As a returned global worker, I occasionally get this request from our church’s mission’s office: “We had a visit from someone about to take an expat assignment overseas with their company. They wanted to know how to intentionally live on mission during their time abroad. It’s a little out of our lane … would you be willing to spend some time with them?”
Mobilizing global workers usually focuses on the traditional route to missions based on decades of practice. But are we missing a group of sent ones with extraordinary potential?
In his book The Marketspace, Larry McCrary writes, “It is estimated that today there are more than 8.7 million U.S. citizens who live abroad. For the sake of ease, let’s assume a conservative estimate that roughly 10% of those expatriates are Christ followers. That would mean there are more than 800,000 believers who are in the worldwide marketspace. This is a staggering number, especially when compared to the relatively meager numbers of full-time Christian missionaries that missions organizations are able to fund. What if those 800,000 people lived out their lives strategically as God’s people on mission?”
I was one of those 800,000, and what I would’ve given for some training and support from my local church before deploying overseas. As it was, God was faithful to integrate our marketplace situation into ministry within our host country. But our experience revealed just how important it is to mobilize marketplace workers for effective overseas ministry before they go.
I was one of those 800,000, and what I would’ve given for some training and support from my local church before deploying overseas.
If you are part of your local church’s mission efforts and you have potential or existing international workers in your fellowship, I hope you will benefit from the following guidance on how to effectively mobilize your marketplace workers.
Let your local church body know there is an alternative path to international missions—there is a choice. The default thinking among many is that the only path to missions is the traditional full-time missionary path. This just isn’t true in today’s global economy. Ease of travel and ease of access have opened the doors to sharing the gospel through the marketplace in some of the most challenging places in the world. The ability to reach beyond our borders is unprecedented. So work on raising awareness. Here are a few practical ways:
Communicate to church leadership: To make the case for mobilizing your marketplace workers, begin educating the leadership. Be ready to answer this question “Why should the local church make room for marketplace workers?” Among other reasons, they are usually self-funded and have needed skills, company support, streamlined visa access, and unique reach potential. They can come alongside already established teams, in addition to segments of the population within the local economy that traditional missionary teams never encounter.
Communicate through Social media: Start beating the drum on your social media accounts. Educate your church body on the global marketplace and how your international workforce can play a pivotal role in overseas ministry. Send the message that you are actively looking for potential and existing international workers within your church body, and that you want to know who they are and support them.
Communicate through testimonies: If you have existing marketplace workers in your fellowship, provide them with opportunities to share their experiences in Bible classes, prayer services, mission council meetings, and other group settings to get the message out.
In the field, marketplace workers are generally a single unit without a team, and establishing a community can take more effort. That’s why it’s essential to help create community within their local fellowship in their home country, before they go and when they return. Give them chances to gather together.
Convene: Lunch and learns, informational meetings, home groups, or any gathering focused on bringing global workers together are great ways to create a valuable support network.
A special word about home groups: I can’t stress enough how vital this gathering can be for global workers. It was a crucial support area for my family overseas and at home. A home group environment creates a safe place for global workers from all paths. It is a place of like-minded people with similar experiences to gather—to share life and learn from each other.
Care Contacts: Take advantage of the many groups that fill local churches: Bible studies, teams, support groups, prayer groups, etc. Creating a relationship between the marketplace worker and their local fellowship through groups (or individuals) helps them stay connected to the church. It provides the essential community support they need.
Don’t leave them to figure it all out for themselves. Help them to know you are walking alongside them every step of the way.
Commit to Coach
Make sure your marketplace mobilization efforts include the commitment to the training and preparation necessary to send your international workers well. Exposing them to the things they are likely to experience on the field will go a long way towards helping them through the adjustment period once they arrive. Educating them on cultural awareness, culture shock, security issues, spiritual opposition, raising children overseas, local laws, etc. are vital elements for preparing for a life abroad. Don’t leave them to figure it all out for themselves. Help them to know you are walking alongside them every step of the way.
Commit to Care
Perhaps the most important element of marketplace mobilization is your commitment to care for them throughout their journey. Staying connected through prayer and consistent communication and by knowing their needs will go a long way toward maintaining their health and wellness. If you can offer counseling or debriefing resources, ensure they know this is available. Let them know you will make every effort to visit them on-site, and that care will continue when they make return trips home.
Commissioning communicates authenticity, recognition of the importance of their calling, and that the church supports them as their sent ones.
There is no better way to raise awareness and emphasize marketplace work than commissioning them just like you would any short-term team or traditional-path missionary. Commissioning communicates authenticity, recognition of the importance of their calling, and that the church supports them as their sent ones.
Mobilizing marketplace workers is different, and churches (and sending organizations) often struggle to do it effectively. But will we forego the amazing resource they represent just because it may prove challenging? The bottom line is that for the individuals and families in our community who are about to pack a bag and head out to live in another country and who want to engage with other cultures and share the gospel, it’s the loving thing for us to do. As their home community, let's commit to know them and help them get ready as they follow Jesus in their new home.
If you are a potential or existing global marketplace worker, consider joining our upcoming Global Marketplace Missions training. Let us help you prepare for living life on mission overseas!
 “8.7M Americans Abroad,” AARO.org, 2016.
 Larry McCrary, The Marketspace: The Essential Relationships Between the Sending Church, Marketplace Worker, and Missionary Team, Kindle edition (Louisville, KY: The Upstream Collective, 2018), 183.
Shirley Ralston (MA in Christian Education, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a founding member of the Missionary Care Team at Houston’s First Baptist Church. She also serves on the pastor’s research team and teaches Life Bible Study to single young adults. Shirley and her husband, Jeff, now reside in Houston after living overseas for several years. You can find her on Twitter and texpatfaith.org.