Many men have stated that missions is the mission of the church. Thus, the missions conference should be a priority in the life of every church and good planning for the conference on every level should be expected.
Even the smallest church can prepare for the missions conference. Even the poorest church can pray and ask God to meet the financial needs of the missions conference. Good financial planning is also important to support the expenses of the conference.
Dr. Lee Roberson is famous for saying, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Pastoral leadership is responsible for establishing the vision for missions and for setting the course of the church regarding its missions program.
Your conference will only be as good as your praying and your planning. Both are needed. Prayer, of course, is the priority, but we must not undermine the importance of good planning either.
There is always time for a missions conference even if other good church activities have to be canceled. It should be a yearly activity that everyone just naturally expects at a certain season or month of the year. More will be said about this later.
I have been involved in many missions conferences and have evaluated different ones. I will share my experiences, ideas, and thoughts in order to help you better plan your annual missions conference.
A. Choose your days first.
Different churches have different ideas as to what days of the week are best for their conference. Some churches choose longer conferences while other churches opt for shorter conferences. There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the possible options. Some combinations, however, have more advantages or disadvantages than others. Each pastor and church is different and must evaluate this individually.
1. Sunday to Sunday (8 days)
There are still churches today that hold 8-day conferences. This detail depends on the teaching and leading of the pastor. Personally, I prefer these longer conferences.
Starting on a Sunday has its advantages and ending on a Sunday has even more advantages, I believe. By holding a Sunday-to-Sunday conference the church receives the benefits of both beginning and ending on a Sunday.
Some of the advantages include the following:
- Two full Sundays for missionary involvement in Sunday School, preaching, music, and testimonies. Thus, your missionaries will have more exposure in at least two Sunday School classes rather than one.
- More missionaries may be involved because there are more possible speaking slots.
- More time to get to know the missionaries personally.
- More families have time to fellowship with the missionaries.
- More time to hear missionary reports from the fields.
- More days for conference activities.
- More time for your people to meet the needs of the missionaries
- More opportunities for your members to serve the missionaries and the church.
- More opportunities to hear missions messages.
- Less rush to get everything accomplished.
* An eight-day conference from Sunday to Sunday experiences the benefits that both the Sunday to Wednesday and Wednesday to Sunday conference schedules have to offer.
2. Sunday to Wednesday (4 days)
This four-day conference begins well by starting on Sunday. The people who come to see and hear the missionaries and speakers are motivated to return on the following evenings. (Of course, we all wish they would all return every night, but this is not the case.) This seems to be the major advantage of this type of conference.
The major disadvantage here, to my way of thinking, is the closing of the conference on a weekday evening. It seems, comparing Sunday to Wednesday conferences with Wednesday to Sunday conferences, that the former tend to lose their momentum as the days pass while the latter seems to build to a grand finale on Sunday. (This is especially true when a church takes up its Faith Promise cards on Wednesday rather than on Sunday.)
Another small advantage of a four-day conference over a five-day conference is that you have one less night in which the church must house and feed the missionaries and guest speaker. (If the church has its hands tied financially then this is one way to cut costs. However, a church needs to think of these things way in advance so that they can not only pray about the financial needs of the conference but also be budgeting the funds necessary for the conference. These funds may be taken from either the general budget or from a separate missions account.) I don’t think that this financial advantage should be the sole reason on which to make a decision regarding the days in which to hold the conference. However, if finances are the determining factor between a four-day and a five-day conference, I would highly suggest doing the following: Begin your conference on a Thursday evening, rather than on Wednesday evening, and continue through Sunday. All things being considered, I believe this is preferable to a Sunday — Wednesday conference.
If your conference begins on Sunday, then Saturday becomes an excellent time to meet with your arriving missionaries. It is recommended that you plan a special meal at church with the missionary families. This allows for you, as pastor, or another responsible person, to give the orientation regarding the conference. It allows you to confirm the arrival of everyone, answer any questions they might have, show them where to set up their displays, and explain any details regarding their accommodations. It also serves as a time for the missionaries to get to know each other as well as get to know you, the pastor.
Tell your missionaries ahead of time to come in on Saturday at a specific time and to come for the meal in their travel clothes. This keeps them from having to change into their Sunday-go-to-meeting attire. (In this case, it is best if you, as pastor, also come in casual clothes. This allows for the missionary and his wife, who are seeking support, to worry less about making a good impression the day they have been on the road traveling to your conference.)
