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Current Issues in Global Missions: Engaging a Changing World with an Unchanging Mission

Our world continues to change rapidly. The mission landscape we thought we knew so well has shifted underneath us. Globalization and urbanization, along with other significant factors, are creating a new mission reality we have never experienced before. Some churches are finding themselves disoriented and entrenched in ineffective yet comfortable ways of being on mission. Other churches tend to be reactionary in their mission planning, without a biblical foundation guiding their mission. This article seeks to identify some of the significant trends that are impacting world missions. It also identifies three implications that need to be explored in light of these trends. The article concludes by suggesting a process that can be used by church leaders seeking to engage their changing world as participants in an unchanging mission.

Churches seeking to fulfill their role in the mission of God are facing unique challenges and, in some cases, amazing opportunities in our world today. Many American churches are seeking to re-engage in the mission of God. They are searching for ways to renew their mission vision and empower their members to be actively involved in God’s mission both locally and globally. Younger generations are redefining missions as they become involved in global compassion and justice ministries. This raises questions for church leaders. What is the mission of the church, and where should our church invest our funds designated for missions? Churches are evaluating their global mission efforts and often feel that their current efforts are falling short in bearing fruit, making disciples, and reproducing churches in the region to which they have been called. What are the strategies that can best make disciples who make disciples? How do missionaries form communities of faith where followers of Jesus can be formed spiritually? Churches are recognizing that the center of Christianity no longer resides in the Western world and has shifted to the Global South. This reality challenges them to work collaboratively with national leaders and churches in the region where they are called. How do we partner with national leaders as they take the responsibility to reach their people, country, and region of the world? Major shifts in migration patterns are bringing various people groups to the United States. War, conflict, economic crisis, and the search for a better life are carrying some refugees from traditionally Muslim areas into traditionally Christian areas. How do Western churches engage people fleeing their homelands and livelihoods seeking peace and a new start? How do we show them the love of God and provide them with an opportunity to hear and accept the good news of Jesus Christ? This article does not address and answer all of these mission questions facing churches today. It highlights some significant issues and provides a framework for churches that are facing these issues and seeking to discern what God is doing in our world and join him in his mission.

Understanding Global Trends

We are living in a world that is changing in unprecedented ways and at an unprecedented pace. Certain ways of sharing the good news of Jesus and doing church are not as productive as they were in days past. We are living in a post-Christian and postcolonial age. Churches are questioning what answers they can bring to a world suffering from starvation, major disasters, war, conflict, abuse, and injustice. It is creating major challenges for our missionaries, churches, and leaders as they share the good news of Jesus in a world uninterested or hostile to a Christian message. Churches still believe the prophecy of Isaiah 55:11: “my word . . . will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”1 Yet, they struggle to understand the times and join God in his work in the world.

So what are the current trends and how might God be working through them for his purposes? Fritz Kling provides helpful insights into some global mission trends in his book, The Meeting of the Waters.2 His research team went on a Global Listening Tour, which carried them around the globe for ten years looking for trends that are reshaping churches everywhere. Kling identified what he refers to as seven global currents that flow “invisibly and powerfully, under and around the global church.”3 These global trends are:

Mercy: Social justice has become a global imperative, especially among younger generations. Mission that submits to a false dichotomy of spirit/body does not have a future in our global reality. This understanding should lead us to seek holistic ministries which embody tangible ways of bringing transformation to lives and communities. “In the coming years, respect and relevance will flow to the global church when it does what it was created to do: to fill gaping holes, both spiritual and physical, in the lives of unnoticed, unwanted people. This is the heart language of the next generation, non-Christians and Christians alike.”4

Mutuality: Christian leaders from traditionally poor countries have much to offer and will demand to be heard. In reality, they must be heard. The Western church can no longer dominate and expect to be the ruling class of the church. The Spirit of Jesus is calling us to break from our colonial roots and treat those without money and power as equals in the mission of God. “Like Jesus, we need to open ourselves to people without education, wealth, or contacts, and we must not seek power in order to ensure that ministry is done on our terms. Mutuality requires concessions and intentionality on the parts of all players, and this is especially difficult for the people with a voice and access to power.”5 Mutuality requires the Western churches to take on the role of learners.

Migration: Modern migration is constantly in the news and will continue to be on the rise as people flock to different regions or cities of the world. While immigrants are escaping war, persecution, hunger, or poverty or whether they are seeking jobs, schooling, or a different lifestyle, we will always have the opportunities and challenges posed by migration. Immigration assures that around the globe Christian missions will be faced with radically diverse audiences. We will need strategies that can reach diverse people groups without requiring that they cross cultural barriers to experience Christian community. “Christians everywhere should reach their cities in order to reach the world. Even geographically stationary people are profoundly impacted by migration, as the world is coming to them.”6

Monoculture: The cultures of all countries will become more and more similar through technologically and economically driven forces. Worldwide images, ideas, celebrities, and ad campaigns homogenize all cultures under the influence of consumerism. Christians communicating with global neighbors will need to be aware that marketing from outside their borders now threatens to shape many of their deepest values. However, national leaders seek to balance their desire to maximize economic growth in their country with their desire to preserve indigenous cultures and traditions. Westerners are often seen as advocates of this threat of monoculturalism, which can negatively impact their missional influence.

Machines: The explosion of technology is transforming lifestyles around the globe. People are connecting in unprecedented ways through the internet, cell phones, television, and travel. The future global church must recognize both the “Jekyll and Hyde” aspects of the influence of technology in the lives and values of people in our world.

Mediation: There is much talk of the world’s flattening as well as the acceptance of diversity. However, in reality, our world is becoming more and more polarized. Small, divisive groups have more communication avenues for inciting discord and attracting sympathizers than ever before. The world church must find its role as a peacemaker who follows the example of the Prince of Peace by modeling and teaching a way of life that brings peace and unity in the midst of diversity.

Memory: Even though globalization has brought the world together in many respects, every nation or region has a distinct history that shapes their society. Yesterday continues to affect today. Our ancestors’ negative example of colonialism and control often go before us. These influences are often unspoken or unnoticed, yet they have incredible influence in interpersonal relationships. Western leaders must humble themselves, listen, learn, and even repent to overcome the walls that have been erected and maintained for years.

In addition to these seven global currents identified by Kling, at least one other current trend merits mention: the shift of the centers of Christianity. These centers have shifted radically from the West to the South and the East. Africa, Asia, and Latin America are becoming the epicenters of the Christian movement. No longer does world mission radiate from the Western world. In reality, mission is from everywhere to everywhere. Some of our counterparts in the Global South have more experience, greater maturity, and a clearer vision for a gospel movement in their own country and region of the world. In light of growing Christian leadership in the southern hemisphere, the role of the Western missionary is changing. Western missionaries must engage with international partners in a collaborative role to share Jesus with the unreached.

Of course, I am not able within the confines of this article to explore each one of these mission trends adequately. However, I will speak to three issues that are important to consider. They are best represented by three simple questions:

  • How do we define mission?
  • What is the good news we share?
  • How do we fulfill our mission assignment within the context of our changing world?

Renewing a Holistic Mission

In an effort to recover the holistic nature of mission which has been present in Christian mission throughout its history, we must clearly define our mission. Do compassion and justice ministries count as mission work? Or is mission work only defined by gospel proclamation. Paul Borthwick writes, “Throughout the decades, the pendulum between preaching the gospel and concern for human need has swung widely. It takes on various terms—‘evangelism versus social action,’ or ‘the gospel in word versus the gospel in deed,’ or ‘preaching justification versus advocating justice.’ ”7 One extreme is fearful of the verbal proclamation of the good news. The other extreme favors the preached message of Jesus but leaves the care of human needs to other organizations. However, these pendulum swings may be calling us to find a biblical balance. Perhaps the answers are not found in one extreme or another. Perhaps it is not a matter of either/or, but rather a matter of both/and. This seems to be what Jesus was calling us to when he gave us what we call the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The commission given by Jesus is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20). The commandment given by Jesus is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37, 39). One extreme leans only to the Great Commission, and the other extreme favors the discussion of the sheep and goats. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matt 25:35–36).

What is our Christian mission: serving or speaking? John Stott, in his classic book Christian Mission in the Modern World, updated and expanded by Christopher J. H. Wright, explores the relationship between missions as showing the gospel and missions as sharing the gospel.8 Stott proposes several ways we might attempt to reconcile this showing and sharing activity. Perhaps the ministry of compassion and justice is a means to disciple-making. In this view, the end result is winning people to Christ, and service is simply a means to the end. However, this approach is often exposed as a “bait and switch.” The bait is the service we provide, but the switch is exposed when our real intentions to make one a follower of Jesus become clear. This is an unhealthy view and actually leads to what is often referred to as rice Christians, those who come to Jesus only because of the food, services, or help provided. Stott explains that this is inevitable if we ourselves have been rice evangelists. “They caught the deception from us.”9 Perhaps, instead, social action is a manifestation of the gospel being proclaimed. In this view, giving to others is a natural expression of the good news we proclaim. Jesus demonstrates this truth in his words and work. This view is better, but it still makes service a subdivision of the sermon preached. Service can still become something given in order to obtain the desired end result and not the sole act of love. Stott discusses a third viewpoint that sees acts of compassion as a partner of evangelism. The two are partners yet stand alone and have their own means of expressing the love of Christ. Sharing the good news and showing the good news, word and action, and verbal proclamation and visible deeds are all a part of the mission of God and cannot be separated. For Stott they are like the two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird. The link between proclaiming and serving is so close that they actually overlap. You can’t have one without the other. This is what we call a holistic gospel, good news that is actually concerned with the whole man or woman, including mind, body, and spirit. Scott sums up a holistic view of missions by saying:

We are sent into the world, like Jesus, to serve. For this is the natural expression of our love for our neighbors. We love. We go. We serve. And in this we have (or should have) no ulterior motive. True, the gospel lacks visibility if we merely preach it, and lacks credibility if we who preach it are interested only in souls and have no concern about the welfare of people’s bodies, situations and communities. Yet the reason for our acceptance of social responsibility is not primarily in order to give the gospel either a visibility or a credibility it would otherwise lack, but rather simple, uncomplicated compassion. Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need.10

Sharing and showing, word and action, are all a part of the mission of God and cannot be separated.

Perhaps an integral view of the mission of God is best seen in the incarnation of Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16). Mission is the action of God sending his Son and his people to speak and embody the good news of salvation, transformation, and the renewal of all things. The incarnation of Jesus becomes our model in missions. Paul describes the mission model of Jesus in Philippians. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5–8). In the life of Jesus, God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As we take on the life of Jesus in this world, this powerful act of incarnation becomes the perfect synthesis of the two sides of missions. Missions is the story of Jesus revealed in word and in flesh.

Therefore, this debate over compassion and justice ministries as opposed to evangelism ministries is an “old debate that needs to be put to rest.”11 A Christian’s friendship and care extended to another cannot save that individual. The good news of Jesus must be spoken, received, and obeyed. In the same manner, knowledge shared without the expression of the love of Christ is nothing more than a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). Churches must engage all generations in a robust study and dialogue concerning the mission of the church. Great care should also be given to the selection of the mission efforts that reflect the church’s understanding of its mission. Greater dialogue and partnership needs to be opened between compassion and justice ministries and gospel movement ministries. Holistic mission is giving way to a deeper understanding of what is called integral missions.

Integration requires a “something” within which, or around which, everything is integrated. A human body has systems that are integrated around the person that exists. The integrating center that binds both compassion and evangelism is the good news of Jesus, the gospel. The gospel is the good news of all that God has done to save the world and establish the kingdom of God under Christ’s lordship. The gospel is the truth, the story, the facts of the saving acts of God. The importance of this understanding of the gospel is what leads us to the second significant issue that church leaders must engage. What is the good news we are sharing?

Reclaiming the Good News Message

For a church to engage the mission of God there must be clarity regarding the news that they are seeking to share with the world. Most Christians assume that when we say “gospel” we are all speaking the same language. Today, that is a false assumption. It is time for Christians to reclaim a more robust understanding of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. When we hear the term gospel many different thoughts may come to our mind. We may think of “gospel truth,” which in some cases has become a mammoth concept that encompasses all I believe to be truth that we must agree upon to be in fellowship with one another. We speak of “preaching the gospel,” which may be defined as teaching someone what they must do to be saved in order to make sure they reserve their place in heaven. When the apostles spoke of the gospel, they spoke of good news that was so good it had to be shared with the entire world.

N. T. Wright, in Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good,12 helps his readers explore a more hearty and biblical definition of the gospel. Wright describes four elements of the gospel. First, good news must be understood in light of its backstory. News takes place within a context of a longer running story that must be considered in order to understand why the news is good. Second, news is significant. It impacts lives and brings consequences that are meaningful. Because of what has happened, everything will be different. Third, the news unveils an exciting new future that lies ahead. It provides immediate joy now, but it also looks forward to the promises to come. Fourth, this news transforms the present moment and introduces an intermediate period of waiting. It places us in a location between the event that has happened and the future event that therefore will happen. “What good news regularly does, then, is to put a new event into an old story, point to a wonderful future hitherto out of reach, and so introduce a new period in which, instead of living a hopeless life, people are now waiting with excitement for what they know is on the way.”13 Wright contrasts this view of good news with what he sees taking place in many churches. Consider the good news we announce in our churches. Is it possible that it is not good news but rather just good advice? Listen carefully to the messages coming from our churches:

Here’s how to live, they say. Here’s how to pray. Here are techniques for helping you become a better Christian, a better person, a better wife or husband. And in particular, here’s how to make sure you’re on the right track for what happens after death. Take this advice. . . . You won’t go to hell; you’ll go to heaven. Here’s how to do it. This is advice, not news. The whole point of advice is to make you do something to get a desired result. Now, there’s nothing wrong with good advice. We all need it. But it isn’t the same thing as news. News is an announcement that something significant has happened.14

Are we sharing the powerful good news of Jesus or is our proclamation more focused on “the best way to live life?”

Paul reminds the Corinthian church of the gospel he preached to them. The same good news that they received and the same powerful story on which they had taken their stand. It is by this gospel they were saved. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defines this gospel or good news: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3–5). The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus are the pivotal events that become defining moments in the good news that saves. “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom 4:25).

Scot McKnight, in his book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, shares his belief that the word gospel has been hijacked by “the plan of salvation.” What we call “the plan of salvation” is, of course, vital to the good news we preach. However, it grows out of a powerful story, the biblical story of Israel and the story of Jesus. The biblical story from creation to Jesus is the saving story. Perhaps in reclaiming the gospel message we need to wrestle with McKnight’s premise that “equating the Plan of Salvation with either the Story of Israel or the Story of Jesus distorts the gospel and at times even ruins the Story.”15 McKnight suggests that if we see the fullness of the gospel in the Bible and we see how it was preached by the apostles, we will conclude that the gospel is “first of all, framed by Israel’s Story: the narration of the saving Story of Jesus—his life, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, and his coming again—as the completion of the Story of Israel [Acts 2:22–35].”16 Second, he argues that the gospel centers on the lordship of Jesus. “Therefore, let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The lordship of Christ provides a clear path to making disciples, because those who are disciples are under the lordship of Christ. Disciples are those who listen to the word of Jesus, obey, and follow him. Third, “gospeling” (as McKnight refers to what is typically called evangelism) involves calling people to respond. “Apostolic gospeling is incomplete until it lovingly but firmly summons those who hear the gospel to repentance, to faith in Jesus Christ, and to baptism.”17 Fourth, the gospel saves and redeems. The apostolic gospel promises forgiveness, the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, and justification. Three things happened in the death of Jesus. “Jesus died (1) with us (identification), (2) instead of us (representation and substitution), and (3) for us (incorporation into the life of God).”18 How does our evangelism today compare with the gospelizing of the apostles we see in the New Testament? Our gospeling must include the plan of salvation, but it is an incomplete gospel if it is not also a fuller discussion of the lordship of Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection, and the promise to come.

A reduction of the gospel that only focuses on salvation for a life after death or only on sin management is not the gospel presented by the apostles. Consider how a fuller view of the good news found in Jesus can shape our understanding of the previous question regarding the definition of mission. Is the gospel simply about salvation? Is it only about “going to heaven?” If so, then of course it has nothing to do with our life in this physical world and must be separated from any compassion and justice ministries. However, if the good news of Jesus Christ brings a kingdom message that transforms our lives both in the life to come and in the life we are living now, then we don’t need to separate compassion ministries and gospel ministries. Perhaps they are more clearly one and the same thing, two sides of the same coin.

As churches reclaim a biblical definition of the mission of God and rediscover why the news of Jesus is so good, they encounter a powerful motivation. Good news must be lived, and it must be shared! A clear and common understanding of the good news unites a congregation around a ground-breaking historical event that changes everything. Clarity regarding the gospel produces unity and provides a point of reference for our mission focus. It also helps determine the use of time and resources in missions. Cornelius Plantinga explains the impact of proper understanding of the gospel: the coming of the kingdom depends upon the coming of the King. The coming of the King means “that God’s righteousness will at last fill the earth, and that the real world in all its trouble and turmoil will be transformed by God’s shalom.”19

Good news must be lived, and it must be shared!

