The world is crying out in the pain of sin. The church hears not only the sinners’ cries but also Christ’s commission (Matt. 28:18-20). Therefore, missionaries are continually being sent forth as first responders to rescue the perishing. Unfortunately, not every spiritual rescue effort works. Despite everyone’s diligent efforts and sincere desires, missionary activities sometimes involve varying degrees of ineffectiveness. Why? One explanation might be that Christians, churches, and missionaries simply are not thinking strategically about how to make a rescue operation achieve as many goals as possible.

Just as success in putting out a house fire demands more than a great desire to put out the blaze, so success in missions depends on more than a desperate desire to save the lost. Rescuing people from hell demands strategic planning and careful following of time-tested procedures. What, then, are the plans and procedures that often seem to result in effective missionary outreach? Let’s start by looking at two foundational strategies that no one involved with missions can afford to ignore.

Get excited about the Gospel.

If you get excited about proclaiming the gospel in your current location, your heart will be prepared to enthusiastically support missionaries who are likewise focused on the gospel. When the communication of the gospel ceases to be the primary concern of our heart, other activities take a position of prominence that only Christ deserves.

When it comes to missions, the Devil is the master at highlighting good things—the building of a structure, the establishment of an organization, or the accomplishing of a social work—to the diminishing of the greatest thing—the gospel. The gospel is the one tool that has power to save sinners (Romans 1:16-17), so a failure to use it, or a tendency to soft-peddle it, or an attempt to sneak it into people’s lives by masking it behind some other purpose is a failure to preach repentance from sin and faith toward Christ in the straightforward way that the Lord commanded (Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-47).

Christians are wise to ask themselves, When was the last time I verbally shared the gospel with someone? Churches are wise to ask their missionaries, In what ways are your activities resulting in a direct gospel testimony to the lost. Missionaries are wise to ask the people that they are ministering to, Are you interested in the gospel that I am offering you, or are you actually just interested in the educational, cultural, recreational, social, or linguistic benefits that you are getting from relating with me, a foreigner from a different land?

Prioritize prayer.

Missionary activities, like all Christian activities, quickly prove unfruitful apart from prayer. Firemen can fight a fire from the water in a tanker truck for a while, but eventually they need to connect their hoses to a fire hydrant. Prayer connects missionary efforts to the infinite supply of living water at the throne of God.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament demonstrate that God’s hand moves mightily when people’s lips pray fervently. The model missionary, the Apostle Paul, specifically asked saints to pray for doors of opportunity for gospel preaching (Eph. 6:19 and Col. 4:3-4). Without a commitment to prayer, churches and missionaries will fail to advance the gospel. Thus, every Christian might want to ask if there are some practical ways to pray for or with a missionary. For example, one could ask, Is there one missionary that I could pray with once a week or once a month over an Internet program such as Skype? Christian friends might want to ask themselves, How could we set aside a specific time once a week or once a month to pray for a missionary that we know? Or, Christian friends who exercise together might ask themselves, How could we take a few moments at either the beginning or ending of our recreational time and devote ourselves to praying for a specific missionary. Every pastor might want to ask, Is our church family fervent and systematic about praying for missionaries? Missions committee members might want to ask, When a missionary visits our congregation, how can we as a committee make sure that we meet with him, find out his needs, and have a time of prayer with him during his visit?