3. Wednesday to Sunday (5 days)
If the pastor promotes the conference with lively announcements and the church decorates well in advance for the conference then it is not too hard to get a good attendance on Wednesday to begin the conference. The tendency then, night after night, is to build to a grand finale on Sunday.
A history of great conferences year after year also adds to a great initial attendance on Wednesday evening. People know from experience that they do not want to miss anything, even on Wednesday night.
This eventually leads up to much excitement on Sunday, especially if the Faith Promise or Grace Giving cards are turned in during the morning service. The evening service then allows time for more people to turn in their cards and the promised amount builds even more. Thus the excitement of giving to missions as a church grows already on the first day of taking up the cards. (This is not the case in a conference that ends on Wednesday, even though more cards are turned in on that next Sunday. The momentum and excitement of additional funds dwindles between Wednesday and Sunday.)
Saturday becomes a vital part of the five-day missions conference. It can be used for several activities including: men’s prayer breakfast, women’s luncheon, or the International Banquet. (See Missions Conference Program Ideas page.)
4. Wednesday to Monday (6 days)
The main difference between this six-day conference and a five-day conference is that an International Banquet is held on Monday night and becomes the closing activity. (One church, based on past experience with their missions giving, used the Monday night banquet to hold a short business meeting and take on several new missionaries involved in the conference.)
5. Friday to Sunday (3 days)
In a three-day conference, it is vital to plan much activity for both members and missionaries on Saturday. You must take advantage of the full time period you have to build relationships between your church people and your missionaries.
This shorter conference means less expense but also means less impact due to the short schedule.
6. Saturday to Sunday (9 days)
This conference is almost identical to the Sunday — Sunday (8 days) conference but the main difference is that this conference begins with an International Banquet on the very first Saturday. The second Saturday is then free for other conference activities.
This banquet serves as a catalyst for the opening Sunday’s activities.
This is also a good time for the pastor to meet with all the missionaries and give them the orientation for the following week.
7. Month of Sundays (4 days)
Some churches have set aside a month of Sundays for missionary speakers. Each Sunday a different missionary is invited to share their vision and burden.
The advantages are these:
- Each Sunday focuses on only one family and their needs.
- No extra meetings are added to the church schedule (although I do not personally see a problem with “extra” meetings being scheduled.)
The disadvantages are these:
- You lose the continuity from Sunday to Sunday.
- The missions emphasis does not “build” from week to week.
- The same extrovert families/people dominate the missionaries from week to week, and other members have little time with the missionaries.
- The missionaries do not benefit from fellowshipping with each other.
It is wise, no matter what day you begin your conference and no matter how long it goes, to always use the Sunday before the conference as a day for the pastor himself to preach about missions and to share his vision and goals for the church’s missions program. For those who use the Faith Promise system of missions giving then this is the day to talk of God’s faithfulness throughout the last year towards your missions program and remind everyone of the past goals and how God, through His people, helped the church reach its goals. This is the time to communicate the faith promise/grace giving goals for the coming year. That way everyone knows even before the conference begins about the goal that they as a church should be praying about.
It is vital to the life of the missions conference and to other future conferences in your church to teach faithfulness to the special services of the church, no matter what days you choose. If you do not teach faithfulness to a conference as important as the missions conference, then, before long, the conference will get shorter and shorter, and finally die out altogether.
B. Choose your dates.
Some simple guidelines are given although we realize that most pastors are very adept at scheduling.
1. Your conference should be scheduled shortly before a new “fiscal” year of missions giving begins. (Some missions programs begin their “fiscal” missions giving on the last Sunday of the conference or the next Sunday after the conference.) If your church takes its missions money out of the budget, then you need to decide if there are any other benefits to scheduling your conference based on the fiscal year.
If you have an annual stewardship month, you can either plan your conference soon after the stewardship emphasis for a strong missions emphasis as well, or you may want to schedule it in the opposing semester of the year in order to spread out those annual events that emphasize finances. There are benefits to both.
2. Your conference should be scheduled at a time when you can have the maximum attendance. Do not schedule a conference during the vacation months, and preferably not around Christmas time or other national holidays. You need all your people there to be blessed and to hear the messages. They all need to get a greater burden for missions and need to grow in their participation in missions and giving towards missions.