Reconsidering a Movement Methodology

Alan J. Roxburgh introduces a helpful concept in his book, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality.20 The author’s central thesis begins with the fact that the Christian church was at one point the center of Western culture yet has become marginalized and pushed to the edges of culture. Next, Roxburgh asserts that the culture itself in which the church exists is a decentered world. Thus both the church and the culture are in transition to something else, unknown. This has been rather obvious here in North America, however the majority world church has also been experiencing the same phenomenon and is just beginning to realize it. Roxburgh utilizes the work of Victor Turner regarding the function of liminality.21 He offers this framework as a model for the church to engage from a marginalized position in society. Typically, people and groups go through three stages in a rite of passage: separation—detachment from an established role in society; transition—an in-between state in which one is neither in the old group/situation nor the new group/position; and incorporation—the return of the individuals, having been transformed and changed, to a new place and status in society. Turner calls them separation, liminal, and reaggregation phases. The transition or liminal phase is a period of uncertainty and confusion in which the individual or group longs for release and a clear path to a new position. During this phase of transition, the church is tempted to reintegrate into a perceived cultural center, in other words, regain its place in society. However, this can lead to sacrificing the countercultural nature of the kingdom in an effort to adapt ourselves to modern culture. Roxburgh suggests that a helpful model is found in liminality; a better understanding of this transition phase enables the church to move into the position it needs to fill in our changing world.

If Roxburgh’s use of liminality is a model for engagement for the church today, it would benefit us to wrestle with the implications found in this transitional stage. “In this stage there are two critical elements: first, the negation of almost everything that has been considered normative, and second, the potential for transformation and new configurations of identity.”22 The church domestically and globally is experiencing this stage currently and in some cases has been there for some time. In this time of transition and confusion it is important to recognize a healthy tension at work. There is a need for the church to return to a stable, integrated order where its place and identity in this world is recognized and lived out. However, the tension comes when we realize that in some cases there is no returning to where the world was before, only movement into the future. Perhaps one practical mission discussion in which this principle applies is ecclesiology, the nature and structure of the church.

In some cases there is no returning to where the world was before, only movement into the future.

How did the number of Christians in the world grow from as few as 25,000 one hundred years after Christ’s death to up to 20 million in AD 310?23 How did the Chinese underground church grow from two million to over 100 million in 60 years despite considerable opposition? Of course, there are many factors at play in these questions. However, Alan Hirsch, in The Forgotten Ways, explores these questions and identifies six latent potencies in God’s people that lie dormant and forgotten until something catalytic prompts their rediscovery. He describes them as the centrality and lordship of Jesus, disciple making, the missional-incarnational impulse, organic systems, apostolic environment, and communitas. The sixth of these deserves special attention. Hirsch uses the word communitas to denote a community formed in a situation of significant ordeal and/or mission. It can be defined as the very spirit of community; an intense community spirit, the feeling of great equality, solidarity, and togetherness often formed through persecution or the call to a higher mission. Such communities are more organic than organizational in structure. These communities of faith create an environment in which Jesus is Lord, the spiritual gifts of each disciple are accessed for the benefit of the group’s mission, and the community has a clear mission and purpose. Communities of disciples who understand their nature and identity recognize that even from their marginalized position in society, they are to engage their world with the good news of Jesus. The life Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount illustrates the impact of the church as communitas:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:13–16)

One church I am coaching through a process of renewing their mission ministry has determined that they need to define church from a biblical perspective. They have had a Western view of what church must look like and have imposed this view on their missionaries in other cultures. Mission leaders must redefine the life and work of the church from a biblical perspective.

Reclaiming the mission of the church, the good news we share, and the nature of the church in gospel movements provides a common and biblical foundation for churches to address the more pragmatic questions that we are tempted to answer first. Some of these questions are: How do we create an environment for a movement of disciple making in various regions of the world? What is the role of American churches in our changing mission landscape? How do churches respond to the phenomenon of immigration that is bringing the world to our doorstep and the unreached to locations where they can be more easily reached with good news? These and other pressing questions can be more faithfully addressed when we have a clear understanding and commitment to our mission, our message, and the method through which God has chosen to declare his glory, his Spirit working through his people, the church.

A Framework for Joining God in His Mission

Mission leaders must face these current issues as well as many others with honesty, humility, and courage. Only when we possess the Spirit of Jesus can we take the faithful steps to reimagine how we will engage our new reality. Church leaders are searching for ways to move forward in today’s changing mission landscape, yet what some are missing is a framework or a map to guide them on this journey.

How can churches develop a passion and process for local and global missions? There is not one simple answer to that question, but somehow we instinctively know that we must begin to think more like missionaries, both at home and abroad. We are living in the world’s third largest mission field here in the United States, with multiple nationalities represented in our communities. Culture, language, and worldviews have changed drastically around us. We are called to be “salt and light” in our own backyard! Churches have often ignored the undeniable connection between what they do on their local mission field and what they do with mission partners on a foreign field. I once had a conversation with a missionary who had grown up within the Churches of Christ and had experienced the best mission training that we have to offer. After several frustrating years on a difficult foreign field he made the statement, “I was sent here to make disciples, and I am just now realizing that I have never been discipled myself.” Is it fair for us to require the same thing of our sending churches that we are requiring of our mission churches? Perhaps we need to submit ourselves to some of the same training we expect our missionaries to experience, so that we can be on mission at home and more effective in stewarding our mission efforts abroad.

At Missions Resource Network (MRN) we have responded to these challenges by recalibrating our mission team training to fit local church needs. Most mission education involves developing five capacities within missionaries:

  • A Theology of Missions – our mission is rooted in the nature of God. A proper theology establishes a solid biblical foundation on knowing God and his mission.
  • A Strategy for Spiritual Formation – mission is not primarily a strategic undertaking. It is a spiritual endeavor. As followers of Jesus we must be continually transformed and conformed to the likeness of God’s son. Our mission is to glorify God, save the lost, and be transformed as disciples.
  • Cultural Awareness – missionaries must understand and adapt to various cultural contexts as they share the never-changing good news of Jesus.
  • Skills in Team Building – good one-another relationships are essential in living out the mission of God in any environment.
  • Strategic Preparation – our strategic plans must focus on joining God in God’s mission and fulfilling our partnership role.

Our churches must develop each of these areas in their respective congregational culture as they seek to honor the great commission within their local and global contexts.

To help churches develop these capacities, MRN equips and coaches both domestic and foreign congregations through a process of discovery. For this journey, we provide a framework to guide in the development of what we call “a God-directed ministry.” This tool, in the form of a pyramid below, serves as a track for churches to run on in their quest to engage the mission of God. Most churches seeking to become more focused on domestic and foreign missions want to start at the top of this pyramid by changing their practices. They search out the best practices, often reproducing a model from a successful church, which was developed for a particular community of faith, in a particular location with a unique environment. They tend to slowly work down the left side of the pyramid without the foundation and power only provided by God. They develop their plan, find justification in Scripture, and then ask God to “bless” what they have planned. In reality, they work backward.

Figure 1: A God-Directed Ministry

Instead, churches should start at the bottom of the pyramid by developing a theology of missions rooted in the nature of God. They must go back to the word of God to re-examine the mission of God, the gospel, and the role of the church. As they rediscover the mission of God, they then commit to living out the values that grow from this biblical understanding. Once this is underway, they are in a position to discern and articulate their mission calling based upon their location, resources, and experiences. When a church has a clear understanding of its mission, it can set measurable goals. Then, it can proactively determine what strategies and practices should be implemented, as well as select partners with whom it should work. If we lay a solid foundation for our mission rooted in the nature and identity of God and his mission, we are better equipped to discern God’s call for our church. We then can follow God more faithfully by joining him with steps of faith and obedience. Notice that it is not a linear process but an ongoing learning process as we move from Scripture to reflection to practice and back. This process has provided the framework for decision-making and forward movement for many churches seeking to experience the mission of God.

Conclusion

We are living in exciting times for God’s global mission. The good news is that God has been working around and through us in the last century in ways that have created a new reality. The challenging news is that a combination of international forces has created a new global mission landscape. We must wake up to the fact that we are missionaries here in North America. We are also not the saviors of the world. God has servants all over the world through whom he will do his best work. Our role is now that of a servant who joins what God is already doing. That means we need to exercise less control and exhibit more trust. It means we need to listen more and talk less. Finally, it means that we have to go back and develop a missiological foundation which will support our work in our local contexts as well as in our global partnerships. We cannot take things for granted any longer. This is a new world, and we have a lot of rethinking and development to do if we are going to be faithful stewards of the gospel in the twenty-first century.

Jay Jarboe is VP of Ministry Operations and Director for Church Equipping at Missions Resource Network (MRN), a global network equipping the body of Christ to make disciples worldwide. Before joining the ministry of MRN, Jay served as the Lead Minister for the Sunset Church of Christ in Lubbock, Texas. During his 25-year ministry with the Sunset Church of Christ and Sunset International Bible Institute (SIBI), Jay served as the Director of the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program, an apprentice missionary training program, and as the Dean of Missions and an instructor at SIBI. He is married to Sherry, and they have two grown children, Meagan and Ryan. Jay and Sherry were missionaries in Mexico City for six years. Sherry works as the Mission Site Coordinator for Let’s Start Talking, a ministry that sends out hundreds of Christians around the globe to share their lives and Jesus by reading the Bible with those seeking to improve their English. Jay holds a BA from Texas Tech University and a Masters in Missions and a Master of Divinity equivalency from Abilene Christian University. Jay has worked with churches, missionaries, and mission leaders on six continents. He coaches, mentors, and equips servant leaders for mission, transformation, and multiplication. His passion is seeking to be transformed into the image of Christ and helping others in that same quest.

1 Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

2 Fritz Kling, The Meeting of the Waters: 7 Global Currents that Will Propel the Future Church (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010).

3 Ibid., 32.

4 Ibid., 42.

5 Ibid., 72.

6 Ibid., 102.

7 Paul Borthwick, Great Commission, Great Compassion: Following Jesus and Loving the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 16.

8 John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World, updated and exp. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015).

9 Ibid., 25.

10 Ibid., 29.

11 Femi Adeleye, lecture given at a gathering of FOCUS-Kenya Associates in Mombasa, Kenya, March 2002; quoted in Borthwick, 16.

12 N. T. Wright, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good (New York: HarperCollins, 2015).

13 Ibid., 4.

14 Ibid., 5.

15 Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 37.

16 Ibid., 132.

17 Ibid., 133.

18 Ibid., 51.

19 Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 142.

20 Alan J. Roxburgh, The Missionary Congregation, Leadership, and Liminality, Christian Mission & Modern Culture (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity, 1997).

21 Victor Turner, “Liminality and Communitas,” in The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, (Chicago: Aldine, 1969), 94–113, 125–130.

22 Roxburgh, 29.

23 Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 18.

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Transnationalism: New Pathways for Mission

Today, the twin forces of urbanization and globalization are reshaping the context of global mission. The realities of transnationalism provide strategic opportunities for the spread of the gospel through the natural relational flows of connected peoples beyond borders. Evangelists desiring to make a global impact through their international neighbors not only must learn to ride the wave of transnational relationships but also must be able to navigate urban dynamics on a daily basis. And, more than anything else, ordinary Christians must rediscover what it is to love our culturally different neighbors as ourselves and liberally sow the seed of the gospel, knowing that the winds of globalization could carry this precious seed even to the ends of the earth.

Some years ago, I was listening to a colleague in New York City tell his story. He had originally moved to Africa as a missionary to a Muslim people group—one of the least reached in West Africa. Now he was in New York working among Muslim immigrants from West Africa. Reflecting on the two contexts, he felt like he was more of a pioneer to unreached groups working in New York City than when he was the only Christian in a Muslim community in Africa. While living as a missionary in an African city, he explained, he found that he did not have relational access to any of the leaders of the community, nor did he ever receive a welcome into the homes of any of the homeowners in his neighborhood. After extreme illness nearly took his life and he was forced to find a new ministry context, a series of circumstances led him to New York City, where he began reaching out to West African Muslims. He quickly discovered that many of the homeowners and community leaders from his African town actually lived and worked in New York. Because they labored in a well-known city and provided financial capital for their extended families, they gained valuable social capital among their families in their homeland. As a result, his new African friends opened doors for him as an evangelist in the same communities that were originally closed to him when he had lived there as a missionary. His African neighbors in New York City now gave him access to declare the gospel to their home country. He has since spoken on national television of a Muslim nation, stayed in the homes of community leaders during short-term trips to West Africa, and shared the gospel message repeatedly with extended family members. After many months of evangelistic labor, he began to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ among this unreached people in West Africa. By moving to a global city, he had increased his access and built bridges to this community. Essentially, he had to move to New York in order to start churches among an African people group.

Several months ago, I sat with a friend, Sung-ho, in Koreatown in Midtown Manhattan. As a seeker, he was exploring Christian discipleship, so I introduced him to one of our missionaries working with Global City Mission Initiative (GCMI) in the city. The two of them exchanged numbers and began meeting together for a Discovery Bible Study. We were excited to watch as Sung-ho grew in his confidence to pray, to embrace an emerging faith in Christ, and to facilitate group discussions around the Bible in the Korean language. His personal transformation bloomed as his tiny Bible study group gathered each week and participants were challenged to apply what they were learning from God’s word. Four months later, Sung-ho returned to Seoul. We knew he would only be there for three months before returning to the United States to continue his education in California. However, we encouraged him to gather friends and start a new Discovery Bible Study there in Seoul as well, which he did. His friend in New York—a Mission Catalyst with GCMI—continued to coach him through Skype. Three months passed, he relocated to California to enroll in college, and once again, he began to share his faith with both Japanese and Korean friends, forming another new community.

Ministry in a Mobile World

During my first years as a church planter in New York—the United States’ largest and most international city—I would regularly chat with other church planters, and we together would lament the highly transient nature of the city. We were each attempting to build a stable base for establishing a located church. However, it was challenging to begin developing a leader in a new church plant only to see him follow the outbound migration to South Florida a few months later. It was disheartening to finally begin integrating a new member into our faith community after months of reaching out only to bid her farewell as she moved back to her home in Nigeria. It was difficult to see progress with a new leader interrupted while he was away for six months to a year in the Dominican Republic addressing a family emergency. By the middle of our second year into what we intended as a neighborhood church plant, our modest membership roll was spread across four counties and had involved plenty of farewells.

Over time, I reflected on the transient nature of life described in the Mediterranean world of the New Testament in contrast to the frustrations my colleagues and I felt. We know that the trade routes of the Roman Empire were heavily traveled, and during the early decades of the church Jewish Christians faced persecution or exile resulting in further spread of the gospel. Although a much more ancient backdrop, it, too, was a world on the move. I thought about how the mobility during the time of early Christianity in the Roman Empire contributed to the exponential spread of Christianity. How different from today when we, church planters, were feeling the stress and anxiety of such mobility because it inhibited the constancy of our church projects. I began to realize that what I had seen as an obstacle was, in fact, a pathway for mission. Eventually, I stopped mourning the challenges caused by doing ministry in this highly mobile society and instead began thinking about the opportunities presented by a world that is highly mobile and increasingly connected. I shifted my mindset to celebrating the many populations of urban dwellers who represented relational pathways for mission and pursued strategies that led to a viral spread of the gospel. I slowly realized that we were operating in the mission field of the near future.

Transnationalism: A New Context of Global Mission

Today, the twin forces of urbanization and globalization are reshaping the context of global mission. Globally, the mission field today is a different place than it was only twenty years ago. Diaspora communities (i.e., various types of immigrant communities) in cities represent a new arena for mission where local and global overlap. Such communities represent pathways for evangelism that are multidirectional—within the city, to the migrant’s homeland, and to new destinations throughout the host country as new residents resettle in various regions in their new country. In the words of Jehu Hanciles, globalization is leading us to see “the world as a single place” with greater and greater connectedness between once-distant locations. Borders between nation-states are becoming less and less of a barrier to religious, cultural, and commercial exchanges. Time and space are being compressed through information, communication, and travel technologies.1 This global compression means that international migrants can maintain relationships in more than one place. People are now connected like never before, and local churches increasingly find themselves confronted by global realities just down the street.

Today, the twin forces of urbanization and globalization are reshaping the context of global mission.

In the past, immigrants came to a new country and began to find ways to identify with their new nation. International migrants would make the occasional long-distance phone call, mail letters home, and, if they were fortunate, find a way to visit their homeland every few years. However, in today’s world, one of our missionaries working with GCMI meets with his Hindu friend just a short bus ride away in New York City, and they speak in real time with his friend’s Muslim family members, who join the discussion through online video from their home in Bangladesh.

“The global village we’ve grown used to inhabiting is a new reality for humans. The ancestors of most Americans lost contact with those they left behind in the old country. . . . Today, immigrants to America can choose to maintain their links to the people they leave behind. We can and do keep in touch.”2 The barriers to maintaining cultural connections are far more surmountable than they once were, and contemporary migration often means living between worlds, or in both at the same time, rather than leaving one in the past. Indeed, many migrants today share what social scientists refer to as transnational identities. Once upon a time, immigration meant leaving everything behind. One’s old home faded into the background as one moved toward assimilation into the new culture. That unidirectional pattern of migration is no longer a singular choice for international migrants. Today, international migrants live in multiple worlds. They do not quite break with their homeland even as they build a new life in a new country. They essentially live “in between Home and home.”3

This has significant implications both for missions around the world and for the local church in the ever-increasing international diversity of North America. “Transnational families, networks, and communities . . . strike at the heart of traditional missiological reflections on home, power, identity, and subjectivity.” Historic mission strategies that focused on traditional societies are facing new social patterns. Transnational communities in cities create space to embody “home” in the midst of fluid relationships and movements.4 The context of global mission is experiencing a profound transformation. This strange new world certainly presents challenges to the mission of the church, but I would insist that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges. The realities of transnationalism provide strategic opportunities for the spread of the gospel through the natural relational flows of connected peoples beyond borders.

