How to Develop a Sending Pipeline

Written by Larry McCrary, co-founder and Executive Director

At Upstream we are all about helping healthy churches send out healthy workers to healthy mission teams. Healthy is the key word! In Phase One of our Sending Church Elements, it’s all about ESTABLISHING sending in the ethos of the church. This is where the church lays out a foundation of God’s mission that creates a culture of sending.

We cultivate missions awareness. We establish and embrace spiritual convictions about God’s mission. We develop a vision. We find ways to involve the entire church and not just those we send. We start building a strategy.

Phase Two of the Sending Church Elements

As we move out of Phase One and into Phase Two of the Elements, we begin to identify and mobilize our people. At my church, Sojourn East Community Church in Louisville, we are finding success in cultivating groups of people with certain affinities towards mission. We not only want to “react” to people pursuing God’s call to the nations. We also want to be proactive in identifying people who possess obvious potential toward cross cultural work. In other words, we work hard to identify potential sent out ones.

For example, we have a group that is interested in the traditional route of being a vocational missionary. We also have a group of people who are ESL teachers in our city and have access to a lot of people from all over the world. We have another group of people who want to take their marketplace job overseas. We are even blessed to have a number of theological educators in our church, a group of professors who have a heart for the nations. These groups provide for us natural on-ramps into global mission that will feed into our overall strategy. Thus, we are able to cultivate these groups and shepherd them in our sending process.

As you can see, I am obviously not an artist. But this is what I came up while speaking at the MOVE Conference at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Atlanta. It’s what I call the “Sending Pipeline”. I use this at my church. (Much thanks goes to mission leaders like Nathan Garth and Bradley Bell in fleshing this out several years ago.) I think it helped the people in my MOVE break-out apply our Sending Church Elements.

A Practical Look at a Sending Pipeline

Phase Two of the Elements is all about DEVELOPING. Here’s what this phase practically looks like at my church in the form of a Sending Pipeline:

Participation in mission among community. We develop the groups I mentioned above, and we also develop people one on one as they prepare for cross cultural work. We want to see them go on short-term trips, be involved in our monthly mission chats, and live on mission locally. If you can read my writing on the image above, you can see this move from left to right in our Sending Pipeline.

Partnership with a missions organization. We have decided as a church that it is hard to develop deep partnerships with every mission organization. There are a lot of good ones out there, but we have established deeper relationships with four of them. One of our main criteria is they must have a strong posture toward the centrality of the local church. We want them to give high value to the local church as the primary sender.

Enrollment in missions education. We also encourage our people in this phase to attend Perspectives or be a part of the IMB’s Explore Missions online curriculum. Those who want to be sent out from our church would also need to attend our School of Missions, which is a six-month program that meets in the fall and winter/spring.

Completion of an assessment process. One of the elements in Phase Two calls the church to provide an assessment for the potential sent one. They fill out an application that includes character, mission, and theological reflections. They are then assessed in a two-hour interview by several people on our mission team. They also must provide some references from people in the church that know them well.

Completion of a personal development plan. After the assessment, we put together a personal development plan that helps the potential sent one grow in their understanding of mission, character, and missionary skills. The candidate is then assigned a “coach” who will basically provide encouragement and accountability as they work through their plan. There is no set time for this development to be completed. It’s all about evidence of growth, not just checking boxes.

I know that pipelines are a big deal at churches today, especially leadership pipelines designed to efficiently produce more leaders in the church. This is usually intended to supplement the needs of the church’s programming: musicians, childcare workers, small group leaders, etc. At Upstream, however, we want to challenge church leaders to consider instead this Sending Pipeline. Sure, it might not build the church “up” as much, but it will build the church “out,” sending more people to the neighborhoods and the nations. In the words of our book The Sending Church Defined, we encourage you to build an Antioch instead of a Babel!

For more practical guidance on building your own Sending Pipeline, download our 8-page PDF and graphic called, “Developing a Sending Pipeline”:

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