

Local Mission

  • Who lives around them?

  • Are their UUPGs in their own city? Is God opening doors for them among these people?

  • Are there other organizations, non-profits, or even churches they could partner with?

  • Does anyone in their area offer ESL Classes? Do the local schools offer this for parents, or could he provide tutors for the schools?

Alvaro knows that if he can get members of his church engaged locally, then they will become mission activated, which will deepen their discipleship and give him a mobilization pool for short-term trips and for mid-term and long-term sending.

Reverse Mission

Alvaro also cast a vision for missional opportunities that involved both sending and receiving.

  • Intercultural exchanges - Could people from this target country come here for cultural exchanges ?

  • International students - Do people from the nations attend any local colleges in our city? How can we find ways to connect with them and serve them while they are living here?

Pathways for Mid-Term Sending

Finally, Alvaro had the group think about the different options they had for sending to the nations from within their own congregation.

Education - Are there people in our church that would be open to:

  • Studying abroad;

  • Completing a degree abroad;

  • Getting their masters overseas;

  • Doing and international Internship; or

  • Teaching abroad?

There are many mid-term possibilities for sending your Sent Ones abroad and having them partner with an existing field team besides the traditional path of being sent as a full-time overseas worker by a mission agency. For example:

Marketplace Sending

  • Could we start a business abroad and send workers from our congregation to run it?

  • Do people in our church work for global companies? If so, could they seek a transfer to a target country?

  • Many people can work from anywhere in the world. Why not ask some of our remote workers (“digital nomads”) to live in a strategic place for our church with one of our existing partnerships?


Now more than ever we see people retiring from their vocation in their fifties or sixties while they are still in good health and are able to live abroad. Could we consider sending our retirees for a two-year stint to work with one of our partners? These retirees are not just babysitters and errand-runners for the missionary team (though they might serve in those ways). In most countries, older people are actually more respected and listened to than in our own culture, and they may have opportunities to connect with people that younger workers cannot.

After the meeting Alvaro was encouraged. His team gave a lot of creative input, and now they are developing their local and global partners with an entirely new workforce. They prayed and committed to meet again the next month to start putting together a mobilization plan.

What would be on your whiteboard as you think about alternative pathways for sending out your members?


Larry is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Upstream Collective. He and his family have lived in Europe for nearly twenty years, where he has served in a variety of strategy and leadership roles. Prior to moving to Europe, he was a church planter and pastor in the US. He is a co-author of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, The First 30 Daze: Practical Encouragement for Living Abroad Intentionally, and The MarketSpace: Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team.

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