3. Your conference should be scheduled at a time when the weather will not normally hamper your activities. Granted, you cannot control the weather; however, there are times of the year when you can expect inclement weather and other times when you expect better weather. Choose a time when the weather is appropriate for a good turn out and participation.
4. Your conference should possibly be scheduled around other missions conferences in your area. This is especially true if you are a smaller church, or have a close relationship with other neighboring churches and their pastors, because you can benefit from their conferences in several ways. Let me explain.
You may want to borrow the decorations used by another church. This is not possible if you have the conference at the same time. Also, you can take advantage of the fact that the other church may already have dusted off their decorations for their own use.
You may want to invite the same missionaries who have traveled a distance to attend. This will cut down on their expenses in traveling.
Although it may not work out for you to do this every year, it may be possible for you to invite the same speaker who would already be in the area.
5. Your conference should be scheduled well in advance of the actual date. This is needed in order to schedule a speaker, schedule the missionaries to be involved, and to promote it well.
It is best to choose a week of the year in which you can make the conference an annual event, always at the same time period: first week in March, second week in April, third week in September, or fourth week in October, for example.
C. Choose and invite your speaker.
I have spent much time writing about how to choose speakers for a missions conference and you can review that material here.
It is wise to schedule your speakers at least one year in advance. Some speakers stay booked up for 2-3 years and some even have meetings already scheduled for up to 5 years in advance.
If you invite a speaker and he is booked up for the dates you wanted him, then it is best to go ahead and schedule him for another year. Good speakers are in constant demand. This point may not apply to you however if you are not concerned about getting any certain speaker.
D. Invite your missionaries.
Please, read this section with care and interest.
1. Determine the number of missionaries you want to invite.
Usually this is based on finances. Larger churches tend to have more money because they have more people. However, this is not always the case because some smaller churches give more to missions than larger churches.
The number of missionaries invited to your conference is thus based on the amount of money you budget for this expense. This can be calculated from either the budget or from the separate missions account.
Another factor to consider is the accommodations you want to provide for the speaker and missionaries. If you use the homes of your people then it will not cost you as much to accommodate the missionaries, which technically means you could invite more. If you host them all in a hotel then you will have more expense, of course, and it is not be wise to invite more missionaries than you can afford.
Another factor is the number of individuals in the families you have invited. Some families have several children and require an extra room or more. If you invite two or three rather large families then the expense can be quite hefty. If you have planned for this, then there should be no problem. However, make sure you look at this when inviting your participating missionaries. It may also be that some missionaries are coming alone, without wife or children. This will free up some finances and may allow you to invite another one or two missionaries.
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2. Decide whether you want to make any requirements of the missionaries in attendance regarding their length of stay during the conference.
Some churches require that the missionaries stay for the whole conference, from beginning to end. Other churches have missionaries coming and going like ants.
Some churches have many missionaries while others have only one or two per service.
Let me say that I do not personally prefer those conferences where there is only one missionary scheduled per night. I do not think this type of conference schedule is in the best interests of either the church or the missionary. I will explain the reasons.
Some of the reasons I listed earlier in this article for having a longer conference also are good reasons for making it a requirement of all missionaries to stay from beginning to end. I will touch on some of them briefly to make my point.
Your people cannot get to know a missionary very well in one solitary service. It is normal for some people to be in a hurry one night while they may have time to fellowship another evening. If your missionaries stay several days then more of your members will have the opportunity to know more of your missionaries.
Some members tend to be attracted to a certain type of missionary. If the missionary stays longer in the conference then there will more opportunity for your members to deepen their knowledge and burden for that missionary, which means he/she will no doubt pray more for that particular missionary.
I believe there is more excitement when several of the same missionaries are present each day and/or night for the services.
Your children have more time to build relationships with the missionary kids (MKs) who are present.
A spiritual and emotional bonding takes place between your church and your missionaries during a lengthier stay. This is both healthy for the church as well as for the missionaries and their families.
The missionaries themselves are challenged and blessed by the vision, burden, messages, and fellowship of the other missionaries. Sometimes long-term relationships among missionaries are initiated. If each missionary comes and goes on his own specific night, then the missionary loses the joy of fellowshipping with others who have a similar call, vision, mind set, and burden.
