Essential Mission Objective Missing?
One aspect of missions that often seems forgotten these days is the stewardship aspect of starting new churches and training new believers.

Are we forgetting something?

Church leaders generally understand the mandate for believers to expand God’s Kingdom on earth by starting new churches where there aren’t any (or very many). This includes raising up leaders for those churches to become well-established and self-replicating (see 2 Tim. 2:2 for example). 

One aspect of missions that often seems forgotten these days is the stewardship aspect of starting new churches and training new believers. Simply put, how best to make disciples, and how many new churches can be well-established and replicated to disciple them and reach others, with the amount of funds dedicated to the task? 

This question isn’t simply about how many new believers or churches per dollar. That has often led to a lack of discipleship and poorly planted churches that didn’t survive. Instead, it’s about working for well-established and well-led new churches that have a good chance for survival in comparison to other methods of establishing them.  Ten well-established and capably led new churches could make a bigger impact to disciple and reach new believers in their community than 100 weak churches that are barely surviving. 

A foreign missionary could produce quality church plants but how long would it take and how much would it cost until they achieved that in comparison to local church workers?  This is an essential question, especially because we are losing ground in world evangelization—the unreached people groups are growing faster than we are reaching them with current missions methods.

Here is a cost comparison table (Excellence in Giving, 2012)

Western MissionaryCostLocal Missionary (National or Indigenous)Cost
Pre-field training and on-the-field Language and culture learning – Five years$232,368Training for local church planters and pastors – Four years$6,000
1 Long-term mission financial support per year$70,909 50 local missionaries per year$70,000 per year

Indigenous missionaries are 23 times more cost-effective at planting churches.  In addition, most indigenous missionaries count an established church to include 10 or more people, while American missionaries count church plants with 1 – 5 people involved. (Excellence in Giving 2012).

A Lack of Replication

A 2012 Excellence in Giving study found that very little of a Western missionary’s time is spent training local leadership.  A focus on perpetuating Western leadership is contrary to the model found in Scripture, which emphasizes the importance of entrusting the gospel to local leadership.  (See, e.g., II Timothy 2:2)  The models many of us now use for missions are western-centric and would seem to cripple the ability of the local church to grow to complete maturity. By design, following the Scriptural model for missions produces the explosive church growth patterns seen in the early church.  With wise stewardship of mission resources, local churches thrive, local leaders mature, and new local believers are discipled.  Christ’s beautiful bride, the Church, grows to maturity around the world.  

Four Ways to Wise Biblical Stewardship in Mission Funding

1. Keep the Long-term in View

Don’t focus solely on evangelism. Jesus tells us not simply to “evangelize” but to “make disciples”.  This best happens when the local church is well-equipped to take the lead in discipleship of their own people.  Take a long-term view that leadership training following any evangelistic effort will establish a foundation for growth.  God works through the local church, and we must seek to equip local leadership to teach and disciple others also.  

2. Reach the Least Reached Here at Home

Yearly, immigrants from the Middle East, Eurasia, East Asia and South Asia arrive in the US. Few churches reach out to them. Few Christians invite them into their homes. Many of these immigrants maintain ties to their homeland. What they experience in the US does influence the lives of people over there. Introducing Christ to them will influence their families back home. Get to know them.  Many missionaries now serving in other countries may be much better resourced by serving these people from other cultures now in our own country.

3. Now How Your Mission Funding is Used

What percentage will be used for administration and overhead?  What are the mission organization’s goals for the ministry, and is there a way to assess whether these results are being reached?  What are the anticipated or historical results?  Does it produce good results for the cost? Knowing these things helps you compare your own cost for a mission project, and the share of their results that can be attributable directly to your support. This is better than just having a vague idea about the impact the entire organization has produced. 

4. Find Trustworthy In-Country Partners

While you may not know trustworthy Christians in the countries you wish to reach and serve, there are many Christian organizations that have already built those relationships for you.  They know who trustworthy in-country people are and they have established a way for you to support their work.  Look for mission agencies that equip nationals to do the front-line missions work and to train others to teach also.


The mission world has changed a lot. Working with nationals as opposed to sending Western missionaries is a better way for churches to engage in missions. It can take some time and effort to make your missions giving effective.  Applying these four steps can help you transition to a more effective way. The joy you will experience as you partner with God’s Church around the world and see His Kingdom flourish will be worth it!

About the Author

Elizabeth Stuart is an international missions leader and regular contributor to Moving Missions on the topic of national leadership in missions. 

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