Friday, January 9, 2015

Mission Celebrations as a Church Strategy

I have found that an annual Mission Celebration can be a powerful way to conclude a a year of service and launch into a new year of outreach. Don't think of a Mission Celebration as "just" an event, but play with the concept as a mission launch for your church.

It is an ideal time to give thanks to God and church members for what has occurred as you've shared together in mission in the past year. It is the perfect time to "spice up" church life as you hear the call again to God's mission as shown to us in Christ. A Mission Celebration is the occasion we can listen to the Spirit for the needs today in Church and Community as we respond to what is required of us today and tomorrow.

Such events may be called Mission Celebrations, Outreach Celebrations, Global Impact Celebrations, or whatever you wish. The emphasis isn't so much about the title, but about how you can most effectively engage your congregation in God's mission. This is the time to educate and inspire and serve. This is a way of challenging every member to be part of the team as you need everyone to pray and learn, to go and receive, to fund, and most importantly to grow deeper in their love of God and love of neighbor. This is a powerful way to help individuals, families, and church take the next steps of faith in Christ in practical, lived out ways. This is a rallying point for the entire church to be about the transformational work we are called to in the Kingdom of God.

The concept can be readily adapted to your congregation and context. I've seen Mission Celebrations which are one day events, weekend events, or multiple days in length. In my personal experience we found that the church responded well to having a celebratory emphasis which expressed gratitude for what had been accomplished. The necessary second part, and emphasis which launched us into the "next steps," included a strong Challenge component which gave focus and direction and had strong call for participation. The key is what will engage your people and launch them into mission.

We learned that my congregation appreciated a Service Day, a Training Day, and then a Challenge Day. With each of these we would craft the event in ways that allowed for some variety over the years so that we didn't offer dull, boring, routine. We would have our MC in the winter and found it to be a great, anticipated annual event. Sometimes the MC might offer a mix of local, national, and international mission. Sometimes we might focus more specifically on a particular geographic area of of mission or on a powerful theme, e.g. you could focus on local or focus on the issue of hunger in all of the regions. We would always seek to use mission partners in this (either established partners or new ones or a mix) and to emphasize those primary outreach alliances and our role as a church as an engaged partner.

The Service Day would be the chance to get everyone "hands on" involved into outreach serving those outside the church. Again this would emphasize partners, and those organizations which complement the church mission partners, as we involve the members in mission.

Often we would try for a mix of impact ranging from local to national to international. We would also intentionally create a variety that might involve children, teens, and adults.

The focus is how do we help church and community take the next step in service? This also allowed us to involve community members who are looking to the church as a leader in service.

As church leaders plan it's often helpful to read the Scriptures again and consider the ministry of Jesus. How do we help every church member care for orphans and widows, know the prisoner and the poor, walk in neighborhoods and into lives that Jesus would frequent.

The Training Day is a chance to share missionary updates, to do training or certification, or to delve deeper into conversations on the big topics of our neighborhoods or mission. Possibilities for training are diverse and could include:
  • Mission as Relationship: The New Day of Mission and What That Means 
  • Mission Is a Call of Every Christian
  • Biblical and theological foundation of mission
  • "Best Practices" in Mission
  • UMCOR and UMVIM mission team leader and participant training
  • International mission emphasis- choose a country or topic
  • "Toxic Charity" and what you might do more effectively as better steps
  • Missionary updates and deeper conversations
  • Opportunities for short term and long term mission service
  • "So You Are Called to be a Missionary"
  • Mission for Teens and Young adults 
  • Bridges- focus could be on the "first Bridge" in your community or any number of mission partnerships
  • Better Local Mission- we invited local community experts into the church to share the toughest topics and then considered ways the church could push deeper in mission
  • How to Build Mission and the Church: 
  •  Mission and Prayer: Principles for Effective Outreach
  • Effective Children's Ministry and Outreach  
  • Music and Mission
  • Effective Partnerships: 50/50 Covenant and Mutual Partnerships
  • and many other options!
The Challenge Day would always be an exciting conclusion to the Mission Celebration which would end with powerful worship and a call to every member to respond to God's call to mission. Let me again say that the call of God's Mission is to every person in attendance. Some models could have a Sunday morning worship and a Sunday night worship, so that you could separate elements of the challenge to the congregation. In my church setting, we found it most effective to have Sunday morning as the dramatic conclusion which engaged the most members. We would offer the strong call to for mission prayers, participation, and funding for everyone. In my setting the finance committee had done away with multiple Sundays throughout the year for "special asking" of funds and built it all into one Sunday. Different churches will do the funding of mission in various ways, but we found this worked well in this particular congregation. Do note we would continue to talk about mission, have updates, and continue the stories of mission throughout the year; we just wouldn't ask for money for mission at other times. Again, the important issue is how will you advance mission in your congregation.

As we concluded our Mission Celebration we expected the worship to help launch us into a new year of following Christ in service. The music, the sermon, and the call to response was all built around every person taking their next step of faith in Christ and sharing their prayers, participation, and funds for the year of outreach ahead.

Consider a Mission Celebration as a way to elevate your church in God's Mission. I'd be glad to help you in the effort as we all take those next steps of faith as we follow the way of Christ in service.

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