“As the Father is sending me, so I am sending you.” - John 20:21
A common theme that you will hear throughout the writings of Upstream is that every member of the church is sent. This does not mean every person in the church becomes a cross-cultural missionary, but it does mean that we believe each person has a role to play in seeing the gospel go out to the ends of the earth. With this goal in mind, we believe it is the place of the church to help their members not only to be in love with God, but to be trained and empowered to live sent as well.
Having a sending pipeline through which to move your people is a foundational step to the missions sending process.
Most churches hope for this end. They would love to see people doing evangelism and going on missions cross-culturally short-term and long-term. For staff leaders, elders, and even lay leaders, the "tyranny of the urgent" can rule what gets the most attention. The Sunday morning teaching and production, kids ministry, youth ministry, finances, shepherding issues, answering the contrarian member, local needs, and much more can quickly take up the time and energy of even missions-minded leaders.
One of the main ways that churches have sought to meet the many needs presented to them by their people is through programs. Whether that’s youth ministry, Thursday morning men’s coffee, small groups, Sunday school, Christian Vespa riders, you name it—there’s a good chance a church has created a program for it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these programs by any means. Most of them have come about because of a real need and a real desire to meet that need. What generally happens in a church over time is that program upon program is developed, but isn't evaluated, changed, or updated. It continues well after it’s life cycle because, “it’s how we’ve always done it.”
Think of the programs in your church. Maybe even list them out right now.
Ok, you have your list. Praise God for those who started those programs and have continued to meet great needs through that program. But we need to ask the following questions about our programs if we are to continue the time and effort it takes to lead them.
Are the programs in your church creating space for your members to grow from one degree of faith to the next?
Are they leading people towards their sentness?
Do those programs exist because other churches do it? Or because that’s what we’ve always done?
As you know, we live in a consumer culture. Because of that, many of the programs we have created in our church have the goal of putting butts in the seats, not boots on the ground. They have been created to get more people in the door or appease the needs of current/potential church members, but they do not have the intention or purpose of moving people towards their sentness. We can and should celebrate that people have come to Christ and been discipled through these programs. Yet, you’re reading this website and blog post because you have a further goal of seeing those same people sent.
In light of your desire to see people sent, ask this evaluative question about your church: Is there a pathway mapped out, through our programs, to move someone from being a new guest, to considering themselves a part of the church, to leading, and to being sent? Think of your programs through the following diagram. What programs move your people from one level to the next?
Many churches would benefit from taking a list of their programs and putting them on a continuum or pipeline. Your goal in this would be:
Put programs on a continuum or pathway in order to show your people what you want to develop them into and how you will do so.
Identify the programs that put butts in the seats but do not put boots on the ground and consider eliminating some of them.
Identify programs whose goals overlap one another and consider eliminating them.
Create programs that would better fit your goal of developing a pipeline of sentness.
Identifying your church’s pipeline is the first step for developing leaders and sentness. Now we want to look at how we can not only create general sentness, but specifically cross-cultural Sent Ones. As you look at your church's sending pipeline, specifically in the Leader to Core to Sent levels, you'll want to ask a few questions:
How could cross-cultural sentness be infused into the natural pipeline of our church?
Are there any programs that need to be added between Leader and Sent in or to send your members cross-culturally long-term?
The goal of a sending pipeline is not necessarily supposed to be new or different from your church’s pipeline. Rather it should complement it and flow from it. The goal is to innovate within your identity as a church, not to overthrow your program’s and your church’s pipeline. Think, with your church's programs in mind, how you can develop a pipeline for taking a member and leader from “New to Missions” to seeing some “Sent” cross-culturally.
In our Member Resource “Developing a Sending Pipeline Explained,” we go through in depth the creation of a sending pipeline. It’s available as part of the membership to members or for $1.99 to non-members. Join the Upstream Membership at www.theupstreamcollective.org/join.
Mike Ironside is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.