Strategic Opportunities

As the leader of GCMI, I am sometimes asked about the value of investing in evangelism in the diaspora neighborhoods of global cities versus conventional missionary platforms. For Americans supporting mission work, it’s a question that grows out of a desire for responsible stewardship. The essential question being asked is: What’s the bang for the buck? For me, living at the global intersections, the answer is fairly obvious. For instance, you could send a missionary to the Dominican Republic, another one to Colombia, and yet a third family to Ecuador, and these would all be valuable endeavors. Or you could send one Mission Catalyst to Roosevelt Avenue in Queens (NYC) to seek open doors connected to every single nation in Latin America. If the missionary methods utilized are replicable, working at global intersections may lead to a far-reaching impact beyond borders. Another church may desire to send a mission team to a least reached people group in one of the world’s more challenging regions, such as Yemen, where missionaries must navigate civil war, American military intervention, anti-Western outcries, and laws against proselytism, all while wading through visa issues and building a creative-access platform in order to operate within the country. Or they might sponsor a catalyst to the tens of thousands of Yemeni in New York City who are sending remittances to friends, family, and associations while building social capital back in their home nation. Many unreached peoples are forming new communities in globalized cities and simultaneously maintaining connections to their homeland. Oftentimes they are building retirement homes in their countries of origin and increasing their clout in their cultural community or network. These relational connections are natural pathways for the gospel. These unreached diaspora communities may or may not represent receptivity, but they do represent the potential for greater access.

In our network, we often talk about mouth-to-ear evangelism. In other words, we want it to be possible for someone to reproduce any of our evangelism efforts with someone else in their social world just an hour later. When members of our team study the Bible with international students and visiting scholars at Columbia University in Manhattan, we gently encourage them to share what they are learning with others in their life. Quite often they are calling or “skyping” home to Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, or other urban centers in Asia to share the new stories they are learning. It is not uncommon for us to hear that they shared testimonies with their family back home on the other side of the planet, explaining how Jesus is transforming their hearts. While starting a Discovery Bible Study, a new believer from China once said, “We see these stories [in the Bible] as nice fairy tales that make a good point, but we do not believe them.” However, a year later the same new believer declared, “I visited my family in China, and I told my parents: ‘The stories in the Bible are not fairy tales. They are true, and Jesus has changed my life.’ ”

When I began conversations with Kevin King, director of International Project in New York City, that led to our ministries partnering together, he shared his story of reaching international students in New York City. He explained that over a decade ago his team realized that they had to help internationals experience forms of church that would be reproducible in nations that are legally closed to the spread of the gospel, so they formed a network of house churches. They recognized that no matter how many times they verbally encouraged new believers to reproduce ministry within their culture, they actually needed to provide experiences of church and Christian life that could be reproduced across borders. They eventually incorporated Discovery Bible Studies and have seen new churches begin in countries in Asia—following bathtub baptisms in Harlem. Through weekly conversations on Skype, King mentors new leaders who have returned to their homes in Asia and started new house churches.

Mission at Global Crossroads

Urban missiologists have argued for the strategic importance of serving the city for years. Now, in the context of globalization, international migration, and transnationalism, planting the seeds of the gospel in cities representing global intersections is more important than ever. Today, cities are hubs of global activity and influence in a highly connected world.5 By working at the global intersections of increasingly diverse cities, there is a multidirectional potential for the gospel to impact a mosaic of cultures and nations. A couple of years ago, I was lecturing in a mission course at a large church in Harlem. During the class I invited anyone interested in getting involved in training on evangelism and church multiplication strategies in the city to meet with one of our Mission Catalysts. An African-American woman signed up to be coached for evangelism in her community. Right away, we discovered that one of her new Bible studies was with a group of Fulani Muslim women. It was a natural connection because they shared life together in their workplace. By working with urban Christians in a globally connected city, we are constantly in close contact with some of the least reached peoples in our world. Cities, as nodes in the global network, are the new context of global mission. Cities represent the space for transnational interactions and relational flows throughout the global network. As nodes in a global network, urban centers provide the geographical connection points for the flows of production and information between once-distant cultures.6

Of course, engaging urban settings has not often been the primary focus of the church in North America despite the distinctly urban history of the early church. However, we now live on a planet where the majority of occupants live and work in metropolitan areas. Despite our rural history, we are now faced with the task of navigating urban networks that increasingly close the gap between once-distant places. One of the significant challenges facing American Christians within the emerging context of global missions is a renewed focus on urban settings. Many of the opportunities for pursuing evangelism through transnational connections will lie at the global intersections of urban space. Evangelists desiring to make a global impact through their international neighbors not only must learn to ride the wave of transnational relationships but also must be able to navigate urban dynamics on a daily basis.

Despite our rural history, we are now faced with the task of navigating urban networks.

The Church and Transnationalism

New ways of thinking about missiology and practicing evangelism will need to come into play for the church to embrace emerging opportunities for the advance of God’s mission. Existing paradigms are being confronted by a world constantly on the move. However, this is an amazing opportunity for launching viral movements of the gospel beyond traditional boundaries. Ministry leaders will need to incorporate strategies that extend the reach of the gospel through relational pathways both locally and globally.

Transnational citizens linking cities in a global network provide new avenues for Christian witness. Contemporary strategies for church multiplication have led to making disciples and planting new churches in the homelands of transnational migrants, but to see these sorts of stories increase, conventional church growth paradigms must face the new global realities of mobility and fluidity. The assumption that local communities can remain monolithic is short sighted in light of current global realities. Furthermore, individual believers are more mobile than we have ever encountered in history. The gap between distant places is not as great as it once was, even as the cultural gap in local settings seems larger than ever. Church models and structures will need to take such mobility and fluidity into account while grasping opportunities for a more expansive global witness. Change is a constant, and urban contexts are regularly being reconstructed. The rate of change now confronting urban missionaries is truly dizzying; however, opportunities for global evangelism shaped by transnationalism are unprecedented. Engaging contemporary contexts for mission will require the church to flourish in a networked society.

Opportunities for global evangelism shaped by transnationalism are unprecedented.

The opportunities facing the church in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere are beyond precedent. This means embracing new challenges, as well. The church will need to rediscover her identity as a missionary people. Leaders of this missionary community will need to seek the resources for equipping members to be ambassadors of Christ across cultures. Education and training once reserved for professional missionaries will become increasingly practical for those in the pew, as the basic skills of cross-cultural ministry are relevant in city and suburb alike. Furthermore, in an interconnected world, organizational structures that dichotomize domestic and foreign mission will need to reevaluate their approach to the contemporary mission field.

The opportunities of transnational evangelism emphasize both the importance of geographic context as cities form the connection points in global networks and the ability to transcend historical geographic barriers through ever increasing connectivity in a global world. Everything is changing, and there is certainly much to consider for leaders and evangelists who desire to be increasingly effective participants in God’s mission. Transnational networks present emerging opportunities for the seed of the gospel to bring transformation and hope beyond the boundaries of nation-states. More than anything else, ordinary Christians must rediscover what it is to love our culturally different neighbors as ourselves and liberally sow the seed of the gospel, knowing that the winds of globalization could carry this precious seed even to the ends of the earth.

Dr. Jared Looney is the executive director of Global City Mission Initiative (http://globalcitymission.org). Serving in NYC for 15 years, he has worked in evangelism, church planting, and teaching in multicultural communities, and has spent several years training new missionaries in NYC sent from multiple missions agencies. Jared is the author of Crossroads of the Nations: Diaspora, Globalization, and Evangelism (Urban Loft, 2015) and co-author (with Seth Bouchelle) of Mosaic: A Ministry Handbook for a Globalizing World (Urban Loft, 2017). He currently lives with his wife and daughter in Tampa, Florida.

1 Jehu Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 15.

2 Albert-László Barabási, Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 2014), 39.

3 Oscar García-Johnson, “Mission within Hybrid Cultures: Transnationality and the Glocal Church,” in The Gospel after Christendom: New Voices, New Cultures, New Expressions, ed. Ryan Bolger (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 116.

4 Gemma Tulud Cruz, “Expanding the Boundaries, Turning Borders into Spaces: Mission in the Context of Contemporary Migration,” in Mission after Christendom: Emergent Themes in Contemporary Mission, ed. Ogbu U. Kalu, Peter Vethanayagamony, and Edmund Kee-Fook Chia (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 80.

5 David Clark, Urban World, Global City, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2003), 12–13.

6 Jordi Borja and Manuel Castells, Local and Global: Management of Cities in the Information Age (London: Earthscan, 1997).

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A Descriptive Guide to Missions-Related Archival Collections in the Center for Restoration Studies

This article raises awareness of unique archival missions-related collections held in the Center for Restoration Studies at Abilene Christian University. These collections reflect a long heritage of missionary activity in the Stone-Campbell Movement (SCM) especially among Churches of Christ in the twentieth century. Historians, missiologists, and theologians will find these collections of primary source material of interest as they seek to flesh out the historical record of past mission efforts and the global scale of the SCM. The collections preserve evidence of mission strategy and method including rationale, implementation, and outcomes. This article summarizes the content of forty-eight sets of personal papers and institutional and organizational records reflecting mission activity on every inhabited continent (c. 1880s–present).

Communicating the gospel to the world has been a core theme of the Stone-Campbell Movement since its inception. The Global History underscored this theme and for the first time, in many cases, brought before the reading public a clearer “understanding of the international scope of the Stone-Campbell Movement.”1 At the same time, the literature and bibliography concerning Stone-Campbell missions is broad and deep. Locating, reading, and synthesizing these monographs and published reports in periodicals is no easy task. Historians have traditionally relied heavily upon such materials, in large measure due to the fact that they are relatively easy to locate and utilize. Archival materials, on the other hand, are unique by their very nature and, for reasons of access, are often overlooked or neglected by historians and researchers. However, they are a rich source of information: correspondence, photographs, diaries and journals, and other such materials were produced in the moment and reflect the immediacy of mission work as it was undertaken. These archival sources provide a granular scale of information that historical surveys may note or cite, if they are aware of them at all, but can rarely explore in depth or detail.

The authors of the Global History explain, “Though many [of the global manifestations of the Stone-Campbell Movement] are the outgrowth of missionary work and remain relatively small, the missiological and ecclesiological dynamics of these communities and their unique developments of Stone-Campbell identity constitute a whole new field of exploration.”2 If the Global History opens a door to further research into Stone-Campbell missions history, researchers who follow its lead will need to have a wide array of sources at their disposal. Preceding availability and access, however, is awareness.

This annotated guide, therefore, seeks to raise awareness of the missions-related holdings at Abilene Christian University in the Center for Restoration Studies and Callie Faye Milliken Special Collections. This guide describes forty-eight sets of personal papers and organizational or institutional records. In the aggregate, they document to varying degrees and in varying ways missionary activity among Churches of Christ on every continent throughout most of the last century. For reasons explained below we list them in manuscript number order using the full name of the collection which includes the span dates for the materials held in the respective collection. Annotations include notes concerning form (e.g., diaries, correspondence, photographs, newsletters, etc.) and geography (e.g., continent, country, or city) as well as chronology, which is estimated in a few cases, but as accurate as we can determine. Several collections pertain to multiple mission efforts and therefore defy simple classification by country or region. Likewise, some contain several decades worth of materials making classification by date difficult.

This annotated list complements the traditional finding aid as a tool of discovery for these archival collections. Researchers interested in in-depth exploration in any collection should consult that collection’s finding aid. Finding aids of varying levels of specificity for these collections are available online at http://digitalcommons.acu.edu/findingaids.

Four collections are not completely processed and therefore are not fully available for research at this time. Access to unprocessed archival collections is, as a rule, carefully limited if not prohibited in order to preserve the as-created original order of the materials until processing tasks are complete. However, due to the high research value of these materials, we want to call attention to their existence. Researchers should contact Mac Ice (mac.ice@acu.edu) to discuss research needs in unprocessed collections.

All of these sets of papers, with one exception (MARK Program Records), are housed in the Center for Restoration Studies. MARK records are kept in University Archives. Users desiring to conduct research in these collections need only to refer to them by name or manuscript number. All materials are located in Milliken Special Collections, lower level of Brown Library, Abilene Christian University, and are available for research in-person Mondays–Fridays, 9am–5pm (major holidays or campus closures excepted). Contact Mac Ice to arrange a research visit.

Center for Restoration Studies

MS #14 – James Lacy Lovell Papers, 1928–1990

This collection contains Lovell’s correspondence (1929–1983), specifically correspondence with missionaries in China (1928–1929), and an extensive amount of correspondence with missionaries all over the world (the bulk of which is between 1960–1980). There are many photographs, 35mm slides, and reports from missionaries. Additionally, there are copies of West Coast Christian (1938–1948) and materials related to Action and World Bible School.

MS #17 – Edward Washington McMillan Papers, 1863–1986

This collection contains correspondence and financial information regarding postwar mission work in Japan, the creation of Ibaraki Christian College, and McMillan’s work with the school (1947–1978). There is correspondence, board meeting minutes, and financial reports regarding the the Ibaraki Christian Foundation (1947–1970), as well as photographs and a scrapbook.

MS #18 – Sarah Martha Murphree Papers, 1958–2003

This collection contains correspondence to and from friends and family in the US and other Church of Christ missionaries in Germany and France during Murphree’s time as a missionary in Salzburg, Austria with Robert and Donna Skelton (1960–1962). These materials are in both English and German.

MS #19 – Thomas H. Olbricht Papers, 1934–1982

This collection contains the data from a survey regarding missionary support from US Churches of Christ designed and directed by Thomas Olbricht, George Gurganus, and Phil Elkins in 1966. The surveys and collected data provide insight into missionary support during the mid-1960s.

MS #27 – William Newton Short, Jr. Papers, 1995–1997

This collection includes Short’s narratival reflections on his time growing up in the 1940s–1950s at the Namwianga Mission in modern-day Zambia as the child of missionaries W. N. and Delia Short. The reflections include descriptions of the mission work and of the other missionaries involved in the work.

MS #47 – Howard Patrick Horton Papers, 1947–2000

Horton’s papers contain materials reflecting his wide ranging activities, especially his work in Japan, Nigeria, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The collection includes a presentation on the history of the Church of Christ in Nigeria (1956), correspondence regarding mission work in Japan, Nigeria, and Vietnam (1967–1989), and correspondence and newsletters regarding his work with orphanages in Vietnam (1967–1968). There are sets of correspondence concerning the 34th Asian Missions forum in Japan (1994–1995), a series of presentations on the Holy Spirit in the Philippines (1995), and the Fourth National Chinese Christian Conference (1986). Additionally, there is a folder of handwritten and typed sermons Horton preached in Japan, cassette tapes of Horton speaking with a Japanese interpreter, and tapes from the 16th Annual World Missions Workshop.

MS #55 – Bob Hunter Collection, 1938–1972

This collection includes photographs collected by ACU administrator Bob Hunter from an antique store in Austin, TX. The photographs were salvaged from a dumpster following the departure of the Firm Foundation Publishing House from Austin, TX. The collection includes photographs documenting mission work in Brazil, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and other countries.

MS #60 – Claude Adrian Guild Papers, 1936–2001

Guild served as a missionary in Australia. The collections includes Guild’s sermon outlines, bound notes from graduate school, scrapbooks, and cassette tapes.

MS #67 – John F. Wolfe Papers, 1939–2001

This collection includes correspondence with Mexican preachers in both English and Spanish (1939–1984) and correspondence with other missionaries and financial supporters (1940–1983). Additionally, there are copies of Latin American Christian (1940–1941), Reports of the Mexican Mission (1944–1979), and approximately 650 photographs.

MS #79 – Mac Lynn Collection, 1980–2005

This collection includes two and a half boxes of correspondence, newsletters, and newspaper clippings regarding mission work in over one hundred countries (1980–2000). Additionally, there are files on churches in the US, some of which contain information related to mission work (e.g., financial support). Lynn collected these materials in the course of preparing Churches of Christ around the World: Exclusive of the United States and Her Territories (1990 and 2003 editions).

MS #81 – George S. Benson Papers, 1972–1978

This collection contains correspondence between Benson, financial supporters of the mission work, and those working at Namwianga Christian Secondary School. Additionally, there are a few drafts of the Kalomo Reporter and information from the 1977 Zambia Board meeting.

MS #90 – Jacob Vincent Papers, 1959–1996

This collection includes correspondence among the missionaries regarding preparation for their work in Argentina beginning in 1972. There are team meeting minutes (1973–1987), reports (1973–1985), and copies of the Vincents’ newsletters (1973–1986), the Maynards’ newsletters (1978–1979), La Hermandad (1975–1978), Boletin Cristiano (1978–1986), and Focus on Buenos Aires (1991–1996). The collection also includes materials related to the history of the Churches of Christ in Argentina before 1972, information concerning the Tucuman Mission (1981–1985), and Bible class teaching notes and handouts in Spanish.

