5 Ways Your Church Can Serve Refugees

By Jason Lee, Founder, The Acts 17 Initiative

With more than 65 million people being forcibly displaced around the world, we are facing a global refugee crisis like never before. Whether they are fleeing persecution based on their race, religion, political affiliation, or national origin, these refugees need our help and hope. Nearly 85,000 refugees arrived in the U.S. in 2016, that was reduced to over 53,000 in 2017 and we are currently on pace to welcome around 20,000 refugees in 2018 . June 20 is World Refugee Day and a time to remember that churches should be poised to love our new neighbors coming as refugees by embracing the unique ministry opportunities with gospel intentionality and Christ-like compassion.

Evangelicals may disagree on aspects of refugee resettlement in the U.S., but we must agree on several biblical teachings. The Bible calls us to show hospitality to those here (Hebrews 13:2), love and show mercy to our neighbors no matter their nationality or religion (Luke 10:25-37), do justice for the vulnerable (Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27), and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Scripture tells us that God’s hand is at work behind the movements of humanity (Acts 17:24-27).God has allowed the nations to be placed at our doorstep. Will we embrace this gospel opportunity, or will we shy away due to the messy complexity of refugee ministry? Churches must respond by embracing this unprecedented opportunity.

Here are a five practical ways local churches can serve arriving refugees.

Educate yourself on refugees
The issues surrounding arriving refugees are complex, confusing and often controversial, causing many churches to hesitate to engage these new neighbors. Sadly, fear overtakes facts and the gospel mandate to love our neighbors, resulting in misinformation on refugees.

First, we must be armed with a scriptural approach and understanding to serve refugees and immigrants arriving in the U.S.  A Lifeway survey sadly highlights that only 12% of evangelicals beliefs about immigrants are shaped by the Bible and another survey showed churches are twice as likely to fear refugees than to help them. As evangelicals these numbers should be alarming. Believing that God’s Word changes minds and hearts consider personally taking or having your church take the “I Was A Stranger” challenge of 40 days of scripture and prayer that includes many helpful resources.

Also learn the role refugees play in the larger piece of immigration in the U.S. and the complex and lengthy admissions process they go through. The best resource explaining this along with history and policy of refugee resettlement with a Christian worldview that is currently available is Seeking Refuge by Bauman, Soerens, and Smeir.

These resources are a start and developing a robust pro-life ethic in our churches is a must.

Learning and share facts like the Cato Institute showing the odds of an being killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in the U.S. are 1 in 3.64 billion per year.

Second, pray for refugees- We are facing a historical refugee crisis and when we look at refugees’ needs and 21+ million refugees globally it can become overwhelming. But begin with praying for refugees: pray for their protection as they flee, pray for provision(food, shelter, etc.), pray for peace and resolve in their homelands. Many come here believing it is the only hope of a better life or even for their children to survive. While these issues are complicated let us focus on praying that all refugees and immigrants are welcomed with love and genuine hospitality and not fear. Pray for those in government who can help resolve issues that cause refugee situations and those that can oversee having their countries welcome refugees. Over 5,000 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 just looking to survive and flee persecution; what if we prayed like we believed it could stop the boats from sinking (faith to move mountains anyone? (Matthew 17:20,  Mark 11:22-24). While it may sound trite praying for our president, the immigrants and refugees impacted by this crisis, and churches should be a starting point as we believe God does act when we pray. What if God used this global migration to ignite a Holy Spirit work of renewal in our churches and awakening amongst formerly unreached peoples to glorify Him!  Let us pray like it.

What if God used this global migration to ignite a Holy Spirit work of renewal in our churches and awakening among formerly unreached peoples to glorify Him? Let’s pray like it.

