Bob Hofer of the Homewood Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama, describes his congregation’s effectiveness in missions as a “before and after story” (Hofer 1999). In 1986 the elders and missions leaders at Homewood were disappointed by the results of mission works that they supported. They realized that their plans for missions were made reactively rather than proactively. They took requests from those desiring to become missionaries, and based on personal relationships and feelings, decided whether or not to support them.
They saw little fruit from their sacrificial efforts. Instead, their mission teams fell apart. National leaders built their bank accounts rather than their churches, thus creating jealousy from those not on American support. Missionaries, overwhelmed by culture shock, returned after only a few months on the field.
These events triggered a paradigm shift in missions thinking. In 1988, using multiple resource people, they developed a new philosophy of support and sending. These new understandings were then recorded in a missions policy, which guides missions decision-making.
In their rethinking of missions, Homewood determined that they would require training for their missions committee as well as their missionaries. “How could missions committee members make international decisions without understanding the nature of culture, the process of establishing and developing churches, and the role of money in missions?” they concluded. Members of the missions committee were and still are required not only to read the missions policy and designated books about missions but also to attend a two-week course in the annual Seminar in Missions at Abilene Christian University. They became learners so that they could more effectively oversee a global missions endeavor.
They became very specific about whom they would support. Homewood determined to support only those who are members of mission teams going to receptive areas to establish indigenous, reproducing churches with hundreds of lay leaders. They further required that these missionaries be trained to learn the language of the people and to establish a missions movement (rather than a single congregation) in the targeted city or geographical area. Homewood wanted the churches established to be self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating from their inception so that there would be no need to transition from American to national support. Missionaries were expected to minister personally to evangelize searchers, nurture new converts, and train developing leaders rather than isolate themselves in compounds.
The turnaround has been astounding! Homewood now supports flourishing works among the Sukuma people of Tanzania, East Africa; the Aja and the Fon peoples of Benin, West Africa; urban peoples in Germany; as well as in other parts of the world. They are making an impact on the world! Although Hofer would describe Homewood’s missions program before 1986 as haphazard, it is now intentional. They have become one of the great missions-sending churches in North America, not because of their budget (which is not as large as some), but because of their incisive decision-making and determination to initiate indigenous movements for Christ in other parts of the world.