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Short-Term Missions on a Shoestring Budget

The 2011 film Moneyball follows the mostly true story of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane piecing together a budget baseball team based on computer-generated analytics. Frustrated with not being able to afford a competitive roster of highly valued all-stars, Beane scrapped the standard approach altogether in favor of affordable, overlooked athletes. It was unconventional but ultimately successful.

Question: Can your church “moneyball” its short-term missions strategy?

The analogy will break down at some point. We’re not competing with other churches, and I’m not suggesting computer analytics. But many churches feel the tension when their short-term missions desires can’t be accomplished given their financial realities. Is there a way to engage in short-term missions in a faithful, helpful, and still budget-friendly way? I think so. Here are five suggestions for those on a shoestring budget.

1. Start closer to home.

A church in California may have a heart for the Middle East. But those places could be hard to reach—not just with the gospel but with an airplane. Given budget realities, that church might decide it doesn’t make sense to fund trips that require complicated flight patterns and multiple travel days. Rather, they may prioritize partnerships in the Baja peninsula or even Southeast Asia. Or maybe they strategize for ways to do ministry among Middle Eastern immigrants and refugees in nearby cities.

If you have a meager missions budget, it’s probably wise to start with closer, easier-to-access ministry locations.

This is a win. Churches should be self-aware and deliberate when considering partnerships. They should seek to faithfully steward their human and financial resources. If you have a meager missions budget, it’s probably wise to start with closer, easier-to-access ministry locations and trust that the Lord will provide more opportunities to far-flung places as he sees fit.

2. Think Tychicus, not teams.

On several occasions in the New Testament, we see Paul sending a faithful brother named Tychicus to visit someone on the mission field, as it were. To the Ephesians, Paul explains the goal of those visits:

So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. (Eph. 6:21–22)

Paul sent Tychicus to Colossae (Col. 4:7–9) and Crete (Titus 3:12) with similar aims—never as a part of a large team but to engage in good ministry nonetheless. It was a visit of encouragement whereby he’d convey news from abroad and seek to bless those on the field. Perhaps faithful missions for your church could look more like sending a couple people to visit and encourage ministry partners rather than sending a larger team.

Send a pastor and his wife to minister to missionary couples for a few days. Send a single sister for a month or two to help a family with homeschooling or childcare so the wife can devote time to language study. Send a capable preacher to provide pulpit supply for a month so a missionary pastor can have a sabbatical. You get the point. Think outside the box of a large team that costs $3,000 per participant.

3. Don’t diversify your portfolio.

Sometimes churches feel the need to support work in diverse contexts and locations. Maybe they have a vision of having at least one ministry partner on each inhabited continent. Or they want to make sure they’re supporting work in as many 10/40 window locations as possible. Or they want to get behind work in religiously diverse areas—a church plant in a Muslim context, Bible translation in an animist culture, and college ministry in a Buddhist country,

All these would be fine ideas if your church has the resources. But if not, reject the urge to diversify. There’s no shame or lack of faithfulness in pouring into one city or a handful of church plants in one country or region.

4. Leverage existing travel.

Consider if it’s possible to visit multiple partners on the same trip. If you’re already going to visit one partner in the U.A.E., plan to add a stop in Mumbai for a few days and hit the U.K. on your way home. This would be far better stewardship of tight resources than separate trips to each of those locations.

Consider if it’s possible to visit multiple partners on the same trip.

You can also leverage existing travel by seeing if your church members are already traveling overseas. Does your congregation have an airline pilot who flies international routes? Discuss what it might look like for him or her to build a relationship with a local church at a layover destination. Do you know a family who regularly vacations in a beach town in South America? Talk with them about carving out two or three days to engage with a nearby ministry partner.

This may or may not be possible given your location and how much your church members travel for work or leisure. But consider the existing rhythms of international travel in your church and encourage members to see the world through lenses of gospel intentionality.

5. Form and use associations.

Local churches can do far more together than we can apart. Forming gospel-focused associations with like-minded churches will aid any congregation in stewarding short-term missions opportunities. This will be especially true for smaller churches with restrictive budgets.

Maybe your church can’t afford to send a team to run a conference and full VBS for that ministry partner in Indonesia. But you and four other churches could band together to see the task accomplished. And working together overseas can foster greater gospel collaboration back home.

These suggestions only scratch the surface. I hope they’ll spur further thoughts on supporting missions on a tight budget. Regardless of our church size or financial status, may we all be found as faithful stewards of the opportunities and resources entrusted to us.


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