MS #91 – Global Campaigns (Abilene, TX) Records, 1981–1994

This collection includes the financial records of Global Campaigns, a precursor to ACU’s current World Wide Witness Program. Global Campaigns focused on short-term mission work, mainly in South America, and the financial support was overseen by the elders of Minter Lane Church of Christ (Abilene, TX).

MS #95 – Douglas LeCroy Papers, 1908–1990

Most of this collection is composed of materials related to LeCroy’s teaching in the US following his mission work in the Philippines. However, there is one folder related to Philippine mission work. The folder includes lessons taught by LeCroy (1962), legal documents registering the “CHURCH OF CHRIST (New Testament) IN THE PHILIPPINES, INC.” with the Philippine government (1966), a pamphlet from the Philippine Annual Lectureship of the Churches of Christ (1976), a list of all of the Church of Christ missionaries that had served in the Philippines as of 1979, and a couple of newsletters and bulletins from 1981. Additionally, there is a copy of “Neo-Conservatism in Australia” by David Roper (Macquarie School of Preaching, 1975).

MS #123 – Charlie Marler Papers, 1963-2013

This collection includes correspondence (1966–1967), newsletters (1966–1967), photos, pamphlets, newspaper and periodical clippings, and preparation and project proposals related to the Megalopolis project. The project was a joint effort of the Newark Church of Christ (Newark, DE) and the College Church of Christ (Abilene, TX). The goal of this exodus effort was to advance the Church of Christ by moving families to Newark, DE. Additionally, the collection includes correspondence, elders’ meeting minutes, and budgets regarding University Church of Christ (Abilene, TX) mission work (2001–2013).

MS #125 – Stephen Shaffer Collection, 1965–2003

This collection is the result of Shaffer’s research concerning the Exodus/Rochester mission effort. It includes copies of correspondence (1966–1967), newsletters (1966–1967), meeting minutes, and Southside Church (Rochester, NY) newsletters (1967–1969). Additionally, the collection includes Shaffer’s correspondence and an email interview with W. David Young (2003), other correspondence, and Shaffer’s research notes.

MS #154 – Clyde Neal Austin Papers, 1962–2007

This collection includes Austin’s notes and files on missionary training, mentorship, missionary team building, evaluation, furloughs, conflict resolution, culture shock, acculturation, cross-cultural communication, mental health, stress, missionary kids, familial relationships, and re-entry care for missionaries. These files include journal articles, surveys, reports, research, and workshop materials. Additionally, the last box contains interviews, newsletters, and other materials related to the Megalopolis/Exodus Movement (1962–1967; 2007).

MS #164 – Otis Gatewood Papers, 1900–1999

This collection contains Gatewood’s correspondence (1939–1999), financial reports (1947–1988), copies of Irene Johnson Gatewood’s newsletters (1966–1989), and copies of newsletters from over 25 countries. Correspondence, drafts and edited articles, legal documents, and photos reflect Gatewood’s work as editor of Contact (1954–1988). There is also correspondence, financial information, reports concerning the Iron Curtain Nations Mission Program (1963–1969), reports on mission efforts in the Soviet Union and Russia (1957–1997), and correspondence related to mission work in India (1966–1969). Additionally, there is correspondence, faculty meeting minutes, class information, financial information, advertising, and brochures related to European Christian College (1978–1999).

MS #169 – University Church of Christ (Abilene, TX) Records, 1903–1987

This collection contains correspondence and newsletters from missionaries in Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, Australia, and various locations in the US (1949–1965), and from missionaries in Mexico and Guatemala (1971–1974). There are meeting minutes from the University Church of Christ Missions Committee (1964–1974), the World Evangelism Committee (1981–1982), the Argentina Subcommittee (1984–1987), and a Missions Committee self study (1974). Additionally, there are Argentina Mission Team meeting minutes, correspondence, reports, and financial information (1970–1989), and a 35mm slide presentation on Argentina (1979).

MS #180 – Fred Asare Collection, 1959–2011

This collection includes a scanned copy of a 24-page document that describes the early Church of Christ mission efforts in Ghana to plant churches and train native evangelists. The document also includes reports from Nigerian evangelists, lists of contacts, and copies of letters to Wendell Broom and Sewell Hall. Additionally, there are scanned copies of Celebrating Four Decades of Restoration of New Testament Christianity in Ghana, and The Church of Christ in Ghana: Where Did We Come From and Where Are We Going? Both of these texts provide information about the history of Church of Christ mission work in Ghana.

MS #211 – West Islip Church of Christ (Long Island, NY) Records, 1962–2002

West Islip Church of Christ began due to the efforts of the Exodus/Bayshore movement. This collection includes correspondence, meeting minutes, financial information, Bible class materials, materials related to Faith Corps, and materials used in preparation for moving to New York (1962–1971). There are Exodus Milestones Bulletins (1963–1967), and twenty-four 16mm audio reels. Additionally, there is a body of historical research, in the form of email interviews, conducted by Richard Goode documenting the history of the West Islip congregation (1998–2002).

MS #221 – Douglas A. Foster Papers, 2004–2014

This collection contains materials regarding production of The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement and The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History. Both of these works discuss and describe aspects of Stone-Campbell missionary history and methods. Therefore, the background materials used for these works may prove to be helpful or insightful for those interested in writing about Stone-Campbell missionary work. Some portions of this set of materials is restricted. Scholars wishing to research in them should contact Special Collections staff and Dr. Foster for permission to access these documents.

MS #224 – Joe L. Cannon Papers, 1941–2012

This collection includes the Cannons’ newsletters from Papua New Guinea (1971–1979) and newsletters from a number of other missionaries in Papua New Guinea (1980–1997). There are Papua New Guinea coordination meeting minutes (1971–1977), information about the Papua New Guinea Forum (1980–1996), correspondence regarding Papua New Guinea (1984–1997), and lessons and songs in the native languages. The collection also includes financial records from Japan (1968–1970), newsletters (1991–1999), and information about Ibaraki Christian College. Additionally, there are newsletters, photos, correspondence, applications, teaching materials, and meeting minutes from the Mission/1000 program (1983–1999), and correspondence and newsletter from students trained at Mission/1000.

MS #230 – James Walton Shepherd Papers, 1881–2002

This collection includes some of the earliest extant primary-source materials generated by missionaries among those congregations who did not work through missionary societies or employ instrumental music in worship. Shepherd’s journals document his mission to Australia and New Zealand (1889–1891).

MS #239 – William Reeves Papers, 1960–1970

This collection includes some correspondence between Reeves and J. C. Choate before Reeves entered the mission field, and correspondence with others while in Hong Kong (1963–1970). Additionally, there are copies of Hong Kong Kall (1964–1970) and Hong Kong News (1966).

MS #252 – Donelson Church of Christ (Nashville, TN) Records, 1981–2007

Box 9 of this collection contains material related to Haitian minister Wesner Pierre. The Donelson Missions Committee had to make a decision regarding Pierre’s financial support after they found out that he was a supporter of the Duvalier dictatorship. The documents in the collection include an annual financial statement (December 31, 1981), a scanned copy of an analysis of whether or not to support Pierre financially, a review of Pierre’s mission work, and two letters from Pierre (August 12, 1995; June 10, 1997).

MS #261 – Richard F. Baggett Papers, 1952

This collection contains two typed reports from Baggett describing gospel meetings, Baggett’s first Japanese sermon without an interpreter, classes at Ibaraki Christian College, questions from Communists, and accusations of premillennialism.

MS #267 – Ellen Kramar Banks Papers, 1971–1983

This collection includes correspondence, term papers, journal articles, bibliographies, and notes regarding preparation for medical mission work. Additionally, there is information regarding the history of medical mission work among Churches of Christ, specifically in Bangladesh (1974–1980), and in Argentina, Cameroon, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

MS #268 – Shawn & Linda Tyler Papers, 1991–2003

This collection includes reports, letters, and copies of emails regarding the Tylers’ mission work in Uganda, and a few copies of Mbale Messenger (1995–2005). Additionally, there are copies of newsletters including Kalomo Reporter (1996–2001), Focus on Buenos Aires (1993–1997), and The Nealeigh’s Newsletter from Curitiba, Brasil (1991–2003).

MS #271 – Thomas W. Rogers Papers, 1962–1985

This collection includes correspondence, newsletters, and financial information related to mission work in Korea (1962–1968) sponsored by the Otter Creek Church of Christ (Nashville, TN). The materials remain in the order in which Rogers organized them.

MS #284 – Ted Presley Papers, 1971–1986

This collection includes detailed information regarding the preparation of the 1972 Argentina Team. Additionally, there are 1972 Argentina Team meeting minutes (1972–1977; 1981–1982), and newsletters regarding Church of Christ mission work in Argentina, including Abel-Vincent Report, Christ for Cordoba, Mitchell Family Report, and Pata’s Report from Argentina.

MS #299 – Slavic World for Christ (Abilene, TX) Records, 1974–2004

This collection is composed of financial information, including ledger printouts, bank statements, and tax documents. Additionally, there are VHS tapes, audio cassettes of sermons by Epifanius Stephan Bilak, and 35mm slides.

MS #302 – Epifanius Stephan Bilak Papers, 1974–1991

This collection contains about two hundred cassettes, and thirty-four 16mm audio reels of the “Messenger of Truth” and other recordings related to biblical topics in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. Bilak broadcasted these radio programs from Lausanne, Switzerland.

MS #305 – Herald of Truth (Abilene, TX) Records, 1948–2014

Material in this collection related to Church of Christ mission work includes correspondence with Juan Monroy in English and Spanish (1968–1999) and correspondence regarding radio programs in various international settings. There are materials related to radio evangelism workshops and radio and television programs in Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. Additionally, there is material concerning the La Busqueda program in Spanish and English, including drafts, final manuscripts, and correspondence (1971–1973), and photographs from mission trips (e.g., medical mission trips and disaster relief trips) associated with the Herald of Truth (1990–2012).

MS #319 – Jerry Hill Papers, 1959–2014

This collection contains correspondence between Hill, supporting churches, and other missionaries. There are materials related to missionary preparation and leadership training by extension. The collection also includes typed lectures, class notes, and handouts related to Bible correspondence courses. Additionally, there are newsletters related to mission work in Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. These materials are in both English and Spanish.

MS #322 – Kent & Amber Brantly Papers, 2010–2016

This collection contains the journal that Kent Brantly used until he learned that he contracted Ebola during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Additionally, this collection includes a number of awards and letters received by the Brantlys during and following Kent’s recovery from Ebola, magazines featuring interviews with Kent and Amber, and photographs of the Brantlys.

MS #330 – D. Dewayne & Ella Jane Davenport Papers, 1955–2005

This collection contains materials related to the Davenports’ mission work in Ghana and Tanzania. These materials include correspondence, financial information, The Ghana Report (1961–1967), information concerning Ghana Bible College, radio log books, and photographs and 35mm slides. Additionally, there is material related to Davenport’s editorial and publishing work with Mission Studies Quarterly.

MS #347 – William James & Clara Bishop Papers, 1901–1969

This collection includes correspondence between Clara Bishop, Clarence G. Vincent, and John Moody McCaleb following William’s death in 1913. The collection also includes excerpts from letters written by William Bishop (1901–1913), which have been edited by his daughter, Mary Bishop Arledge, copies of Japan Missionary (1904–1906), and clippings from periodicals regarding the Japanese mission work. Lastly, there is a copy of Yunosuke Hiratsuka’s History of the Church in Japan (May 20, 1952), and photos of the missionaries and church members.

MS #374 – European Christian College / International Christian University (Vienna, Austria / Abilene, TX) Records, 1987–1996

This collection contains President’s Reports, bulletins, board of trustees meeting reports, and records related to those who financially supported the school. Additionally, there are lists and materials related to Callie Faye Milliken’s efforts to assist in developing the school’s library.

MS #376 – Don & Audrey Gardner Papers, 1993–1995

This collection contains two journals written by the Gardners during their travels to Japan and Austria. The first journal recounts their travels in Japan and interest in recruiting Japanese students to Cascade College (Portland, OR). The second journal describes their visit to the International Christian College in Vienna, Austria, and to the school’s work in Prague, Czech Republic, and Kiev, Ukraine.

MS #389 – William Douglass & Charline Gunselman Papers, 1943–2009

The Gunselmans were instrumental in creating and directing the Philippine Bible College of Quezon City. This collection contains correspondence with family, students, other missionaries, and financial supporters (1960–1972), school and student records, (1965–1971), and the Gunselman Philippine Mission News (1964–1971). Additionally, there are research materials related to Gunselman’s EdD dissertation, “Status of the Ten Evangelical Bible Colleges in the Philippines with a Proposed Program for their Improvement” (1971), which he completed at Manuel L. Quezon University in Manila.

MS #436 – David R. Mickey Papers, 1959–2001

This collection includes team planning and preparation materials, including collections of articles, papers, outlines, and studies on mission methods, denominations, and Roman Catholicism. There are 1972 Argentina Team steering committee meeting minutes (1961–1968), São Paulo News Samplings (1969–1977), and a number of evangelistic articles authored by members of the mission team published in Portuguese in local newspapers (1962–1963). Additionally, there are bound copies of periodicals including Mulher Cristã (Christian Woman) in Portuguese (1966–1972), South American Soldier (1957–1958), Brazilian Evangelist (1959–1971), and Inside Brazil (1972–1979). Mickey maintained lists of baptisms, information on supporting churches and people who visited, and Bible correspondence courses conducted in Portuguese.

MS #450 – Burl Edward Davis Papers, 1954–1989

This collection includes Religious Research Reports prepared on behalf of Abilene Christian University’s Communication Research Center. Many of these reports are related to the use of media in mission work and the effectiveness of the Herald of Truth broadcasting. A few concern the use of Telugu Bible translations in India. The collection also includes meeting minutes, correspondence, and financial information regarding World Christian Broadcasting Corporation (1977–1986). Additionally, there are many Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty Reports.

Center for Restoration Studies — Unprocessed

The following collections are currently unprocessed or partially processed and therefore are generally restricted from research use. Please direct inquiries regarding use of these collections to Mac Ice (mac.ice@acu.edu).

MS #222 – Kathryn Lucile Patton Papers, ca. 1940s–1950s

Patton served as a secretary to Otis Gatewood in Germany (1947–1958).

MS #236 – Wendell Broom Papers, ca. 1950s–1990s

This collection contains correspondence, 35mm slides, photographs, and financial information concerning Broom’s mission work in Africa.

MS #454 – L. Haven Miller Papers, ca. 1930s–1980s

This collection includes correspondence in English and Spanish and many photographs related to Miller’s mission work in Mexico and Central America.

MS #455 – Gailyn Van Rheenen Papers, ca. 1970s–2010s

This collection includes sermons, artifacts, and other materials from Van Rheenen’s mission work in Africa.

University Archives

U 2010.030 – MARK Program Records, 1976–1994

The Missionary Apprenticeship Resource Korps (MARK) trained and oriented students sent by local congregations to assist long-term missionaries on the field. This collection includes application forms and photos of applicants for the MARK Program. Additionally, there is correspondence from MARK apprentices to Wendell Broom and Gaston D. Tarbet, newsletters and financial information regarding the apprentices’ mission work, and evaluations of the apprentices who participated in the MARK Program. Personality and vocation tests, health records, and other personal information are restricted and unavailable for research.

Brady Kal Cox is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University, and he works as the Processing Supervisor in the Center for Restoration Studies. His main research interests include twentieth-century Stone-Campbell mission work and the development of preaching schools and missionary training programs within the Stone-Campbell Movement.

McGarvey Ice has served in Stone-Campbell archives for over ten years, first as Director of Research Services at Disciples of Christ Historical Society (Nashville, TN) from 2006 to 2010 and since 2013 at Abilene Christian University. Among his research interests in SCM history are its hymnody, theological bibliography, history of biblical studies, and its congregations in Nashville, TN. He has published in Christian History, Restoration Quarterly, and Tennessee Baptist History, and has presented papers and workshops on SCM history, archival studies, and local history and genealogy. He is Associate Editor of Restoration Quarterly.

1 D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds., The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis, MO: Chalice, 2013), 7.

2 Ibid.

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Review of Steve Fortosis, The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation

Steve Fortosis. The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2012. 205 pp. Paperback. $13.99.

In this work, Steve Fortosis, who has no real expertise in the field of Bible translation (xi), has collected stories of the joys and the difficulties of translating Scripture from the original languages into various receptor languages. He recounts stories of the ridiculous, the incredulous, the heretical, and the humorous that translators encounter in the tedious process of Bible translation.

After his introduction, the author divides his collected tales into sixteen topical chapters followed by an epilogue that promises “nuts and bolts” of Bible translations. The book closes with a bibliography and two indices, one for content and the other for Scripture references. The book’s major contribution is the stories it culls from published sources. The use of actual field reports of Bible translators is rare, but the author does include some private correspondence with Bible translators among his sources. Because he lacks training in Bible translation, all stories are secondhand and lack a sense of immediacy at times.

As a translation consultant, I value Fortosis’s stories about the difficulty and challenges of Bible translation. Even the move from ancient Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek into English requires great skill, though there is a long history of English translation. Bible translators who move from the original languages of the Bible to a receptor language where no written system of symbols exist, therefore, deserve our admiration and support.

Most the author’s stories revolve around the reality that Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic concepts are not readily available in a receptor language. This gap sends the translator on a mission to discover how the idea might be conveyed in the receptor language. Eventually, the translator makes some accidental discovery in the use of the receptor language that gives them a way to say what had eluded them. These stories have the possibility of firing the imagination of would-be missionaries and translators and, for this reason, I commend Fortosis for collecting and organizing stories that might inspire others to become missionaries as Bible translators.

