Receiving and Utilizing Mission Teams

By Curtis Cook

If you talk with church planters about missions teams from other churches, you will often get mixed feedback. Some planters love them and are eager to use them, and others try to avoid them at all costs. During the 10-year history of our church, we have had approximately 90 teams serve with us; and we continue to receive and utilize teams now. Our church has benefitted significantly from these missions teams, and I’d like to urge you to consider utilizing teams regularly as a part of your plant. Here are a number of thoughts from our experience in receiving those teams.

A kingdom mindset is a must.

Many of you are likely engaged in church planting because you served on a missions team at one point. That is my story as well. The work that God is doing in and through the team is bigger than your church plant and that is a good thing! So, we host teams and truly believe that God is working in those team members in many ways that will bear fruit for the kingdom long-term, although much of that won’t directly benefit our church plant.

Hosting teams carries a cost, but it’s worth it.

If you host missions teams, it will certainly cost you, your volunteers and your staff, time, energy, money and sometimes patience … but it is worth it. There is no way around the time and energy that is required, but we believe that both the short- and long-term fruit of the teams makes it worth the investment.

The leader of the team sets the tone.

Sometimes you may not have a choice in whether to receive a team or not. But if you do have a choice and are wondering if it’s a good fit, remember this, the leader sets the tone. If in your conversations with the missions team leader, he or she seems to get the vision that you have and seems flexible and eager to join in serving, then that attitude will rub off on the team as they serve with you. If the leader seems difficult and his or her vision is very different than yours at the outset, then it may not be a good combination. Teams that have good leaders are a joy to host.

A solid orientation is a must.

When the team arrives, be sure to provide a solid orientation. This helps them know where they are serving throughout the trip, allows them to get to know you, and helps them buy into your vision. Tell them your story and the story of your church plant. Help them to understand the spiritual climate of your area. Tell them about the challenges of your particular community. Debunk some of the myths that they may believe about your area. Do all that you can to set them up for a positive experience.

Work hard and play hard.

When teams come, we plan for them to work hard. We don’t want to waste their time, and there is always important work to be done. However, we don’t want them to only work. We want them to work hard and then go and play hard. In our case, we want them to see, taste, and enjoy the greater Boston area. Even though they’re not working, recreational time in the city helps them to understand the culture a little more and to potentially minister more effectively.

Connect with them and connect them with your leaders.

The team wants to come and work hard with you, but they also want to know you, your story and other leaders in the church. If they get to know you, they will be even more motivated to serve. It takes time for them to connect, but it’s worth it. Consider having meals with them or connecting in other ways.

Consider how they can multiply.

As you plan for the team, consider how their labors can multiply yours. Are there some activities that you already do, but having more hands in a concentrated time could add more reach to your efforts? In some events, you may think about having them serve in second-line roles, such as making popcorn, so that someone from your church can be meeting people. What could you do in that one week with their help that you couldn’t do otherwise?

Help them join the work and free them from trying to “save” the city by themselves.

Help the team understand that God has been at work in your city before they arrived, and He will continue to be at work after they leave. They are joining in with the ongoing efforts. Help them to understand that some sow, some water, some harvest, but God gives the growth. So, while they are with you, help them to see that all of these are important. It’s not up to them to cause the growth, only God can do that. So, help take that pressure of them to produce results and free them to passionately join in sowing, watering, and harvesting as God works through them.

They encourage you and advocate for you.

As you share your story with the team, you will often be encouraged yourself. In the busyness and nitty-gritty of church planting, it’s easy to lose sight of the vision and of what God is doing. As you tell them your story, you will also be reminding yourself why you are there and how God is at work. Also, once those teams have been with you and have a good experience, they will be your greatest advocate at the partnering church. They will tell your story and beat the drum for the partnership. You won’t have to do that. Some of the team members will end up being long-term advocates and even individual financial supporters.

Debrief and put the pieces together.

At some point throughout the trip, take the time to debrief with the team. It may be at different times after an outreach project. Ask them how it went and let them share their stories, and then celebrate and remind them how it fits in the bigger vision. If possible, at the end of their mission trip, celebrate their time with you and truly express your appreciation and, again, help them to see how it all fits together.

Friends, over the years, hosting teams has cost me some sleep and given me some gray hairs, but it is worth it. I have been blessed. Our church has been blessed and our city has been blessed.

Curtis Cook serves as Lead Pastor of Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass. Follow Curtis on Twitter @curtisdcookIf you are interested in partnering with Hope Fellowship Church or planting in the Cambridge, Mass., area, contact Curtis at