• Mike Ironside

Introduction to the Four Types of Sending Churches

Great leaders seek the counsel of others—both in their field and out of it—to better their leadership potential and to emulate great ideas. Hopefully as a missions leader, you’re getting the opportunity to see other global missions models at various churches to hear their goals, successes, and challenges.


If you go to a missions conference you might hear a great idea from one church and think, “yes, let’s do that.” Or you might hear a good idea from another church and think, “let’s do that too.” Eventually, though, throughout that process you realize a) if you try to do everything, you’ll do nothing well, and b) God may not be calling your church to the exact same type of sending or sending process as other sending churches.


I have seen through coaching various churches that a church’s tendency is to take the great ideas of other churches and stack them on top of one another. Eventually this leads to a large quantity of programs without a lot of purpose. Programs that are driven by, “But this worked at ____ church,” rarely make long-term impact or sense to your people. Your global missions programs have to fit your unique purposes and processes as a church. Otherwise it is just tradition. Will Mancini in his book, Church Unique writes, “Every week I am confronted with brute force that local churches are unmistakably unique and incomparably different. God doesn’t mass-produce His church.” (6)


"Your global missions programs have to fit your unique purposes and processes as a church."

Beyond the uniquenesses God gave you as a church, another reason we can’t just copy and paste what other missions churches do is our differences in size, finances, buy-in, and global awareness. All of this plus your unique calling create in your church a need for creativity as you create your sending vision, strategy, and pipeline.


If you’re reading these articles, you likely see the importance of global missions. One could easily argue it’s one of the most essential aspects of the church. Now, while we’d all agree that global missions is of utmost importance, it is also not the only area that your church leadership will want to do well. Youth ministry, small groups, equipping, and outreach to the community are also very important.


As missions leaders, we need to recognize our church’s uniqueness and limitations so we can make our missions goals fit within the overall capacity of our church, keeping in mind all of its goals. What you may desire for your missions department may not be what your leadership is ready for. While this can be frustrating, God’s cadence is to work through plurality of leadership. From the Trinity, to the family, to the plurality of eldership, God has set up our systems to lean on the help and wisdom of others.


Four Types of Sending Churches


So, in this series of articles, I want to help your church, whether you are big, small, financially well-off or not, old, young, mature, immature, to become the type of sending church God wants you to be. Not the one you think you should be, but what you and your leadership team believe you should be.


In my experience coaching churches, I’ve concluded that there are four basic types of sending churches. I’d like you to assess your church, think about what type of church you are, and what type of church God is calling you to be in the area of global missions. But I also want to give you insight on how to joyfully and with godly ambition become the sending church you are called to be.


The four types of sending churches are:

  1. Team Sending Church

  2. Strategic Sending Church

  3. Missionary Care Sending Church

  4. Shotgun Sending Church

While I have listed these in order of intensity and capacity, in no way am I describing a difference in intrinsic value to any of these types of churches. Think of them rather as a ladder by which you could reach up step by step over time.


Which Approach to Missions Will You Take?


One of the analogies that I will use regularly in this set of articles is the rifle vs. shotgun approach to global missions. I’m from Iowa, so bear with me a little on the analogy, especially if you know nothing about guns. But basically a shotgun is used to shoot small, but fast moving objects. It shoots a shell of metal BB’s that spread out as they leave the gun. This allows for the hunter to kill a pheasant or a duck fairly easily.


A rifle, on the other hand, is not very helpful in shooting fast moving and small targets because it fires a single bullet that will hit one fairly small point. This is difficult to do without time to aim before shooting. But because the bullet from a rifle is larger in size it makes a bigger impact on its target. This is what deer hunters use. It allows them to take down a slow moving animal through careful readiness and aim.


"Regardless of which type of sending church you are or strive to be, remember that God has made your church unique."

We encourage churches to consider the rifled approach to global missions. Take the time to rightly evaluate partnerships in order to make long-term strategic and effective impact. Too often churches take a shotgun approach to missions. While they affect some change and check a few missions boxes, they often leave a trail of ineffectual missions. This likely has hurt the work on the field more than helped it. Those who participated in these efforts may have had a good experience but it didn’t really capture their hearts.


A rifled approach, while slower to develop, will have great impact. By selecting fewer partnerships you have the opportunity to make a deeper impact on the missionaries and on the mission they endeavor upon. This will allow you to more clearly define the strategy and opportunities for your congregation, which will allow them to more easily get on board with praying, giving, caring, going short-term, and hopefully even long-term.


Over the next four articles, I will describe each type of sending church. Regardless of which type of sending church you are or strive to be, remember that God has made your church unique. Do not use this exercise to compare yourself to other churches. Use it to recognize where you want to be and strive to be that church. Don’t overshoot the target God has for you. Live into it and God will help you take those right steps.

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.