Fortosis, however, works out of his league when relating the actual practice of Bible translation, especially in his epilogue. Here the author makes unsubstantiated claims, such as those regarding Roger Bacon’s role in purifying “corrupted text by emphasizing an intimate knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew” (164). While not to understate the importance of Bacon, his primary concern was with Latin and the Vulgate, particularly. Consequently, Bacon is not mentioned in two standard works on textual criticism of the New Testament.

The author makes some wide-ranging statements about tendencies or inclinations one might find in Bible translators, such as the temptation to “improve” or fit a translation to one’s theological convictions (165), or assume “they understand the theology of the Bible better than most” (166). These and other similar comments lend themselves to anti-intellectualism (see, e.g., 178) from which the author speaks at times with an unwarranted certitude. For instance, he speaks of “adding and subtracting nonnegotiables from the Scriptures” (163), that the “word of God must be readily understood” (168), and of “doctrinal consistency” (169), though, “totally accurate transference of meaning in translation is impossible” (169). In claiming that “only half of one percent of its content is in question,” to cite another example, the author hides the complexity involved in the text-critical work involved in sorting through the many variants in the transmission of the Greek New Testament. Citing an apologist rather than a textual critic does not strengthen his case.

More problematic, to me, is the author’s final sweeping jab at “liberal Bible translators” (182), though he never names them or cites sources. The false dichotomy between conservative and liberal (particularly in the area of translation work) hinders the quest for best practices in Bible translation by dismissing cavalierly those with whom he might disagree. In the end, readers should enjoy the stories but go elsewhere for theory and practice.

Stanley N. Helton

President/Professor of New Testament

Alberta Bible College

Alberta, Canada

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The Global Status of Churches of Christ

Churches of Christ exist on every continent and in most countries of the world. But how many congregations are there in the various nations and how many Christians comprise those congregations? Further, what ministries are these churches performing? And how might the answers to these questions impact the church’s strategy for the future? This article seeks to discover the answers to these questions.

Global is a small word with gargantuan dimensions. Any attempt, no matter how earnest, to wrap one’s arms around the global status of Churches of Christ is doomed to fall short. So let us establish some caveats from the beginning. First, this article does not include the status of Churches of Christ in the United States or Canada.

Second, this is, at best, only a partial record of what God continues to do through his people, many of whom will remain unknown by us. Third, though every precaution was taken to insure reliable statistics, the lack of a centralized reporting agency with mandatory reporting requirements makes it almost impossible to discover precise statistics.

Complicating matters even more is the absence of a standard definition of what constitutes a congregation. Is it two people? Four people? Or a minimum of five adults from at least two families who meet regularly for worship and have some form of outreach?

Even if we have accurate records, however, it is no guarantee that the Holy Spirit is present in the numbers. Our statistics cannot contain him. Our best efforts cannot control him. Our scientific analyses cannot measure what he accomplishes. We can only get a sense, as if looking through a mirror darkly, of the size and spiritual maturity of churches around the world. But where this article cites statistics, it does so using the most reliable estimates available and almost always lists their sources.

And here are two more stipulations. This article uses Church of Christ and Churches of Christ, with capitals to distinguish our tradition from other Christian groups who at times refer to themselves as churches of Christ. This article also employs the terms America and American to refer to the United States and its residents, respectfully acknowledging that people in Canada, Mexico, as well as Central and South America are also Americans.

Methodology

This study is based on a 2015 survey of missionaries on the field, correspondence with missionaries and leading national Christians from around the world, and the extensive files I have maintained since the 1960s on the growth of Churches of Christ worldwide. In addition, this article utilizes available literature, including websites and missionary blogs.

This study is divided by continents or large geographical areas such as the South Pacific and the Caribbean. The early work on each continent or area is briefly described, followed by an overview of representative countries on that continent.1 Next are a brief analysis of the challenges and strengths perceived for the churches there, strategic insights for missions, and, finally, a “Looking Ahead” section, which is my brief personal prognosis for Churches of Christ in that particular part of the world.

Finally, the report ends with a conclusion and a bibliography.

Africa

Africa is a diverse continent with 55 nations and 918 languages spoken by 2,000 people groups. Africa is large, three times the size of the United States, including Alaska, and has a population of 1.2 billion people. It is also receptive to the message of Christ. Researchers at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, under the direction of missions statistician Todd Johnson, stated: “Africa experienced the greatest religious change of any continent over the twentieth century. . . . In 1910, only 9% of Africa’s population was Christian. By 1970 Africa’s Christian percentage had risen to 38.7%, many of whom were converts . . . in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2010 the Christian percentage was 48.3%, and by 2020 it is expected to reach 49.3%.”2 African minister Isaac Daye agrees, “Africa is religious. It’s in our genes.”3

Churches of Christ have been active in Africa for 120 years. Because of the faithful service of pioneer missionaries and those who followed, and especially because of the sacrifices and ardent work of thousands of faithful African evangelists, Churches of Christ have experienced unusual success in Africa.4

The number of members, as seen in Figure 1, has climbed steeply from about twenty thousand in 1950 to at least one million in 2015.5 The five countries with the largest church memberships shown in Table 1 represent 82 percent of the total membership in all of Africa.


Figure 1: Membership Growth in African Churches of Christ

Most of the early missionaries to the African continent through the 1940s settled and served in Southern Africa, which today consists of nearly 7,000 congregations and 350,000 members. Malawi, with 4,100 congregations and 205,000 members in 2002, reportedly had the highest concentration of members per capita (1:80) of any nation in the world.

Table 1: African Nations with the Largest Church of Christ Membership

Nation

Members

Nigeria

322,000

Malawi

205,000

Ghana

100,000

Kenya

80,000

Zimbabwe

76,941

Ethiopia

69,100

Total

783,941

Zambia

Churches of Christ began their mission work in Zambia about 1920 when the country was still known as Northern Rhodesia and missionaries started making preaching trips from Zimbabwe across the Zambezi River to Zambia.6  Early missionaries who moved to Zambia launched mission sites, converted thousands, established numerous congregations throughout the country, and started schools. Most of the leaders in the church and many leaders in the country received their training at these schools.7

There were 211 congregations across Zambia in 1990 but that mushroomed to 1,300 churches in 2015.8 Most of these new churches were planted by Zambian Christians.

South Africa

The situation is markedly different in South Africa, where little church growth has occurred in past decades. A 2002 report showed only 25 congregations and 700 members in the country.9 The Seiso Street Church of Christ in Pretoria is exceptional because its elders provide strong leadership and have created a climate for evangelism. In a discussion with Sam Shewmaker on April 11, 2016, just days after his return from South Africa, he reported that the Seiso Street church had trained 17 small teams to initiate disciple-making movements in South Africa and had established four new congregations in the last 18 months. Several from the congregation have also made trips to Swaziland to provide leadership training and travel regularly to preach and teach in India.

Kenya

Kenya has been quite receptive to the message of Christ and today hosts 2,000 congregations.10 During the 1970s and 1980s numerous church planting teams from Churches of Christ were scattered across tribal Kenya. At one point 60 missionaries from Churches of Christ were serving there, more than any other nation.

Gailyn Van Rheenen, who ministered in Kenya among the Kipsigis with his wife, Becky, and their teammates, wrote: “When we left the Kipsigis area of Kenya, where we ministered for thirteen years, there were 100 churches. Today there are 450! This growth has not simply been numerical. These churches have also grown spiritually—using disciple-making and mission to form new communities and growing existing ones.”11

One reason the Kipsigis churches continued to grow is because mission teams did not simply plant churches; they nurtured them to maturity. Their model necessitated the church planter role to conform to the maturation stage of the congregation. Roles shifted from evangelist to disciple-maker to leadership equipper and, finally, to guest teacher who exhorts, encourages, and strengthens when visiting.12 It is a model that can be adapted to rural and tribal areas worldwide as well as to certain urban contexts.

There is a difference between merely starting churches and establishing churches. Churches that are only started often cease to exist within a few years, but churches that are established, that are taken to maturity, generally continue for generations.

North Africa

For security reasons country-specific statistics for this region are not included here, but the aggregate estimates show that there are at least 21 congregations and 716 members in North Africa. Believers in this area often face persecution, imprisonment, or even death if they are found guilty of converting others.

One North African country is home to five congregations and approximately 180 members. An anonymous evangelist there recently reported that over the years he has witnessed more than 1,000 baptisms, but that economics have produced a transient population, making it difficult to keep up with all of the converts.13

Challenges for the African Church

Some people believe the doors to Muslim North Africa are closed to Christians. But to those who believe in a powerful God, not all closed doors are really closed. Churches of Christ need to develop creative-access strategies for the resistant nations of North Africa, or as Woodberry suggests, we need to learn how to build bridges over the barriers to these nations.14

Another challenge facing the African church is the number of preachers who have a thirst for power. They are fomenting a spirit of bitter division to the detriment of the church. One African said, “Each partisan group belonging to one or the other leader of a congregation” is fighting for control and has created an atmosphere of misunderstanding, discouragement, and even hatred among brothers and sisters in Christ.15 Commenting on this kind of divisiveness, Erik Tryggestad wrote: “The lack of unity frustrates young preachers, including Nyasulu, who came to Namikango Mission [in Malawi, BW] from the northern city of Rumphi, where he works with a Bible institute. ‘There is lots of division here. . . . I think the main problem is pride and leadership issues.’ ”16

Nine years earlier Joy McMillon recorded Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah’s thoughts about the divisions North Americans have exported to Africa: “Teachers from churches of Christ come here and say, ‘Do this or don’t do this, or we won’t fellowship with you.’ They are causing splits within our churches. Give Africans the tools they need for Bible study; train them, but allow them to make their own decisions. The African church should not have to be a reflection of either conservative or liberal churches of Christ in America; we should be a reflection of Christ in Africa.”17

These words should not be taken lightly, for Twumasi-Ankrah is the highly respected principal of Heritage Christian College in Accra, Ghana, and the preaching minister for the fourteen hundred-member Nsawam Road Church of Christ in that city.

An additional challenge facing the African church, as well as in many areas of the world, is an unhealthy dependence on financial support from the United States. An extreme example occurred when indigenous preachers in Mali became jealous of the “very good living conditions” of the foreign missionaries and attempted to get rid of them so they could receive their support. When that failed, they tried to sabotage the work, “arguing that if no result is achieved, then the sponsors would terminate their contract with the missionaries.”18 In this case, the foreign missionaries were Ghanaians, not Americans, sent to Mali by the Nsawam Road church in Accra, who also had set the modest salary of the workers.

Dennis Okoth, the respected principal of Messiah Theological Institute in Mbale, Uganda, gently encourages his African brothers not to become mesmerized by the thought of foreign subsidy. While funding from whatever source can bless Christian ministry, he responds, “I have seen the dignity of many African Christians destroyed when they became dependent on foreign support.” He concludes by saying, “it is time we say ‘no’ to financial arrangements that could be working against us—both the beneficiaries and the donors. We must stand up for the right, even if we stand alone.”19

Strengths of the African Church

Sub-Saharan Africa has been more receptive than most other places in the world, and our roots there run deep into history—120 years deep. Likely for these two reasons, we see a more developed infrastructure in Africa than in most other continents. One example is the strong network of schools that train our preachers and church leaders. There are likely more Church of Christ schools, colleges, and universities in Africa than in the rest of the world combined.20

There is also an abundance of humanitarian ministries operated by Churches of Christ in Africa. International Health Care Foundation, formerly African Christian Hospitals, facilitates hospitals and clinics in Nigeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. The Indiana-based Malawi Project serves the people of Malawi by providing drought relief, medicines, and medical equipment to hospitals throughout the nation.

Numerous orphanages, especially for children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS, are active in all parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Healing Hands International (Nashville, TN) serves in many African nations, and around the world, providing clean water, agricultural training, disaster relief, medical care, and other services.

World Bible School (WBS) has played a crucial role in African missions. John Reese, director of WBS, in an e-mail to me on November 24, 2015, wrote: “World Bible School (WBS) has impacted virtually every country on the planet with its Bible correspondence courses and online studies. But nowhere has that been more evident than in Africa. We can easily say that well over 500,000 students are recent or current WBS students in the nation of Zimbabwe, approaching 1 in 20 in that population. Other countries in the top tier of enrollments are Malawi, Nigeria and Ghana.”21

Yet another strength in African missions is the strategic international partnerships occurring there, partnerships among equals that are based on mutual respect. One example is the partnership between the elders of the Nsawam Road Church of Christ in Accra, Ghana, and the elders of the North Boulevard Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to send a team of Ghanaian evangelists selected and overseen by the Nsawam Road elders to plant churches in Mali.22 The first church in Mali was established in 1999 and has increased to nine congregations with more than 200 total members.

In addition, Louisiana-based World Radio sponsors more than 50 daily or weekly broadcasts in Africa. World Christian Broadcasting of Franklin, Tennessee, dedicated in 2016 their station on Madagascar, a large island off the east coast of mainland Africa. Madagascar World Voice programming reaches all of Africa and beyond.

The Africans Claiming Africa (ACA) movement, spearheaded by African Christian leaders and a few missionary counterparts, has been one of the most important watersheds in African missions. ACA began in April 1992 when 160 African church leaders and a few US missionaries met for 10 days to determine the state of the African church and expand their vision for the unfinished task. It was a Day of Pentecost experience for African leaders who were asked to take the lead in African missions. The group has continued to meet every four years.

The evangelistic fervor of everyday Christians is one of the great strengths of the African church. Evangelists in countries like Ghana and Liberia are developing ten-year plans, complete with maps and diagrams, to evangelize their countries. An evangelistic association in Ghana, Africa Mission Network, has set a goal to plant churches throughout French-speaking Africa.

Looking Ahead

Like the team that worked with Gailyn among the Kipsigis, church planting teams have gone to other people groups in Kenya, Tanzania, and a host of other African countries. They and their African converts have developed movements of reproducing churches that now number in the thousands. The dedication and spiritual maturity of these congregations portend a bright future for Churches of Christ in many places across the African continent.

Asia

Asia is home to the world’s largest cities and sixty percent of earth’s inhabitants. Its population is primarily devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, while Jesus and the God of the Bible are mostly unknown. Yet Protestant missionaries have been working in Asia for more than three centuries.

Researchers state that East Asia has experienced the greatest Christian growth of any region in Asia. Christian percentages rose from 1.2 percent of the population in 1970 to 8.1 percent in 2010, with projected growth to 10.5 percent by 2020. Much of this growth has been in China—from 0.1 percent of the population in 1970 to 7.3 percent (106 million Christians) in 2010.23

Table 2: Average Congregational Size for Asia’s Ten Nations with the Largest Church of Christ Membership

Nation

Churches

Members

Average Size

India

48,880

1,139,562

23

The Philippines

700

40,000

57

South Korea

123

6,000

49

Nepal

600

4,800

8

Thailand

150

2,500

17

Bangladesh

90

1,750

19

Indonesia

51

1,651

32

Japan

53

1,050

20

Cambodia

70

360

5

Vietnam

11

350

32

Totals

50,728

1,197,673

26 Avg.

Israel

Since Christianity began in a Jewish cradle, it was fitting that the first missionary to Asia from Churches of Christ was James T. Barclay, a physician, who was sent with his family by the American Christian Missionary Society to Jerusalem, arriving there on February 10, 1851. Three years later, discouraged by opposition and only 22 converts, Barclay returned to the US, thus ending our early mission to Asia.

Missionaries reentered Israel in 1960, more than 100 years later. They established churches and founded Galilee Christian High School. Joe Shulam, an early convert, planted additional congregations and established Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry.24 The Jerusalem Church of Christ is a multicultural congregation of Israeli, Palestinian-Arab, Russian, Armenian, and American backgrounds. The Nazareth congregation, consisting primarily of Palestinian Christians, have had a Palestinian preacher for more than 30 years and ordained elders in 2010, becoming the first congregation in the Middle East to do so.25

Cambodia

The first American from Churches of Christ to plant churches in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country was Ted Lindgren, a missionary to Thailand who made periodic trips to northeast Cambodia in the late 1980s.

In 1998 Bob Berard moved to Phnom Penh and asked Bill McDonough, director of Arkansas-based Partners in Progress (PIP) to help him evangelize the country. McDonough said when he visited Cambodia in 2000 there was only one congregation in the country but a world of receptivity.26 When Bill and Marie-Claire moved to Phnom Penh in 2003, Bill and Berard traveled up the Mekong River to meet a group of 100 Muslims who wanted to study the Bible. “After an all-day class . . . thirty-five went to the river to be baptized.”27 Less than five months later, Berard was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident.

Humanitarian services provided by PIP played a pivotal role in opening the region to the gospel of Christ. PIP’s Ship of Life, launched in 2006, provides medical care to 120 patients daily along the Mekong River. The ministry also maintains feeding stations in remote villages for 1,200 of Cambodia’s undernourished children.

Ample Bible training is provided by three training schools for preachers. Cambodia Bible Institute in Phnom Penh begun by Bob Berard became a branch school of Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas. Rich and Rhonda Dolan direct the school with assistance from Dennis and Sharon Welch.

In 2008 Bear Valley Bible Institute (Denver, CO) established the International Bible Institute of Siem Reap in Cambodia’s second largest city. The school’s first graduating class was in 2010, consisting of 14 young men and women.

