The following information was provided through a Missio Nexus initiated survey from April 8-14, 2020. Thirty-five churches of varying sizes from across North America contributed.
Sixty-eight percent of churches taking our survey have not created a contingency plan for dealing with the COVID-19 realties impacting their global missions programs. Twenty-seven percent are actively working on creating a plan and most likely more will begin this process the longer we face quarantines, travel restrictions and stay at home orders. The issues that have been minor the last few weeks will grow in impact as the weeks carry on. Cancellation of a few short-term trips will lead to the cancellation of all short-term trips. The impact on giving to churches will have a direct impact on money that is available for global missions. Now is the time to strategically think through how smaller budgets and long-term travel restrictions will impact on-going global missions from the local church.
Fifty-two percent have made the difficult decision to cancel all summer short-term trips, and another twelve percent have cancelled all trips for 2020. If global travel restrictions remain in place into May we will see these number significantly increase in the next few weeks. Churches also face the reality of what to do with money already collected by donors for trips. Thirty-seven percent will retain those donations for future trips, while twenty-two percent have begun refunding donors. Another twenty-two percent are asking donors for their preference for how the funds should be used or if they would like them refunded. For trips that are taking place later in the summer or fall you may want to consider taking pledges for support that you could collect the actual donations closer to the trip.
It is exciting to see that ninety-four percent of our respondents are increasing their communications with the missionaries that they support. This is a critical time to walk alongside them for encouragement, processing and care. But along with that we need to find ways to increase our communication with mission sending agencies too. The more that churches and agencies can be in sync through high levels of communication, the greater the chance that missionaries will be cared for properly. As many missionaries return home there will be substantial needs for care and the local church is often the perfect body to provide the practical needs to ensure a smoother transition.
Missionary appointees may be facing extreme uncertainties in the days ahead as they find themselves in limbo between jobs at their stateside home and beginning to make an overseas transition. This is again a great opportunity for churches to work in sync with mission agencies in helping new missionaries make decisions about whether they should stay or go. Missionaries may not only face travel restrictions from the United States government but countries around the globe with open borders are now closing them indefinitely to stop the spread of COVID-19. This new reality will most likely affect visas, language learning, and other issues for transition to the field. Some missionaries may be more willing to take risks than others, which needs to be handled individually by coordinating all perspectives.
When churches are interacting with mission sending agencies it is focused on caring for field missionaries. Thirty-six percent report that this focus is in helping to determine whether missionaries should stay on the field or head back home. While forty-four percent are focused on member care issues for missionaries and their families. Most likely, member care issues will increase the longer we don’t have globally available treatments or vaccinations for COVID-19. This will affect quarantines, travel restrictions, parents separated from children, or even exacerbating issues that missionaries may have already been struggling through. Most missionaries will need a team of people providing care of different degrees to help them navigate the days ahead.
Fifty-three percent of churches reported that it is simply too early to tell what the implications of COVID-19 will be related to giving for global missions. Recently Barna reported that sixty-four percent of churches have seen a decrease in giving over the last few weeks. It would be wise and prudent to begin to examine our budgets for areas we could hold off, or cut in the upcoming months. We need to be aware that missionaries may face decreased donations in the upcoming months so increased communication is essential to help prepare them for any reductions that may be necessary. We also need to find unique ways to keep our congregations informed and aware of needs that our missionaries and global partners may be facing in order to meet those needs from multiple fronts.
Many global churches and missionaries will be facing significant impact to their ministries in the upcoming months. Whether that is expanded ministry opportunities, decreases in funding or even direct impact of COVID-19 on them, their families or ministry partners. We need to intentionally find ways to not “self-isolate” from our global partners but to find unique ways of engaging with them, encouraging them and standing with them in the days ahead.
COVID-19 actually presents a great opportunity to inform, train and mobilize our congregations for global missions. We can maximize this opportunity by providing them with resources to pray more effectively, connecting them to the needs of missionaries and partners, or taking this time to experiment with virtual classes to help increase their missions knowledge. All of these examples will help you congregation stay engaged, and grow in their ability to serve more broadly when the restrictions we are dealing with are lifted. You can find more resources at www.1615.org, www.prayercast.com, www.joshuaproject.net, www.operationworld.org, and right here at www.missionexus.org.