Seminary Viewpoints

The Small Church: A Vital Force in Missions

Pearson Johnson | March 25, 2021
Viewpoint Blog

“Your church does a lot with missions and missionaries. We are glad that bigger churches like yours can send out missionaries that we can support.” I heard this type of comment several times when I served as the missions and outreach pastor of a large suburban church in the Detroit area.  God had blessed our church by calling a number of families from our church to plant churches in other cultures. Too often, however, these comments belied a subtle attitude—that large churches or organizations can do what small churches cannot—they can play a vital role in the sending and supporting of missionaries. In the Scriptures, and in my experience, this is just not the case. I think we need to purposefully shift our thinking away from what one type of church can or cannot do to a more Biblical viewpoint that all churches are called to do the same task, and all churches can be vital forces in accomplishing God’s mission.

First, all churches—regardless of their size or budget—are commissioned with the task of planting churches in their surrounding areas and around the world.  Many of the assemblies in the New Testament outside of Jerusalem were probably small. Most churches met in houses, yet the gospel spread from those churches, causing new bodies to be formed, leaders to be trained, and the mission to be shared.  Small churches started and spread Christianity. The mission and expectation of every church was that they would be involved in planting other churches. Expensive and costly institutions with large budgets were unheard of in the early church era before Constantine.  We see church planting movements like this in Non-Western cultures. Every local church was, is, and can be a vital force in missions!

Second, and related, is that the local church is the center of God’s program for planting churches. Here in the West, we have allowed the corporate and bureaucratic mindset to transform our thinking regarding accomplishing God’s mission. We know where this thinking has gotten us in the secular world, and even more importantly, it has done harm in the spiritual world. With good motives, denominations, parachurch ministries, mission boards, and schools have risen as ministries of and alongside of local churches. These ministries have performed functions that are good and helpful to local churches. Many times, they take on a life of their own apart from local churches, and then try to accomplish the role of the local church.  They cannot replace the local church as the primary means through which God’s mission is to be accomplished. 

Third, every local church can and should send out church planters near and far. From childhood on, encourage your young people to consider serving God in ministry. Missionaries are called and confirmed primarily through the teaching and observation of the local church, not camps, colleges, or conferences.  God can use other ministries and the preaching of His Word anywhere to stir a young person’s heart for the cause of missions. However, your church needs to observe a person’s fitness and giftedness for the work as they live near and serve in your church before heading to the field.

Finally, every church can have a vital role in supporting church planters here in our country and around the world. Perhaps God has not called someone from your church yet, but He has given you the privilege of partnering with other churches through supporting missionaries and church planters. Smaller churches can give focus to missionaries that large ones sometimes neglect. I have seen this mindset wonderfully displayed by churches of all sizes who have partnered with workers we have sent out. Local churches are uniquely gifted with a variety of people who serve the mission of Christ in their support!

Remember, regardless of your size of your congregation or budget, you are a church, and all churches are commissioned by God to accomplish His mission. It is my prayer that all our churches be a vital force in missions for the gospel and for God’s glory!

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Pearson Johnson is the Director of student care and discipleship at Bob Jones University. He also teaches several courses for both BJU and BJU Seminary.

This article, now edited, originally appeared in the 2010, November-December issue of Frontline Magazine.