Sokhom Hun and Mike Meirhofer, pulpit minister for the Walnut Hill Church of Christ (Dallas, TX) established Cambodia Bible School on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Hun, who lost sixteen members of his family to the killing fields of Cambodia, directs the school. In addition to teaching Bible, plans are underway to also train students to support themselves in agriculture or skilled trades such as welding and mechanics. Students and graduates of all three schools engage in preaching and have started more than 40 congregations across the country.

Rich Dolan reported there are seven young churches in Phnom Penh averaging 34 in attendance.28 Figure 2 shows the increase of congregations from 2001 to 2015.29


Figure 2: Growth in Number of Cambodian Congregations

Churches of Christ in Cambodia are relatively young, dating only to 2000 when the first congregation was established, which means that all of the members in Cambodia are first generation Christians. Furthermore, because many congregations in the villages have only 3–20 adult members, they may become discouraged and revert to their former faith unless a network of informal training is initiated.

An approach that may be helpful is Leadership Training by Extension (LTE). This model sends the teachers to the villagers rather than expecting the villagers to come to the teachers. It also reaches the actual church leaders in the villages, always older, experienced people, empowering them to lead effectively. Missionaries in Guatemala in the 1970s had 165 such church leaders in a weekly LTE training program called Hombres Fieles (Faithful Men), based on 2 Timothy 2:2.

Nepal

Nepal, a poor country of 28 million inhabitants, is an example of a country that has never had a full-time trained missionary. Dr. Jerry Golphenee, a self-supported dentist, and his wife Judy moved to Kathmandu in 1996. He recently reported that Nepal had only five congregations in 1987 but now is home to 600 congregations of the Churches of Christ.30 Golphenee added, “Most of the congregations are small in number and meet in private homes. A large congregation would be around 35. Some may only have three to six members.”31 Calculating an approximate average of eight members per church would mean that Churches of Christ have roughly 4,800 fellow believers in Nepal.

Bear Valley Bible Institute opened its Nepal Center for Biblical Studies in 2010 with seven men who had been Christians for 3–16 years. The students attend classes during the week and on the weekends they help local congregations by teaching classes, preaching, and helping the churches develop outreach ministries. The Nepal Center is preparing their students to be self-supporting when they graduate and return to their homes.32 Golphenee has high praise for the school and said: “I have seen more progress, been bothered with less frustration, and have been more encouraged in the last six years than in the previous thirteen years.”33

Singapore

The Moulmein Road and Pasir Panjang congregations in Singapore have been bright lights in Asia. Both churches have for many years conducted short-term mission trips to most of Southeast Asia and even to China. In 1990, Pasir Panjang asked veteran missionary Winston Bolt to establish a church on the island of Batam, about a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore, which he did. The Batam church first met in a small rented building provided by Pasir Panjang. Since then they have baptized over 400 souls, resulting in three congregations on the island.34

Bolt established Batam Bible College in 1998 with the goal of planting churches on every island of Indonesia. Since 2000, graduates have planted 60 churches throughout Indonesia, from Batam to Sumatra, to Nias, Java, Borneo (Kalimatan), Sulawesi, and Papua, New Guinea.

In 2010 Missions Resource Network of Bedford, Texas, and the elders at Pasir Panjang formed an official partnership to initiate disciple-making movements that result in strong churches throughout Southeast Asia.

Challenges for the Asian Church

A primary need is to increase the small size of congregations that have already been planted. Churches that consist of only five to twenty members are generally weak and short-lived unless they receive help to grow. Similarly, Churches of Christ need to concentrate their efforts in the 11 Asian countries where we can count fewer than 1,000 members. Having only a few congregations and followers in a country is no indication that our stewardship responsibility has been fulfilled.

Secondarily, churches need to develop innovative strategies for the 15 Asian nations, including the Middle East, where Churches of Christ have no known presence. Considering their borders as closed doors stifles creative thinking and dishonors the Lord.

Islamic terrorists have harassed, persecuted, and martyred Christians in Muslim-dominant nations, making it difficult for them to meet openly. As a result, many have fled to other countries to escape the dangers. Only recently Syria boasted of Christians comprising 20 percent of the population, but today that has shrunk to 7 percent.35

Our strategies in Asia have often created a sense of dependency on US finances. Schools, for example, that require full-time enrollment rather than night schools, modular courses, or extension training require funding to cover students’ living expenses. In countries where local churches are unable to provide those expenses, schools turn to the United States for funding. Being on US support throughout their school years, graduates are often programmed to continue on that support as they begin to preach, not realizing that receiving such support may actually hinder their work in the long run.

Strengths of the Asian Church

Today, Churches of Christ are active in more than half of Asia’s 46 countries, from Israel to India and from Pakistan to the Philippines. There are likely more than a million members of Churches of Christ in Asia and more than 50,000 congregations.

Sunset International Bible Institute has fourteen schools of preaching in Asia and Bear Valley Bible Institute International has three. Additionally, there are numerous part-time and full-time Bible colleges, principally in the Philippines and Indonesia. There are also two universities: Korea Christian University in Seoul with 1,500 students and Ibaraki Christian University in Omika, Japan with 2,500 students. Furthermore, World Radio of West Monroe, Louisiana, broadcasts into 13 population groups in Cambodia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Russia, Turkey, and Israel.

There are a variety of humanitarian efforts, from Partners in Progress with their Ship of Life ministering to villages along the Mekong River in Cambodia to MARCH, a Philippine-based medical and disaster relief effort that has ministered to several Asian countries, sometimes aided by doctors from India. There are also numerous orphanages, clean water projects, and feeding programs for undernourished children.

Looking Ahead

The overall health of the church in Asia is reasonably encouraging. Lost people are bowing their knees before the Lord. New communities of faith are being formed. And Christians are being trained for ministry. Former missionary Betty Choate, praising the persecuted Christians in Pakistan where 95 percent of the population is Islamic, said, “Simply standing firm in the faith—and being courageous enough to teach it to others—demands commitment and bravery on the part of every Christian there.”36

Despite being persecuted by Islamic terrorists, some Christian Middle Easterners are thankful for ISIS because it is turning Muslims away from Islam and creating in their hearts a hunger for a God of peace. Last year Missions Resource Network led a team on a prayer and survey trip to six nations around the Mediterranean Rim. They heard numerous stories and testimonies of how God is revealing himself to Muslims through dreams and visions, as he did to Cornelius in the first century (Acts 10:1–7).

Europe

Hans Nowak, former German evangelist, wrote, “Europe is the cradle of our civilization, the continent of our heritage,” a kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures.37 Europe is also the birthplace of the American Restoration Movement, the native land of Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander. After emigrating to the US, Alexander’s writings about restoring New Testament Christianity made an impact not only in America but also on the family’s native lands of Ireland and Scotland. Readers of his writings established the first Churches of Christ on European soil in the late 1830s.38 Today there are nearly 12,000 members in 431 European congregations, an average of 28 members per congregation.39

Table 3: European Nations with the Largest Church of Christ Membership

Nation

Members

Spain

2,500

United Kingdom

2,500

Italy

2,000

Russia

1,150

Total

8,150

For the last 100 years European Christianity has experienced a significant decline in each of its regions except Eastern Europe, a trend likely to continue through 2020. Reasons for this decline include a growing secularism, the deaths of an aging Christian population, and former believers who are turning to agnosticism or atheism.40

Researchers say a bright spot is the growth of Independent and Orthodox churches due to Orthodox renewal, especially in Eastern Europe, and migration from the global South, particularly from Africa. They add: “The future of Christianity in Europe will likely be impacted by Christian immigrants, largely from the global South. Included in this trend is the concept of ‘reverse mission,’ where younger churches in the global South are sending missionaries to Europe.”41

United Kingdom

When Cline Paden and Paul Sherrod made their exploratory journey to Germany in 1946 they stopped in England on their way. While there, they learned that England had 18 congregations of Churches of Christ with a membership of 453 people.42 In 1976 the number of congregations in England had grown to 40 with an estimated 1,500 members.43 By the beginning of 2015, England’s congregations had increased to 49 churches but their total membership had decreased somewhat to 1,332 people.44

A steady influx of African Christian émigrés has helped to revitalize churches throughout Europe and especially Great Britain. The Northampton church in England, for example, consists of “Christians from 21 different countries” and has “grown recently both numerically and spiritually.”45

On their 1946 stopover, Paden and Sherrod learned there were fourteen Churches of Christ in Scotland with about 450 members. By 1976, six of those congregations had closed, leaving Scotland with eight congregations and some 400 members, but by 2015 that had increased to 26 congregations and 754 members.46 I know of no congregations in Wales, but there are five in Northern Ireland with a combined membership of 150.47 Trevor Williams, longtime English preacher, says that in all of the United Kingdom there are 70 churches and 2,500 members, but that some of their older churches are “hanging on by a thread.”48

Williams went on to say that like the rest of Western Europe, the UK has changed from being nominally Christian to being multi-faith, citing that there are as many Muslims in the UK as there are members of the Church of England.49 He described the Churches of Christ in his country as cooperative with one another, financially generous to help when disaster strikes in other countries, and perhaps because of their smaller congregations they experience more family-like fellowship before and after services than what he has seen in America.50

Russia

Russia has the largest landmass of any country in the world. Though the country spans both Europe and Asia, we treat it here under the heading of Europe.

Radio broadcasts in the 1960s and 1970s by Polish leaders Henry Ciszeck and Jozef Naumiuk and later by Ukrainian Stephan Bilak helped to encourage an independent movement of some 5,000 believers who were meeting as “churches of Christ” principally in Ukraine but overlapping also into Russia.51

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991, American Churches of Christ began to flood into Eastern Europe. But after the newness wore off, the flood became a trickle, and today it has been reduced to a drip. Joel Petty says that at one time there were 40 full-time American Church of Christ missionary families serving in Russia. By 2016 only three US missionaries remained, and these are separated from one another by distances of 1,100 to 2,500 miles.52 That is roughly the equivalent of having one missionary in Los Angeles, one in Dallas and the other in New York City with no other missionaries in between. These lone sentinels of Christ lack frequent interaction with others who share their heart language and culture.

Russia’s approximately 55 Churches of Christ and 1,150 members at the beginning of 2016 have access within the country to several important resources to grow the body of Christ. Christian Resource Center (CRC) in Saint Petersburg offers evangelistic Bible correspondence courses known as Russia Bible School. The CRC also provides leadership training seminars, messages on various topics, and a country-wide newspaper, In Christ, to encourage unity among churches scattered over Russia’s vast area. In addition, the CRC hosts an annual leadership training seminar that rotates between Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Tomsk, Siberia.

Joel Petty conducts marriage/family and leadership training seminars in various churches across Russia. The Syktyvkar church uses the postal system to edify church members across Russia through correspondence courses on biblical subjects. The Samara and Barnaul churches hold large children’s camps in the summer. Konstantin Zhigulin, a Christian composer, conducts singing schools throughout the country, and the choir of the Neva congregation performs across Russia and Belarus.

Igor Egirev, president of the Christian Resource Center, described the spiritual maturity of the churches: “Overall, churches are learning to take care of themselves after the exodus of missionaries due to bureaucratic obstacles—it became very difficult for the foreign missionaries to remain in Russia for long term [because the government refused to grant visas to missionaries, BW]. Many churches were not ready for that.”53

Petty added that some of the churches are in decline, but most are stable and perhaps five are growing. Most of the churches are financially self-supporting, but in a dwindling few congregations support is still received from the US. Petty wrote, “The church on the Neva in Saint Petersburg has a $75,000 annual budget of which 95 percent is funded by contributions of the local church.”54

Egirev went on to say:

We are learning to evangelize and plant churches—to be missionaries in our own country. Recently, two new churches have been planted in Siberia. The first congregation is in the Sverdlovsk region and was established by Russian students in the Russian Bible School correspondence program. The second church was planted by Christians from Venezuela who are studying at a University in Vladivostok in the far east of the country on the Sea of Japan and just a few miles above North Korea.55

Phil Jackson, Director for European Missions at Missions Resource Network, believes the church in Tomsk, Siberia is the most dynamic Church of Christ congregation in all of Europe.56 The work in Tomsk began in 1994 and has grown to approximately 120 members, making it one of the largest congregations in Russia.

The Tomsk church works with an orphanage for handicapped children, has built a halfway house for the homeless, teaches the New Life Behavior curriculum, broadcasts a daily radio program, and trains Russian ministers in Tomsk. The church also conducts campaigns to other congregations to encourage and train them in evangelism. Former minister trainees from Tomsk are now serving congregations in several other Russian cities and as missionaries in Almaty, Kazakhstan.57

Challenges for the European Church

Churches of Christ, like most of the Christian world, have found Europe to have a low interest in religion. There are of pockets of receptivity, but overall churches grow slowly. Rarely do churches have as many as 100 members. Though Churches of Christ have been in Europe for more than 180 years, there remain 10 countries with no known congregations.58 There are also 18 European nations that have fewer than five Churches of Christ.59 Most of these churches are separated from one another by great distances and have less than 15 members apiece.

From a strategic perspective, I believe Churches of Christ should place an emphasis on strengthening the existing congregations and planting new ones in the 18 nations where we already have begun, rather than starting additional small, weak, and eventually dying churches in the 10 “unreached” nations.

We must build a strong base rather than isolated and undermanned outposts. Otherwise, like burning coals separated from the rest are easily extinguished, the countries where we now have fewer than five small congregations will soon follow Finland that once had several small, struggling congregations but today has none. This recommendation is predicated on the slow growth rate or even decline in European churches and the small number of members in those 18 countries.

Strengths of the European Church

Europe has several schools to equip Christians and train prospective preachers. Among them is the British Bible School, established in 1979 at Corby, England, principally to serve the United Kingdom. The Institute of Theology in Zagreb, Croatia, grants degrees in Bible as well as a masters through a partnership with Abilene Christian University. The Institute of Theology and Christian Mission in Saint Petersburg, Russia, uses online training to reach church leaders scattered across that country. The training program in Syktyvkar, Russia, has produced several evangelists. Sunset International Bible Institute has three schools in Europe, one each in Athens, Greece, Bucharest, Romania, and Kiev, Ukraine. Bear Valley Bible Institute has a school in Gorlovka, Ukraine.

Eastern European Mission, based in Texas, has local offices and staffs in Saint Petersburg and Barnaul, Russia, and in Vienna, Austria. They distribute Bibles and biblical literature to churches, public schools and hospitals, prisons, orphanages, and public libraries throughout Russia and other Eastern European countries. They also facilitate children’s camps in Ukraine.

The influx of African Christians has boosted attendance and rejuvenated churches in several European countries. Their faithfulness and lively style of preaching and worshiping, coupled with their zeal for evangelism, continues to bless the church in Europe.

Looking Ahead

Like the immigrants from Africa, the large inflow of Muslim refugees will greatly impact the church in Europe. Fleeing the conflict in the Middle East and North Africa, many are dissatisfied with what they are seeing of an angry and violent Islam. At no other time in their lives will they be more open to the God of love than they will be within the first five years of their arrival.

Refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, because of the love and care they received from Christians at the Omonia Church of Christ in Athens, “want to become disciples of Jesus and one day, take the gospel back to their own people.”60 Nearly 80 Muslims have already been converted to Christ at the Omonia church. Christians from several European countries will visit Athens this summer to learn from the Omonia church and begin similar outreach efforts to Muslims in other parts of Europe.

If the church does not reach these receptive people today, Islam’s impact will dramatically change the face of European Christianity and the continent of Europe forever.61

Reuel Lemmons was a man of unusual vision and wisdom. He wrote in 1984, “We ought to take a good look at Europe. We need congregations in every major city on the continent. We ought to reinforce the missionary army now at work there.”62 That statement is even truer today. The time is urgent and the opportunities, especially among immigrants, are abundant.

Middle America

Middle America, for the purposes of this article, is that region of Latin America that begins in the north with Mexico (technically a part of North America) and continues to Panama in the South, encompassing the six nations situated between them: Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.

While the region is still primarily Catholic, 89.8 percent in 1970 and an estimated 83.9 percent by 2020, that figure is expected to continue declining in every country of the region except Mexico. Pentecostal churches throughout Middle America have experienced dramatic growth since 1970, but even more dramatic growth has been experienced by Protestant churches.63 In some ways, countries like Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile are becoming more Evangelical than Roman Catholic.64

Mexico

Churches of Christ from the United States first entered Mexico in 1897–1911 in three failed attempts at establishing evangelistic Christian “colonies” they hoped would expand in widening circles to include Mexican converts. The Mexican Revolution (1910–1920), however, proved their mission was ill-timed.65

Four Americans who kept the flame burning for Mexico during the 1930s–1960s include John F. Wolfe, a preacher in El Paso, and three professors at what was then Abilene Christian College in Texas: Howard L. Shug, J. W. Treat, and Haven Miller. These three made numerous trips into Mexico to preach, evangelize, and equip the Christians. Treat recorded Spanish sermons that were made available to any who could use them, including J. R. Jiménez of Cuba who broadcasted them from Havana and Matanzas. Wolfe started Spanish-speaking congregations in El Paso and other places along the Mexican border.

