Paul gave an account of his missionary endeavors when he had the opportunity. Through the technology of the day, you can provide regular reports quite easily. The prayer letter is your only regular interaction with supporters. Make sure it is well thought out, prepared, and powerful!
Acts 14:27 “And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.”
Here are twelve tested ingredients to writing a powerful support letter:
- Be Spirit-filled when you write your letter. Don’t do it when you are tired or disconnected from God. This letter is your only regular contact with your supporting churches. Make sure God is in it. Pray. Yield. Ask Him what to write and then do it.
- Greet the pastor and church. The Epistles open with a warm greeting.
- Thank them for their prayers and support. Don’t put that at the end of the letter. Put it at the beginning. Acknowledge their sacrifice.
- Explain how their sacrificial giving is changing your church and community. Give a specific story of a new convert, someone to pray for, a testimony of growth in a new believer, or a giant victory. Use names and put a face on your ministry. These people will endear the supporting churches to you and your people.
- Give some specifics. Attendance, gospel presentations, salvations, baptisms, new members, special outreach efforts, doors knocked, and literature passed out are a statistics that could be included. Let the church know that God’s work is being done measurably. Use your prayer letter to tell supporters about your ministry efforts. While only God can give the increase, the work in the field is up to the laborer. I do not expect the same results from a missionary in Rome as I would in the Philippines, but I can expect the same work ethic, zeal, and effort. The difficult ground is no excuse to leave off the labor.
Give measurable work stats. I personally witnessed to ____ number of people. We knocked on ______ doors. We passed out _____ tracts/John & Romans. We had ____ visitors in church, etc.
Give specifics. It amazes me how Christians expect to see details on their financial reports and investments, but think it is wrong to expect specifics spiritually. If the custodian of your 401K sent out a letter each month telling about his family with no mention of the state of your investments, you would certainly find a different company! Make no mistake that God is keeping good records in Heaven. We should keep them on earth. Your mission/church planting work is taking investment capital from churches. They have a right to know, and you have the responsibility to tell them how their investment is progressing. Don’t feel like this will weaken your relationship with your supporting churches. It will strengthen it and help them pray for you intelligently. Transparency breeds trust. Most churches will have the wisdom to focus on your efforts to plant and water and leave the increase up to God.
- Tell us specific answers to your prayers. These stories are exciting proof of God’s work in your life.
- Add a cultural note as they apply such as festivals, holidays, times of the year, etc. Church members are interested in the cultural differences of each field.
- Give an occasional accounting of your funds. How much support you have coming in? You may want to include the percentage used for personal and the percentage used for ministry. Churches want your family to be taken care of well. How much more support do you need to reach the next level of ministry effectiveness? Teach supporting churches what it costs to live in your area and what it costs to minister there. Remember, transparency breeds trust.
- Reveal your worries, fears, and struggles. Don’t let them dominate the conversation, but mention them. Be transparent so we can pray for you. We don’t expect perfection, so don’t portray perfection.
- Tell us of your hopes, your dreams, your ideas and your goals. Cast your vision and let us see it with you.
- Use pictures and quality printing. Top notch media is the language of our day. Ask someone to make you a good letter template. Ask someone to proofread the letter for you to find mistakes that you have missed. You can email your letter back to the States and have someone print and mail it for you. Ask your mission board or sending church to help you. If you are a missionary or church planter that needs help, let me know.
- Give God ALL the glory. My preacher used to say, “The most dangerous place to stand is between God and His glory.” The glory is all His. You know it, and I know it, but say it anyway. Without Him, we can do nothing!
If you are on deputation, these recommendations will still help you. Adapt them to your situation. Let me give those on deputation another recommendation for your support letter. Don’t tell us what you are going to do when you have enough support. This mistake is one of the great failures of missionaries and church planters on deputation. Tell us what you are doing NOW and that you will CONTINUE doing in greater frequency and furvor where God has called you once you get there. You will be what you are now becoming. If you aren’t warning and winning souls on deputation, why should anyone believe you will do it on the field?
Each prayer/support letter will be slightly different. Perhaps you should not include all of these ideas in every letter. You don’t need to write a book. However, you do need to write a moving, encouraging account of God’s work through you.
On an earthly practical note, if you are doing the job and communicating it well to your supporting churches, they will do what is necessary to continue your support. They may stop supporting other ministries to which they are not as attached emotionally or convinced are not as faithful to God but will keep you supported. Be the kind of missionary that a pastor would take a cut in his own salary or sacrifice personally to help keep you on the field. Yes, some pastors would actually do that.
I hope this helps. May God bless you, your family, and your ministry mightily!
This list is not exhaustive. What tips would you include? Leave a note in the comments.