Third, Advocate for refugees. The need to “speak up” and advocate for refugees is vital, as they are often voiceless. Advocacy is being a voice with or for the voiceless, standing in the gap to present the realities of injustice locally and around the world to those in positions of influence to change the situation. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” ~Proverbs 31:8-9

Believers must first develop a biblical perspective on our role in serving refugees in our communities. Believers must also become educated on the facts about refugees. Then you will be able to advocate in your church and community for others to serve their refugee neighbors as well. Advocating for refugees as they transition to life in America can take place in practical life challenges they may face, such as seeking employment, understanding the medical system, or enrolling refugee children in schools. Believers should be prepared to engage in the political realm for the care of refugees.

When refugees become a political target or government processes begin to impede churches missional roles to serve them it is imperative that we speak up. Our voice can make a difference. Note how these pastors and evangelical leaders responded by writing the president recently. Consider calling your congressman on world refugee day(June 20) at a minimum and ask about their support of refugees. Program the capital switchboard number, (202)-224-3121, in your phone and when you hear about another refugee tragedy like. Pick-up the phone and call. Consider writing an Op-Ed in support of refugees in your local media, here are a couple of examples.

Fourth, welcome refugees. One of the greatest needs for newly arriving refugees will be the need to feel welcomed. They need to experience gospel-centered hospitality. Relationships help refugees transition into their new environments. Churches can offer to serve newly arriving refugees in a variety of ways, as Terry Sharp of the International Mission Board explains. Contact your nearest refugee resettlement affiliate [1] to look for ways to volunteer

Could you or your church church become a trusted source of help to refugees who are struggling to navigate our legal services? Could you come alongside of these refugees by starting or serving in a legal aid clinic?

While these opportunities may appear daunting, start by meeting a refugee, learning their name and learning their story. These are ways to begin to share Christ’s love by welcoming and making a new friend.

Finally, share the gospel and partner to start churches. The need to engage in “welcoming” ministries to refugees has never been this great, but the need to share the gospel and plant disciple-making churches among migrating people groups arriving to the U.S. is even greater. We must also understand the redemptive work of God through the migration of nations to the U.S. often means refugees and immigrants come here as committed Christians. Consider having your church partner with an existing ethnic church or plant a new one. Through refugees arriving, the opportunity to make disciples with unreached peoples are at the doorstep of our churches.

The harvest indeed is plentiful and the laborers in this area are far too few. Will we answer the call from the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:35-38)? How will we respond?

There is uncertainty about the number of refugees who will arrive this year and in 2018. Additionally, refugee resettlement agencies are closing offices and laying off workers. These circumstances should serve as a clarion call to local churches to come alongside newly arriving refugees to the U.S. with a loving welcome like never before.

Let us remember that refugees are fleeing some of the most horrific of circumstances and are people made in the image of God. Let us be moved to act with the love of Christ and a gospel mandate.

This article only scratches the surface how to begin to minister to refugees. Stay tuned as we will soon feature articles for each of these 5 key areas.

These initial 5 practical areas are to serve as an introduction for churches but I encourage you to reach out to get equipped by the Acts 17 Initiative, Refuge Louisville, Open Arms Refugee Ministry, N.A.M.B. Send Relief, the Immigration Project,  the A.R.P.’s Outreach North America or other similar ministries in your area that will have an unwavering commitment to minister the Gospel with biblical faithfulness and Christ-centered compassion. These ministries are a step removed from resettlement agencies so they can equip you with a unique Gospel-intentional focus. Or contact us at: acts17initiative@gmail.com for help or questions. Also, please consider attending the Reach the Nations in North America summit  in the spring of 2018, at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

With the uncertainty of the number of arriving refugees this year and in 2018, along with refugee resettlement agencies closing offices and laying off workers, this should serve as a clarion call to local churches to come along side refugees with a loving welcome like never before.

Let us remember that refugees are fleeing some of the most horrific of circumstances and are people made in the image of God and let us be moved to act with the love of Christ and a gospel mandate.

[1] Refugee resettlement affiliates in the U.S. are part of nine private agencies and one state agency that have cooperative agreements with the State Department to provide reception and placement services for refugees arriving in the United States.


The immigration Project inspires the Church to view Immigration and love Immigrants the ways God intended.

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