The church in Mexico can trace its roots to about 1932 when Pedro Rivas, a Mexican convert in Texas and schooled at Freed Hardeman College in Tennessee, returned to his homeland and settled in Torreón, where he and others planted a church and established a school to train preachers. From this small beginning, and with the sacrificial work of many Mexican evangelists, a handful of US missionaries, and the financial help of hundreds of North American churches, Mexico now has over 500 congregations and 36,000 believers, the most in all of Latin America.

Churches of Christ in Mexico appear to be strong. There are numerous preacher training schools, including those at Ensenada, Mexicali, and Toluca, all associated with Sunset International Bible Institute (Texas) as well as the school in Torreón. There are also several radio broadcasts, like those of World Radio (Louisiana) in Arcelia and Torreón. And there are children’s homes like the City of Angels in Cozumel and Casa de la Esperanza (House of Hope) in Anahuac, Chihuahua, just 30 miles south of El Paso, Texas.

Guatemala

In 1942, William McDaniel and Howard L. Shug wrote, “Outside of Cuba and Mexico there is not a single established church or missionary of churches of Christ in all Latin-America at the time—nor has there ever been.”66 That changed in 1959 when four missionary families, including Jerry and Ann Hill and Carl and Edythe James, arrived in Guatemala and started the first congregation.

Local newspapers carried their ads for a Bible correspondence course which proved to be one of the most effective evangelistic tools. Nineteen people responded to the first ad, and the responses increased to the point that in the 1970s missionaries had to limit their advertising to a one-inch ad in the newspaper every two months. Even then the student load outstripped their ability to properly follow up.

Scores of the early congregations began as a result of delivering in person the diplomas and reviewing the final lesson with the students. Occasionally, the students, who generally were heads of households, had already determined to give their lives to Christ before the missionaries arrived with their diplomas.

Churches of Christ multiplied in the fertile soil of Guatemala. At the close of 1977 there were 127 congregations and an estimated 2,400 faithful members of Churches of Christ.67 Missionaries were forced to leave in 1981 because of civil war. Nevertheless, Churches of Christ continued to grow. Roberto Alvarez, with three respected Christian leaders, reported that by 2015 there were 418 congregations, 33 of them with elders, and 27,000 members following the Lord Jesus.68


Figure 3: Guatemalan Church of Christ Growth in Membership

Perhaps the most important decision that led to the amazing growth of the church in Guatemala was the empowering of every Christian to be an evangelist and church planter, rather than reserving that role for only one or two “special” men in a congregation. For the first 30 years, no preacher was supported with funds from the United States. This unleashed the evangelistic power of the entire body of Christ. The church on the La Florida coffee plantation, for example, had more than 20 men who preached somewhere every week. Illiterates memorized passages of Scriptures and brought their friends and families to Christ. Women who sold their wares in marketplaces converted other women working beside them. One sister dedicated a portion of her lot to build a church building and began a new congregation, the first in the country to have elders and deacons, men she had humbly taught and converted.

Health Talents International (HTI) has made important contributions to the growth of the church in Guatemala by following the example of Christ’s dual ministry of proclaiming the gospel and healing the sick. HTI, active in Guatemala since 1973, operates two clinics, one on the coast and another in the highlands, as well as mobile clinics in more remote areas. They train university students in medical missions, have a child sponsorship program, and award scholarships to enable the training of Guatemalans who want to enter the medical field.

World Radio broadcasts throughout the country, reaching even to San Benito, in the far northern jungle area of the Petén, Guatemala’s northernmost department and a difficult place to reach unless one travels by plane. Churches there use the program for their Sunday sermon, and Roberto Alvarez, a preacher in Guatemala City, reports that the Christians “no longer feel alone because of the distance and the remote place where they live.”69

The Annual Conferences, held during Holy Week, help to unify the rapidly expanding Churches of Christ. Three to four thousand Christians gather for four days of preaching, teaching, and fellowship. It is an event dear to the hearts of most Guatemalans.

Challenges for the Middle American Church

Churches of Christ in Middle America have primarily reached out to the poor but are now gradually drawing in the middle class. The economic and cultural gaps between these two groups will be difficult to bridge, but applying biblical teaching, loving one another and showing the same respect to rich and poor alike, should foster a bond of unity between the two classes.

A US team of four families from Harding Graduate School pioneered in reaching the Maya Quiché in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s, a work that today numbers scores of congregations, many with elders and deacons, and thousands of converts. I know of no other American-led effort by Churches of Christ to evangelize the 21 Mayan groups of Guatemala. The need for this kind of targeted ministry is doubly important because Spanish, the national language, is not the mother tongue of the Maya.

Strengths of the Middle American Church

Churches of Christ in Middle America have been multiplied by converts who are eager to share the good news of Christ. Two Salvadoran evangelists, for example, were the first to plant churches in Nicaragua, a country that has rarely, if ever, experienced full-time American missionaries from Churches of Christ.

Torreón School of Preaching in Mexico and Baxter Institute in Honduras are two of the premier training schools for preachers in Middle America. The Bible Institute of Central America began in 1998 in El Progreso, Honduras, and now has a sister school in Guatemala City.

Latin American Theological Institute in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, eleven miles south of Guatemala City, is an extension school of Bear Valley Bible Institute. Sunset International Bible Institute has associate schools in Ensenada, Mexicali, and Toluca, Mexico; and in Jinotega and Managua, Nicaragua. Texas International Bible Institute has online campuses in La Palma and San Salvador in El Salvador; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras. World Radio broadcasts in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua.

In addition to medical care provided by Health Talents in Guatemala, Predisan does the same in Honduras, where they also provide rehab services for addictions. Texas-based Misión Para Cristo works in Nicaragua to deliver health care, feed the hungry, educate the young in the Jinotega and Matagalpa regions of Nicaragua, and provide training for 24 congregations there.70

Looking Ahead

Sometimes it is by looking back that we can catch a glimpse of what kinds of blessings the future may hold. In 2002, veteran missionary Dan Coker, who had served first in Guatemala, then in Honduras, Mexico, and Uruguay, wrote these words from Toluca, Mexico:

In 1964, Jerry Hill and I prayed together, asking the Lord to let us see churches of Christ established in all five Central American countries during our lifetime (at that time we only had churches in Guatemala). Recalling that prayer now makes both of us feel very short on vision and faith, because the Lord has done much, much more than we ever dreamed or dared to ask. Now there are many hundreds of congregations with multiple thousands of members in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. And directly or indirectly, I have been privileged to participate in the formative years of those efforts. Thank you Lord!!!!71

The future looks bright for Churches of Christ in Middle America.

The Caribbean

Most of the islands in the Caribbean were colonized by European countries from 1492 to the end of the 1700s. Quite a few of the islands are still commonwealths or territories of European nations.

The slave trade from these European nations used the islands to rest their African slaves after the ordeal of their long voyage so they would bring higher prices when sold. The imprints of both the slave trade and colonization are still evident in the Caribbean as most of the inhabitants are of African descent and still speak the language of their colonizers.

Table 4: Caribbean Nations with the Most Churches of Christ and Members

Nation

Congregations

Members

Haiti

200

50,000

Cuba

240

4,700

Dominican Republic

94

3,250

Jamaica

70

2,350

Puerto Rico

29

1,016

TOTALS

633

61,316

Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian group in the Caribbean, representing just over 60 percent of the inhabitants and growing at a rate slightly above the general population growth. Researchers indicate that Protestants are “the largest Christian tradition in most English-speaking nations in the Caribbean.”72

The best estimates indicate that there are nearly 66,000 members of Churches of Christ in the Caribbean, grouped in 788 congregations, most of which are in the five countries listed in Table 4.

Jamaica

The first known missionary to the Caribbean from the Stone-Campbell movement was Julius Beardslee who was sent to Jamaica in 1858 by the American Christian Missionary Society. He had previously served in Jamaica for 17 years under the auspices of the Congregational Church but became part of the Disciples of Christ during a brief stay in the United States. After returning to Jamaica, Beardslee started planting a church in Kingston and in four years had baptized 172 people.73

Churches of Christ had their beginning in Jamaica 100 years later in 1958 when Clifford Edwards invited members of Churches of Christ to visit Jamaica. In 1966–1967, five US missionary families moved to Jamaica. Three years later they opened the Jamaica School of Preaching and in 1980 Jamaican Gladwyn Kiddoe became the school’s director, a post he continued to hold in 2016.

By May 2005, there were 59 Churches of Christ in Jamaica with approximately 2,350 members.74 By April 2013, the number of churches had increased to about 70.75 While American churches are still involved in supporting some of the preachers, Jamaicans have accepted full responsibility for the work. There are no known American missionaries in Jamaica today.

Cuba

The first Church of Christ missionaries to enter Cuba were José Ricardo Jiménez and Ernesto Estévez, both of whom were of Cuban descent but born in Florida. Jiménez trained for ministry in the Methodist church, becoming a presbyter in 1928 and that same year he met Estévez, a preacher with the Church of Christ in Tampa. In September 1928, Jiménez was immersed into Christ.76

Jiménez arrived in Havana in January 1937 and held services the following Sunday. Almost immediately he began a radio program broadcasted from both Havana and Matanzas to develop contacts in places where he would later plant churches. Over the next three years he launched congregations in the three westernmost provinces of Cuba. Jiménez also bought a printing press and published Revista Cristiana, a Christian magazine, as well as other literature.77 Estévez arrived in December 1939 and the two of them, working separately in different parts of the island, taught and baptized thousands of Cubans.78

At the beginning of Castro’s regime in 1959, Churches of Christ had 100 congregations consisting of some 5,000 believers.79 They also had six church buildings registered with the government; those registrations would bless them in the tumultuous years ahead. The remainder of the 100 congregations met in homes.

When Castro’s Communist regime banned home meetings and required all Christians to meet only in their registered church buildings, it meant that 94 Churches of Christ were no longer allowed to meet. The government threatened and persecuted Christians, denying them jobs, housing, and civil rights. The regime also banned all religious radio broadcasts and advertising and went so far as to prohibit two of our congregations from singing in worship.80

As a result of these hardships, many of the church members, including preachers, left Cuba. Fernández and Archer report that “the majority of the converts, seeing that there could no longer be church services in their towns, joined denominations that had authorized meeting places.”81 Others, affected by the atheistic stance of the government, abandoned religion altogether. Juan Monroy, a journalist and church leader in Spain, published in his magazine, Restauración, that in 1976 Churches of Christ in Cuba had dwindled to five meeting places, 240 members, and 10 preachers.82 Figure 4 shows the initial growth of members, followed by the steep decline in 1976 and the dramatic increase in 2005 and 2015.83 Monroy, speaker for Texas-based Herald of Truth broadcasts, was one of the first contacts from the outside world to visit Cuba and encourage the beleaguered Christians.84 Taking their lead from Monroy, Christians from America and Canada began arriving to preach and teach.


Figure 4: Variance in Cuban Church of Christ Membership 1946–2015

In the early 1990s, the Cuban government made a momentous change in their stance on religion. Churches were once again allowed to conduct worship services in homes, called casas cultos, and this led to an explosion of meeting places and the doubling of church members.

Between 1995 and 1999, Churches of Christ experienced 5,500 conversions and 52 new congregations inaugurated. The Versalles congregation where Fernández preaches grew from three members in 1992 to more than 700 in 2015 and has planted dozens of other congregations.85

Challenges for the Caribbean Church

A possible dark cloud looms over the Caribbean horizon. It is a challenge for both the Cuban and US churches. It concerns how the American Churches of Christ will respond to the opening of Cuba. May God spare the Cuban church from a flood of well-meaning but relationally and culturally insensitive American Christians.

Sometimes Americans believe they know what churches in another country need—even before consulting them. But “good old American know-how” is not what Cuba needs. Or any other country, for that matter, especially in places where the church has persevered for decades.

There is room for partnership, but it must be a partnership between equals. Instead of developing our plans and foisting them on the Cuban church, perhaps we should follow another path that demonstrates greater respect and humility.

What if we showed up not as their superiors or even as their equals, but as their servants? Our question to the most respected church leaders in Cuba would be, “How can we best help you to accomplish your plans for God’s kingdom in Cuba?” We would have no other agenda but that. To listen and to serve. They would be surprised by our humility and demonstration of respect. The result of this approach would mean good news for Cuba.

Strengths of the Caribbean Church

The primary resource for Churches of Christ in the Caribbean basin is the strength of their members, especially in Cuba. These brave men and women have passed through the refiner’s fire of intimidation and persecution, proving their faithfulness. On a nearby island, Jamaican leaders have a vision for the world that reaches beyond the Caribbean even as far away as Nepal, which they impact through translated teaching sessions over the Internet.

Numerous schools are available to nurture Caribbean Churches of Christ. The Jamaica School of Preaching and Biblical Studies in Kingston has initiated an extension program for Cubans. Luís Pedraza, a Cuban who graduated from the Jamaica school, directs the extension program that meets in his home in Santa Clara, Cuba.86

Bear Valley Bible Institute operates the International School of Theology in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Also in Haiti is the Center for Biblical Training, located in Cap Haitian, which uses curricula provided by Sunset International Bible Institute. Sunset also has extension schools in Havana, Cuba, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Baxter Institute, a ministry training school in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, has also prepared Cubans for ministry.

Radio programs include Herald of Truth broadcasts into Cuba from the Cayman Islands and World Radio broadcasts from dozens of stations in Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Trinidad.

Three annual conferences in Cuba, the Men’s Conference, the Women’s Conference, and the Youth Conference, have helped edify and unite the churches throughout the country. The annual Caribbean Lectures, which moves from island to island, does the same for the entire region.

Looking Ahead

Leaders on several islands have taken responsibility for evangelizing much of the Caribbean, but there are still nine major islands or groups of islands that have no known presence of Churches of Christ. Haitian congregations, already fluent in French, could take the lead in planting churches in French-speaking Guadeloupe and Martinique. Other Caribbean churches could reach out to the other islands.

If this happens, the future growth of Churches of Christ in the Caribbean could be promising.

South America

The vast majority of South America is Roman Catholic, but Catholicism is declining throughout the region. Brazil, for example, was 88.6 percent Roman Catholic in 1970 and 77.1 percent Catholic in 2010 and will likely continue decreasing, to 74.6 percent in 2020. Catholicism’s decline has resulted in a decrease of South America’s Christian population from 95.1 percent Christian in 1970 to 91.9 percent in 2010.87

Table 5: South American Nations with the Largest Number of Church of Christ Congregations and Members

Nation

Congregations

Members

Brazil

254

11,051

Guyana

100

4,500

Venezuela

70

3,500

Ecuador

480

2,700

Peru

26

1,276

Colombia

51

1,250

Totals

981

24,277

Protestants in South America are increasing, due largely to a flourishing Pentecostal movement. Researchers cite Brazil as typical of most countries in the region. Protestants in that country have increased from 7.6 percent of the population in 1970 to 16.6 percent in 2010 and 17.6 percent in 2020.88

Church of Christ missionaries spent weeks crossing oceans to reach Asia and Africa in the late 1800s but did not risk traveling to South America for another one hundred years. The first missionaries to South America from Churches of Christ were O. S. Boyer and Virgil Smith who went to Pernambuco, Brazil, in 1927. By 1935, they had established 20 Churches of Christ, but stateside congregations did not follow through with funding and the missionaries ultimately left their heritage and joined Pentecostal churches. All of the congregations they had established either adopted Pentecostalism or disappeared altogether.89

Brazil

Churches of Christ usually mark their beginnings in Brazil with the arrival in 1956 of Arlie and Alma Smith in São Paulo, South America’s largest city. The Smiths established two churches in São Paulo by 1960, consisting of a total of 45 members, and another congregation in Rio de Janeiro. From that humble beginning the church has grown throughout the nation.

In 1961, a team of 13 families moved to São Paulo and set their focus on planting urban storefront churches and a downtown church which they called a “Jerusalem Church.” Their Jerusalem Church gave birth to the Nove de Julho church, which was formed in 1967 by the merging of three congregations. In 2015 this congregation had more than 200 members and has planted numerous other churches while also serving as a landmark church to the city.

In less than 20 years, the 1961 mission team planted multiple congregations and saw thousands of converts. Former missionaries on that team reported that the radio ministry that led to Bible correspondence courses and home Bible studies was their most effective tool for evangelism.90 The late 1960s saw another surge in missionary work in Brazil with the forming of an effort called “Operation 68.” Fifteen families moved to Belo Horizonte between 1967 and 1968.

Among the initial works in Belo was the establishing of a downtown church, opening the School of the Bible and purchasing acreage in the hills south of the city for a Bible camp.

At the 1974 Pan-American Lectures, held in Belo Horizonte, the São Paulo and Belo teams presented an impressive idea called “Breakthrough Brazil.” It was a dream to recruit teams for 15 major cities that had not yet been evangelized in Brazil and three neighboring countries. These strategic cities, they prayed, would serve as centers for spreading the gospel to their surrounding areas.

With the encouragement of both teams, Ellis Long moved to the States to begin recruiting additional teams, thus giving wings to the dream.91 He was later joined by Gary Sorrells, his former teammate on the São Paulo team. When more Hispanic cities were added to the list, the name was changed from Breakthrough Brazil to Continent of Great Cities and Dan Coker, an experienced missionary to Spanish-speaking Latin America, was added to the staff. The ministry changed its name once more in 2012 to Great Cities Missions when it began targeting Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking people outside the South American continent.