The MKs are benefited by staying several days because it adds a little extra stability to their lives. In addition, it gives them more time to play or talk to their new friends. (It is much harder to make friends in one service than in 4-8 days! My children prefer longer conferences because of the number of friends they are able to make. Also, they tend to talk more fondly of that church where they stayed longer. I can probably assume the same thing is true for the children and teens in your church as it relates to the MKs they met during the conference!)
The conference activities are much more effective when several missionaries are involved together with your people.
I feel that it is in the best interest of the church to ask the missionaries to come and stay from the beginning to the end.
When your missionaries are coming and going throughout the conference, then the people do not have the time to bond well to any one missionary all week. This hinders the personal atmosphere that you need to build in order to get your people vitally interested in missions.
There is a significant link between the relationship your members have with the missionaries themselves and the personal interest and participation they have in the overall program of missions!
Pastor, the more you do to involve your people with the missionaries in conference activities, and the more time they have to spend together, the more your people will get excited about being involved in world missions, whether through praying, giving, correspondence, trips, or even going as a missionary themselves.
E. Determine your goals.
What are your goals for this year’s conference?
Ask yourself several questions:
- What is our Faith Promise or Grace Giving goal for the coming year?
- Do I have a special project that I want to promote during the conference?
- Is there a certain area of the world I want to promote during this conference?
- Is there a certain people group of the world I want to promote during this conference?
- Is there a certain type of ministry that you want to promote this year?
- Printing of Bibles? Literature? Orphanages? Deaf Ministries? Theological Education? Camp Ministries? Tribal Ministries?
- Is there a certain theme I want to emphasize this year?
- Is there a certain speaker that I need to invite who can speak specifically to our goals?
- Are there certain missionaries that need to be invited in order to emphasize our goals?
- Are there certain activities that need to happen in order to promote our goals and program better?
- Are there certain decorations that need to be purchased or made in order to promote this year’s goals?
F. Delegate responsibilities.
As you can see throughout our website, there are many different areas which relate to your missions conference, and they all require work. To effectively plan a great conference, to involve your people more in the missions conference, and to be a wise steward of your time, you need to delegate certain responsibilities to members of your church.
One of your best ways to get people interested in missions and to attend the services of the conference faithfully is to get them vitally involved in the planning and preparations for the conference. Their participation in the preparations prior to the conference will heighten their expectations for the conference. Get your people involved!
Some churches turn over all responsibility for the missions conference to an assistant pastor and to the secretarial staff. This works for some. These folks, however, also need to learn to delegate responsibilities to others in the church.
If your church works with committees, then you may already have everything in place through your missions committee. Still, these committee members must learn to delegate responsibilities to others also.
However, you need not be a church of committees to make your missions conference a success. You have, no doubt, many valuable and talented people in your church. You need to take advantage of their talents and gifts by delegating certain conference responsibilities to them.
There are major areas of responsibility such as the following ones, to name a few:
Within these major areas of responsibilities are many minor ones, such as:
A. Decorations of the foyer
B. Decorations of the bulletin board
C. Decorations of the auditorium, etc.
F. Men’s Outing
G. Women’s Outing
Remember, the growing churches are the churches that involve their people more in the church’s ministries.
And remember too, that the churches growing more in the area of missions are the churches that involve their people more in the missions conferences and program.
Point to ponder: Could it be that your people are not giving more to your missions financial program because they are not allowed to give more of their time and talents to your missions conference program?
G. Designate funds for the missions conference expenses.
Your missions conference needs to have adequate funds designated if you are to have the funds to meet the needs of the conference.
You will need funds for the following areas of your conference:
- Travel Expenses
The funds can either be taken from the budget or from a separate missions account. This expense should be planned for from year to year.
In conclusion, let me say again that your missions conference should be an annual event that your people can expect. It should also prove to be the most exciting time of the year for your members. No one should even consider missing it. I have been in churches like that. The attitude of the pastor, along with his leadership and priorities in this area, make this a reality in these churches.
The best place to start to build your next annual conference is on the point at hand: Planning. You need to make PLANNING a priority if your conference is to be successful.
I trust that after reading through these pages and putting into practice those ideas that are applicable to your individual situation, that you and your church will benefit greatly and see God’s blessing as you grow in this most vital area of world evangelism.