There are some congregations that are reluctant to have missionaries speak during their worship services because they fear that attendance will go down for that service. I admit that I can't relate to that at all. I've always loved the days when missionaries would come to visit. We would turn off the lights and look at slideshows while hearing about the Lord's work with people in an exotic land. It always felt like an exciting change of pace that was greeted with the enthusiasm of a "movie day" at school.
However, if the attendance is off some places, then why would that be? Who is indicted by that trend? I recognize that now days, multimedia sermon presentations are so ubiquitous that the audio/visual presentation of a missionary doesn't have the same novelty that it once did. In fact, we might sometimes be behind the curve in that area because it's not useful in our daily work. (I hear guys talking about using periscope in ministry and I assume they are submarine chaplains.)
It might also be the case that people have been exposed to poorly done missions presentations. Some presentations do have the random feel of flipping through a photo album while being told disjointed stories about the pictures that are happened upon. I've seen missionaries that seem just as surprised to see what's on the next slide as their audience is. Missionaries do their works a disservice if they fail to put together a well-organized presentation that thoughtfully and strategically presents the vision and reality of their mission.
Or perhaps past presentations have been too lengthy. We missionaries tend to be passionate about our mission. We have to be. Otherwise we would have never set out on such a journey. Our passion might lead us to behave as though hearing about our work is more important than anything else you might have to do with your time. Many of us also work in cultures that are not nearly as time-sensitive as America. We become accustomed to taking whatever time is needed, and might forget that our home culture is not quite as forgiving of that. Or we might just get excited about what we're saying, and lose track of time. When we far exceed our time allotment, then we run the risk of diminishing the audience for the next guy. On behalf of my fellow missionaries, we're sorry about that, and we need to work on it. To my fellow missionaries, hey guys let's work on this.
Could it also be that the leaders of the local congregation haven't properly emphasized the importance of missions? Have the members been given the impression that a missions presentation is an event to look forward to, or is it treated as an afterthought - almost a commercial interruption in the regularly scheduled programming? Consider how you might influence the culture at your congregation to be more mission-minded.
Allow me now to suggest six reasons why you should invite missionaries to your congregations:
Reasons to Invite Missionaries to Speak to Your Congregation
1. For the Sake of the Children
Each time I make my rounds on furlough reporting on our work, several children of various ages will come up to me afterwards and express interest in becoming a missionary. I doubt that all of them will follow up on that desire, but perhaps some will. At least they will have given some serious consideration to the possibility. They will think about it because they saw a real-life, flesh and blood human being stand in front of the church and describe the work that they were actually doing. This wasn't somebody in a book or on TV. Mission work is something that actual people do. So maybe they could too.
The church has always needed missionaries, and it will always need missionaries. For that to happen, then we're going to need some of our children to grow up seeing that as both a desirable ambition, and a realistic possibility. If one child from your congregation grows up to be a missionary, then it will be well worth having yielded some time to missionary presentations.
2. For the Sake of a Broader Perspective of the World
People tend to assume that their own experiences are fairly typical. This can lead to a narrow-minded view of the world. Many missionaries work in cultures and places that are unbelievably foreign to a lot of Americans. Hearing about these people and places can give people a better grasp of their own place in the world. Spending a little time reflecting on the "less fortunate" can increase a person's gratitude for their own life situations, and put a little perspective on some of those "first-world problems" that cause such aggravation.
For example, I tend to get very frustrated because we often have to go without electricity for 12 hours a day. Then I remind myself that 2/3 of Africans don't ever have electricity. Suddenly, I don't feel quite as deprived.
3. For the Sake of a Broader Perspective of the Kingdom
The church as described in the Bible is a kingdom that cannot be plotted on a map because it knows no political boarders. Some Christians need to be reminded that they are citizens of that kingdom first, and of America second. The church is not an American invention, nor an American institution.
It is vital that foreign mission works be regularly set before the eyes of the congregation to remind them of the interconnectedness that the body of Christ has. Each part of the body is important. When you strike your shin against the coffee table, your hand reaches down to rub the hurt away while the eyes helplessly squeeze shut in sympathetic agony. Likewise, what happens to Christians across the globe should matter to the local Christian. Whether he can offer help or just sympathy, he still cares.
4. For the Sake of Motivating Your Members
No missionary is perfect. They are flawed individuals, and are not necessarily "better Christians" than anyone else. However, despite their imperfections, most missionaries that I know are authentic Christians who are doing something bold in the name of Christ.
Exposing your members to these servants of God and their stories just might motivate some of them to be a little bolder themselves. Impressed with the needs of the work, they might give more boldly. Inspired by something being done elsewhere, they might decide to serve their own local church and community more boldly. Reminded of the importance of evangelism, they might just decide to evangelize their own area more boldly.
More than once, I've heard members say, "Why can't we do that here?" Well, you can. You just need the commitment and dedication to get it done.
5. For the Sake of Being Biblical
After Paul's first missionary journey, he went back to his "sending congregation" in Antioch. Acts 14:27 says of this return, "When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles" (emphases added). There we see a biblical example of a church assembly featuring a missions report. Being the pattern-minded people we are, this provides ample biblical authority for the practice.
Some seem to view missions presentations as unsuited for a worship service because they're not "real lessons" and must be relegated to a bible class setting or some other gathering outside of the regular worship service. Now I am very happy to acquiesce to the desires of local leadership in this area, and I find bible class to be a perfectly acceptable time to do a missions presentation. I only wanted to mention that it is just fine for worship services as well. The purpose of a missions report is to proclaim what God is doing in the world (i.e. to praise God). Also it would be almost impossible to give such a report without a real lesson coming through about the work of the church, evangelism, benevolence, discipleship, thankfulness, sacrifice, and yes, giving too.
6. For the Sake of Connecting
Having missionaries that you support come to visit your congregation also helps to connect members with that work. "Oh, that's the guy listed in the bulletin." "Oh, that's the reason this work keeps showing up in the budget report."
People need to know and feel that they are a part of the works they support. They need to know what things are made possible when they give sacrificially to their local church. It inspires confidence in the leadership and in the way they're spending money when members hear good reports about the works they are helping with. The reports help people to remember that their money is not going down some black hole, but that they are making a difference in the world through their support.
None of this means that you need to invite every missionary at every furlough. That's neither practical for the congregation nor the missionaries, depending on the number of invitations and the length of furlough. Basically, this is just an appeal to you to ensure that world evangelism is being featured prominently in your congregation. It's good for the local church, and it's good for the world.