How Often Should Churches Visit Those They’ve Sent?

It’s an exciting time in your church. You have a family that has been faithful members of your congregation for a decade. Perhaps they met and were married in your church. Maybe your women’s ministry hosted baby showers for their first children. 

Through a small group in the church, the Lord used a book entitled Let the Nations Be Glad to stir their hearts toward missions. The couple attended some conferences, met with the pastors for regular discipleship, joined an organization, chose a field of service, and you’ve recently sent them off in a beautiful commissioning service. It was filled with tears of joy. 

Then, the morning came when they embarked on the first of three flights with their twelve suitcases and two young children in tow. Dozens from the church arrived at the airport early to wave goodbye to the couple as they embarked on their 24-hour journey away from everything they’ve ever known. You watched them walk through security, and they were off to the mission field. Now what?

As a sending church, surely a pressing concern on your mind as you send one of your beloved families overseas is how to best care for them. You want to know how they’re doing, so perhaps you set up regular phone calls, and people in the church pray for them in small groups or during the Sunday service. Maybe a missions team sends an annual care package. 

But how should pastors think about visiting missionaries on the field? How often should they visit? Is there a concrete formula for this that works best? I believe there are three principles churches should consider in answering this question.

1. Be careful when taking missionaries away from the work you’ve sent them to do.

Some missionaries might have many visitors, and visiting them too often with official visits from the church may be more cumbersome than helpful. Some have parents or grandparents who love to visit. Others are in high-traffic areas where everyone thinks they are the special “stopover” visitors. 

However, if everyone thinks their short three-day “visit” is unique, and yet that’s the sixth visit of such a kind this year, you’re essentially taking the missionary out of their work and placing them into the role of tour guide. Realize that it’s very challenging for a missionary to say “no” to someone visiting (and often, it’s someone they don’t know well). 

Very few people just happen to “pass through” the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But suppose your missionary lives in London, Istanbul, Nairobi, Singapore, or Dubai. In that case, there may be plenty of people in your church or in their social circles flying through on business or on their way to various ministries or vacations. 

2. Let the missionaries drive the agenda for any visits.

One helpful consideration is to ask missionaries on the field what they need. Rather than taking them away from their work, ask, “If we visited you on the field, what could we do to bless you, your family, and your work?” And consider, even answering that question could be challenging for the missionary. 

You might provide some ideas for the missionaries, but let them decide and drive the agenda.

You could take it a step further, and after a phone call and prayer, you might discern some areas that might be helpful. You might foresee that a young family could be helped if someone watched their kids for a few days while the couple was able to get away to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Or you may discern that coming and leading a VBS camp for the kids in the village might help the team get an inroad into the community. You might provide some ideas for the missionaries, but let them decide and drive the agenda.

3. Ensure that any short-term teams benefit the long-term missionaries.

First, only send short-term teams to the field if their arrival will help the long-term workers. There have been too many instances when well-meaning churches send teams only to hinder and, in some ways, compromise the work that long-term missionaries are doing. Be okay with never sending short-term teams to some locations. While other missionaries may love it and thrive with many visitors, others are left exhausted. 

So, to answer the question, “How often should churches visit those they’ve sent to the field?” It depends. These are some principles to guide you. You certainly don’t want to visit too often or too rarely. You want the visits to be centered around encouragement for the missionaries. Make sure your visits are filled with helping the long-term workers, and do what you can to complement their work and not conflict with their work. 

You could start by asking them what would be most helpful and sit back and listen. For some, an annual visit would be welcome. Others would love the more frequent stopovers, and others would only be blessed with a visit every 2-3 years. Whatever is decided, when the time comes, visit intentionally in a way that blesses the missionaries on the field. 

Dave Furman is married to Gloria, and they have four children. He is the founding pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai and co-founder of the Gulf Theological Seminary. He is also the author of two books, Being There and Kiss the Wave.


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