The following interview was conducted with Kyle Goen, Pastor of Ministries at Lifepoint Church in Smyrna, Tennessee. Based on Lifepoint’s extensive relationship with Upstream, plus their terrific book The Sending Church: The Church Must Leave the Building, we have been familiar with their dedication to building a culture of sending by integrating it throughout the church’s ministries and age groups. They have graciously allowed us to share this strategy for the benefit of other churches.
How did Lifepoint gain a vision for building a sending culture rather than just a missions program?
Well, the full story is covered in Pat [Hood’s] book The Sending Church. In short, through Scripture and prayer God convicted and refocused us not just for Smyrna, but for all the nations. Immediately, we knew we needed more than just missions education and programming. Experience drives education, not vice versa. We wanted our people – all our people – to participate in being on mission with God, and we wanted that to happen in age-appropriate ways.
How did you begin reorienting Lifepoint's ministries around sending?
Though our strategy for how to engage cross-culturally really took on the most changes, within our church’s ministries we started with children. We stopped using our traditional missions education called “Royal Ambassadors” and “Girls in Action”. It was programmatic. Instead, we renamed our children’s ministry “Sending Kids,” which gave a much broader vision. Then we began establishing age-appropriate missions experiences for children. This looked like local missions opportunities, such as filling hygiene kits for a missions organization. It was always local projects with local partners. Even kindergarteners could serve!
Have you found that children can actually catch a vision for sending?
Absolutely. But the key is involving parents. With any of our projects we always required parents to be involved. After the project ended, we always debriefed it as missions and sending. This began to cultivate vision and excitement in the parents too, which went a long way in shaping families. Later, we began allowing parents to take their children on age-appropriate mission trips. Children are great door-openers to relationship and conversation in other cultures. So not only were the trips effective, but families really grew. This totally changed our children’s ministry.
What did you change among the middle school and high school ministries?
Similarly, we sought out age-appropriate missions experiences for them. Every spring we have a local missions event for middle-schoolers that lasts the entire weekend. Typically this looks like serving within low-income housing or partnering with World Relief to connect with refugees in our area. And middle school students are encouraged to go on international trips with their parents. The beginning point for going internationally without parents is high school. We usually see students go overseas twice during high school, and we encourage them to go to different locations. The key is exposure. We begin training them in October and they leave in March. Their training is rooted in a study of Philippians. We will be sending around 100 students over Easter this year. We will have a special commissioning service just for them.
What about college students?
We designed opportunities for them to be semester-long interns. We challenge them to spend one semester of college interning with one of our long-term sent ones, getting mentored and contributing to the work. As you can imagine, it’s really transformational. We have also cast vision for them to get degrees that are in demand overseas, or that provide mobile skill-sets. We’d really love to see some of them enroll internationally, but thus far that has been cost-prohibitive (at least where our long-term sent ones are).
Is the goal that once they become adults, they'll move overseas?
Not necessarily. Obviously, we want many adults and families to be sent from our church. But this integration hasn’t led so much to families moving overseas, but families becoming missional thinkers and practitioners in whatever their context. We see children anticipating going in middle school, and middle schoolers anticipating going in high school, and high schoolers anticipating going in college, and college students anticipating taking their own family someday, and parents anticipating going as a family and sending out their student-age children. It’s a culture of sending.
Did this happen overnight?
Haha, not at all. This was built slowly, giving time for people to catch the vision for change. Creating a new culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. But it’s worth it to become the church God wants us to be.