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Maintaining Your Church’s Sending Culture in a Pandemic

Chances are “figure out how to cultivate sending during a global pandemic” didn’t make its way onto the whiteboard during our 2020 strategic planning meetings. COVID-19 and its implications are grinding the world to a halt and our churches and ministries are not exempt. Many of us have been scrambling to figure out online platforms, tightening up our means of communication, meeting needs, and caring for people.

As we settle into our new normal, maybe you’ve felt the crippling realization that James 4:13-17 is painfully true. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring and any boasting in our plans (however godly they may be) truly is evil. Instead, we move forward humbly with our good God with a quiet trust that says “if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)

We must accept our limitations, release the phantom dreams of the illusion of our control, and love our neighbors by taking necessary precautions to protect the most vulnerable among us. Sent ones preparing to go may be delayed, visas harder to come by in the future, and mission trips cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that the pause button has been pressed on our King’s Great Commission.

Yes, everything has changed, but what if this is a moment for unique redemptive imagination and increased faithfulness in the “little things”?

Here are 4 ways our little church in downtown Denver, Colorado is seeking to continue cultivating a sending culture in this difficult season.

1. We can still empower disciple-makers.

Healthy multiplication of churches among the nations always ought to be an overflow of faithful multiplication of the gospel and disciples where we are. This is a moment for our churches to be empowered and unleashed to live into their sent identity like never before—to focus on the Kingdom over self-preservation.

While there’s certainly opportunities for church-wide initiatives to serve, the complexities of this moment necessitates a tapestry of beautiful “micro-moments,” as God’s people are equipped to be a faithful, bold presence where they are. That sounds like good hands-on missionary training, doesn’t it?

2. We can still lead with global conviction.

Many of us are rightly and sacrificially loving our local contexts and creatively orchestrating ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus. This cannot stop and will likely only intensify in the coming weeks and months. At the same time, this could be a “recalibration” moment for our teams—not just to be innovative in ways to livestream our gatherings and shoot devotional videos, but to also put things down on paper, clarify language and sending convictions, increase awareness of and prayer for global need, think through a sending pipeline, etc.

How can we lean into this moment to pursue the heart of God and seek fresh vision in how to establish our church as a sending church? Nothing has been more helpful for us in this than Upstream’s Sending Church Elements. If you haven’t checked it out already, it’s a great diagnostic tool and a framework to chart a course forward.

3. We can still invest in people.

These are certainly stressful times and for some, tragic and overwhelming. But many of us find ourselves with more margin than ever before as we “shelter in place.” There was no opening day for baseball (does anyone actually miss baseball?), travel suspended, and the list goes on.

What if we tapped on the shoulder (virtually with social distancing, of course) those people in our churches who have expressed interest in cross-cultural ministry, or the person who is one of the first to raise their hand to serve locally, or maybe even a more broad “calling out the called” to begin a regular online rhythm to start a journey of exploring God’s heart for the nations? It certainly wouldn’t be a waste of time.

4. We can still “hold the rope.”

Our responsibility as sending churches is only just beginning as we commission our people to the field. We may not be able to commission new workers right now, but we must care well for our sent ones. Our global workers— both “traditional” sent ones with organizations or marketplace workers living abroad— always need our relationship, encouragement, prayer, and presence, but likely now more than ever.

How can we begin, maintain, or deepen our ongoing connection with our sent ones during this time? If you don’t have one already, develop an advocacy team for each of your global workers and empower them to engage well. Due to restrictions, some of your sent ones may have returned stateside out of necessity— how do we receive them well? Upstream’s voice in this conversation is timely and so incredibly helpful. Check out these blogs on how to care for our missionaries well here.

May we have the resiliency and confidence in God’s commitment to get his glory from every corner of this globe that Paul had in 2 Timothy 2, as he reminds us from the confines of prison that “the Word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9)

Let it be so!


Derick Sherfey is the Lead Pastor of The Oaks Church in the urban core of Denver, Colorado. He has served on the staff team of The Upstream Collective and now works with The Send Network to help develop and coach local & global church planters and mobilize the church for holistic community development along the Front Range.


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