Missionaries and Brazilian Christians teamed to establish new congregations. Figure 5 shows that by 1989 the number of churches grew from three to 97. The growth accelerated between 2001 and 2011, resulting in more than a 100 percent increase during the ten-year period and bringing the church membership to 11,051.92


Figure 5: Increase in Number of Church of Christ Congregations in Brazil

A primary reason for this growth was that from 1980 to 2009, Great Cities Missions placed 17 mission teams, consisting of 156 missionary personnel, in 14 state capitals of Brazil.93 They also placed another 12 teams in nine other countries of Latin America.94 Several of the teams consisted of men and women native to Latin America.

The Nove de Julho congregation in São Paulo was the first to ordain elders, followed in 1993 by the Guarulhos church in Greater São Paulo, and in 1999 by the 300-member Manaus church, located on the banks of the Amazon River, who appointed five elders and seven deacons. By 2015, Churches of Christ in Brazil had ordained elders and deacons in thirteen congregations.

Paraguay

Churches of Christ first entered Paraguay when three Uruguayans held a two-month tent meeting in October and November of 1972. The effort produced no baptisms and follow-up proved unsuccessful, so the trio returned to Uruguay.

In February 1973, the Northside church in Austin, Texas, sent Luís Ramirez from Montevideo to Asunción. Church membership by 1976 was about ten, including seven who had moved from Uruguay to help with the work. From 1974–1982 there were about 30 baptisms, only eight of whom were still faithful by mid-1985.

In January 1981, the Forrest McDonald family, the first of a planned group, arrived in Asunción to work with the church. In May 1983 they began a new work in their home that consisted of their family and one Paraguayan woman. In January 1984, the group began meeting in an office near downtown, and by late 1985 the membership was about 13.

In December 1983, Luís Ramirez, like the McDonalds, began meeting in his home with only one member other than his family. The divisive spirit and unstable marriages of the early Uruguayan evangelists plagued the Paraguayan church for decades.

The first broadcast in Paraguay of the five-minute “La Busqueda” (“The Search”) radio program produced by Herald of Truth was aired in August 1983. The first baptism resulting from the radio program occurred two years later. By July 1985, there were in McDonald’s congregation only three or four male members, two of whom were teaching and preaching. One of the ladies taught the ladies’ Bible class and the children’s Bible class.

The work in Paraguay was difficult and the results were understandably discouraging. After years of unsuccessful pleas for missionaries to join them, the dispirited McDonalds returned to the US in August 1985, leaving no American missionaries in the country.

Eighteen years later, in 2003, a team of missionaries from Freed-Hardeman University, trained also by Great Cities Missions, arrived to plant the Avenida Sacramento congregation. In 2009 it merged with one of the two existing congregations and bought a building.

After seven years spent with the Sacramento congregation and also working with the Centro and Capiata congregations, all of the original team members eventually returned to the United States. They were replaced in 2010 by four new families who arrived to continue the work that was begun at Sacramento Avenue.

The Sacramento congregation hired a Panamanian missionary in 2013 to work with a new church plant outside the city. Sacramento also partnered with Bear Valley Bible Institute to begin the Asunción Bible Academy, a two-year school to train prospective preachers. The school graduated its first class in February of 2015. Figure 6 shows the steady growth in Paraguayan Church of Christ membership for the years 2000–2015.95


Figure 6: Increase of Paraguay Church of Christ Membership

A second missionary responded to my 2015 survey by saying that the Avenida Sacramento congregation “is close to naming elders, and plans to plant more churches within the next three years.” The team’s labors and God’s blessings over the last five years have resulted in the strengthening of all three churches and an increase of combined church members to 135.

Challenges for the South American Church

Churches of Christ in several South American countries are now comprised of third and fourth generations—generations that often slip into a more relaxed stance with their convictions, resulting in a loss of zeal. Evangelism and new church plants will be needed to maintain a dynamic movement of the future.96

Though Churches of Christ have made important beachheads in the federal and state capitals of Brazil and the federal capitals of Hispanic South America, there are still many major cities without any presence of the Church of Christ. There are also hundreds of unreached people groups or tribes in South America that need to hear the gospel of grace and reconciliation. Edward Sewell, who lived in Cuenca, Ecuador, during the 1960s and 1970s, worked among the Quechua, establishing dozens of churches. He was the only missionary known to me who specifically worked with an indigenous South American group.

A Brazilian missionary, in responding to my 2015 survey, commented that the church in most of Brazil is strong, “But the North is almost untouched by the gospel. We need more hardy Christians to take on the challenge of third-world life and separation of great distance to reach the masses of North Brazil.”

Another respondent, this one in Paraguay, wrote that the Sacramento congregation continues to grow, “but there is a great need to plant congregations outside the city. There are only three congregations that we know of in the whole country of 7 million people.”

Strengths of the South American Church

Churches of Christ in South America have strong churches in most of the capital cities of the continent. There are numerous schools and programs throughout the region to train preachers and other Christian workers. Various enrichment conferences are held in several countries, including annual preachers’ meetings, regular training and fellowship events, marriage conferences for couples, and separate retreats for men and for women.

Bible correspondence courses are also accessible, including World Bible School’s Spanish version. An award-winning Christian publishing company, Editora Vida Cristã was founded in São Paulo, Brazil, by Alaor Leite in 1978. It produces Christian literature in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Numerous radio programs are aired throughout the continent. Herald of Truth broadcasts into several Spanish-speaking nations and World Radio is on stations in three Brazilian cities: Campinas, Recife, and Rio de Janeiro, as well as Bucaramanga, Colombia. In addition, there are locally produced radio and television programs in several countries of South America.

Looking Ahead

From the base of strong congregations in the capital cities, a network of churches should continue to spread across the continent. There are already churches with decades of experience and good leadership in many places. Latin American teams have planted churches in neighboring Latin countries. Now they should be encouraged to think beyond their continent. Brazilians, for example, could establish congregations without learning another language in other Portuguese-speaking countries like Angola, Mozambique, and Portugal. South Americans are capable of adapting to other cultures as easily, and in some cases, more easily, than North Americans.

South Pacific

Missionary statisticians note that Christianity in the South Pacific experienced substantial growth in the 60 years between 1910 and 1970. The Christian percentage in 1970 was 92.5 percent of the region’s population, a considerable increase from the 1910 Christian percentage (78.6 percent), “and is indicative of the great success of missionary efforts from many different Christian traditions.” They continue: “Since 1970, however, Christianity’s percentage of the population has been declining in all regions. Two major factors in its decline are (1) secularization, primarily in Australia and New Zealand, which dominate Oceania demographically; and (2) a decrease in conversions from ethnoreligions in Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.”97

New Zealand

Churches with the Restoration Movement first entered the South Pacific in 1842 when Thomas Jackson, a Scotsman, arrived in Nelson, New Zealand. He preached undenominational Christianity and established a small church, the first Restoration church in New Zealand.98

Table 6: South Pacific Nations with the Largest Number of Churches of Christ and Members

Nation

Congregations

Members

Papua New Guinea

100

5,000

Australia

80

2,338

New Zealand

25

1,700

Totals

205

9,038

The work in New Zealand was slow until 1865 when growth became more rapid, reaching twenty churches and a total membership of 1,190.99 By 1903 the numbers had doubled, to 40 churches and 2,446 members. Then growth slowed considerably as the church drifted toward liberal teachings and practices that produced a loss of self-identity and evangelistic fervor.

New Zealand Christians sent out a call for help, which finally arrived in 1955 when E. Paul Mathews moved from California to New Zealand. He and his family settled in Nelson, which became the anchor point for a renewed call to restoration. Mathews journeyed all over New Zealand and began new churches in Invercargill, Tauranga, and Dunedin.

Through Mathews’s recruiting efforts, three more families from California entered the work in 1959 and served with various congregations. Three additional families recruited by Peter Merrick arrived in 1962 and settled at Hamilton, and two of the families helped establish churches in Gisborne and Fiji.

American involvement in New Zealand reached its peak in the late 1960s, when nine families from Sunset School of Preaching joined the work. These families were involved in launching new congregations in Tauranga, Auckland, Napier, and Hastings.

In the 1970s and 1980s a flurry of new churches were begun in Garden City, New Plymouth, Napier, Parklands, Lower Hutt, Hastings, Whangerei, Wainuiomata near Wellington, Auckland’s North Shore, Waipawa, Palmerston North, and Otumoetai, a Tauranga suburb. At the same time, there was a transition from American to New Zealand leadership in evangelism and church growth. To help prepare the church for this change, two schools, both of which are now defunct, were opened to prepare national leaders to assume responsibility for the various churches.

After an exciting start, the churches in Dunedin and other cities slowed down with the departure of the missionaries. Even decades after the missionaries had returned home, many congregations still struggle to survive. “We are trying to discover what makes the adult New Zealand church no longer the offspring of the American church,” said David Steel, who teaches at South Pacific Bible College. Several congregations have failed to make the transition, he added, and have ceased to exist.100

The newly established Discover Church in Auckland might serve to revitalize the churches in New Zealand and Australia. It began when a missionary team of three US families arrived in Auckland in 2008. They are having success in communicating the gospel, especially to young adult postmoderns, and have had 18 conversions since 2010, and about 50 people are attending Sunday services.

They believe Discover Church has impacted more than the 200 people whom they can count. Missionary Justin Cherry wrote, “The spiritual climate of our church is vibrant.” He added: “They are eager to learn and even more excited to get into the community together, working alongside each other to share the love of Jesus. They are still young in faith and yet God is raising up potential leaders that have the ability to lead the way into the future.”101

Australia

Churches of Christ have a long history in Australia, having been introduced there in 1845 with the arrival from England of Thomas Magarey.102 The Franklin Street church in Adelaide, which Magarey established three years later, was the first congregation of the movement in Australia.

Growth was exciting, and local churches sprang up throughout the country until the 1920s when, according to McMillon and LaMascus, “the fledgling efforts of local churches were sidetracked by acrimonious debates about issues.”103 Most of the 136 congregations and 8,000 members chose to ally themselves with other branches of the Restoration Movement, leaving a small remnant of less than 100 members in Churches of Christ.

Between the two world wars, several attempts were made by John Allen Hudson and J. W. Shepherd to renew the work of Churches of Christ in Australia. The task proved to be formidable, with slow progress until the 1950s. After World War II, new interest was sparked in Australia, perhaps in part by our wartime relationship with the people there.

A survey of Australian churches indicates there has been no growth in the number of congregations over the last two decades.104 While congregations do exist in all of the states and territories, they are quite small. Only two churches have more than 100 members, while 61 churches, 76.3 percent, have less than 35 in attendance, making Churches of Christ in Australia predominantly a “micro-church” movement, meaning that churches are “small enough to meet in a home and unlikely to have a full-time minister or their own meeting place.”105 With churches so small, it is difficult for them to sustain full-time staff or mount an expensive outreach program.

Both Stephen Randall, an evangelist with the church in Canberra, and Ted Paull, director of the Macquarie School of Biblical Studies in Sydney, have noted how few second generation members of the church there are, and third generation members are extremely rare.106 Converts and children of converts have fallen away at a precipitous rate.

Australian churches are not seeing many conversions. Gray reported, “Only 64 percent of the churches surveyed reported baptisms during the past two years.”107 This is reflected in the declining church membership. Stuart Penhall, an elder at the Gosford Church of Christ, stated, “We have effectively lost all the natural growth, which should have occurred as a result of births. We have lost whole generations.”108

Despite the seemingly dismal statistics, Penhall challenged sixty men from Australia, New Zealand, and the islands of the Pacific to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” quoting Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” He told the men at the 2015 Men’s Challenge that the church of the first century likely also mourned over the future of the church. “Beset by persecution from without and ‘antichrists, dividers and the worship of idols’ from within . . . the early Christians likely feared their movement was dying,” he said. “We know that they were wrong, and that God had even greater things in store for his church in the centuries to come.”109

The Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands are divided into three groups: Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, with Melanesia being home to the largest number of congregations and members of Churches of Christ. Most of those members are on the island once known as New Guinea, which now has been divided into two parts. The eastern half is Papua New Guinea and the western half was the former Irian Jaya and belongs to Indonesia. The government changed Irian Jaya’s name to Papua in 2002. The western part of Papua was renamed West Irian in 2003 and then renamed again as West Papua in 2007. Papua and West Papua are considered in this article as a single entity under the name Papua. It has at least eight congregations, with an estimated 1,000 believers, and Papua New Guinea has approximately one hundred congregations and five thousand Christians.

Table 7: Churches of Christ in Melanesia

Country

Islands

Churches

Members

Fiji Islands

322

11

360

New Caledonia

21

1

2

Vanuatu

82

6

115

Solomon Islands

922

3

45

Papua New Guinea

600

100

5,000

Papua (Irian Jaya)

1

8

1,000

Joe and Rosabelle Cannon established a beachhead for Churches of Christ when they arrived in Lae, Papua New Guinea, in August 1971. Largely because of Cannon’s vision and high energy, less than nine years later this beachhead grew into a work force that settled into six strategic work centers throughout the island and established 50 congregations in six of the 20 provinces of the country.110 By 1979, the work force had increased to 32 missionaries from several countries who had prayerfully developed a basic strategy for a 25-year plan to evangelize all of New Guinea.111

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, churches had been planted in more than half of Papua New Guinea’s provinces. Indigenous leaders were trained through Bible correspondence courses, brief workshops, and several small Bible colleges.112 The largest of these, Melanesia Bible College in Lae, trains church leaders for the islands of Melanesia. The school is directed by Jab Mesa who, with his wife Becky, are highly respected throughout the region.

Challenges for the South Pacific Church

Stephen Randall has travelled extensively throughout Australia visiting most, if not all, the congregations. He describes an important challenge facing Australian churches: the importance of keeping their eyes on what God has revealed in Scripture while remaining strongly engaged in a changing world. It is a challenge that applies equally to the churches in New Zealand and the rest of Oceania. Randall says, “Ignoring either focus creates problems.”113

Randall points clearly to the greatest challenge facing Australia and New Zealand Christians: discovering fresh approaches to communicate the good news of Jesus to the postmodern and post-Christian worldview.

Strengths of the South Pacific Church

There are several Bible training schools throughout the region, including the South Pacific Bible College in Tauranga, New Zealand, which has drawn students from the South Pacific and Asia. The Macquarie School of Biblical Studies in Sydney has prepared a number of leaders for the churches but may not be as productive now as in past years. The Melanesian Bible College in Lae, Papua New Guinea, teaches in Pidgin English and so is more suitable for many Christians in the Pacific islands.

The annual Men’s Challenge Retreat brings together leaders from across the South Pacific for fellowship and encouragement. Stephen Randall’s publication, Happenings, helps to unite the churches in Australia by sharing what is occurring across the nation.

The Otumoetai church in New Zealand has set a bold goal of one-thousand disciples in 10 years. Recognizing that they cannot do it by themselves, they hope the goal will serve as a clarion call to inspire sister congregations to catch the vision and work together to achieve it. This kind of audacious thinking may help struggling and discouraged churches in New Zealand to embrace the possibilities of a brighter tomorrow.

Stuart Penhall’s fiery call to arms issued at the 2015 Men’s Challenge is an encouraging sign on the South Pacific landscape, not so much for the words themselves, but for the righteous indignation, even the anger and rage with which he delivered them. This could be an ember that helps to ignite the churches.

There are also the missionaries at Discover Church who are courageously blazing a new approach to reach postmoderns who have been unreceptive to what they have seen in traditional Christianity. An important key to the Discover Church’s influence on the Church of Christ community will be whether or not the older congregations will see the value of their innovative strategies.

Looking Ahead

Despite the encouraging rhetoric and the promising venture at Discover Church, the secularization and post-Christian mentality of Australia and New Zealand portend the continued decline of Churches of Christ and Christian influence in those countries for the foreseeable future. The other islands of the South Pacific will likely continue to grow, but at a slower rate due to the fact that most of the population on the islands have already been evangelized.

Conclusion

The objective of this article was to deliver a statistical and historical overview of Churches of Christ worldwide, including strategic analysis and a prognosis for the future. This was accomplished by providing a synopsis of the work of Churches of Christ on each continent, then delving a little deeper into their performance in representative nations, delineating the challenges they face on each continent and their respective resources or strengths. The discussion of each continent concluded with a brief forecast of future outcomes.

A final question remains. How might this overview impact the future missions strategy of Churches of Christ? I offer these recommendations.

Honor receptivity. The gospel is to be shared with all nations (Matt 28:18–20), but with limited resources of personnel and finances, US Churches of Christ must be strategic in their sending. Where is God working now to create hearts that are receptive to the gospel? Those areas should be emphasized while still sending a few missionaries elsewhere (Matt 10:11–14).114

Expand outreach. Empower every member to be an evangelist. Where congregations abroad are strong and members are numerous, they should be encouraged to enter new fields both near at hand and in other lands. International missionaries increasingly “are coming from the global South. . . . Thus, of the 10 countries sending the most missionaries in 2010, three were in the global South: Brazil, South Korea, and India.”115 It is time for Churches of Christ in the global South to follow this example and accelerate the sending of missionaries to other countries.

Prioritize Muslim immigrants. This is an unprecedented historical moment in which many Muslims are becoming dissatisfied with the violence and anger of the Islam that is destroying their homes. This violence is opening their hearts to the God of peace. As a result, more Muslims have become Christians in the last five years than in all the previous years combined.

Aim for sustainability. We have noted several instances where the work seems overly dependent on financial support from the US. Winston Chong, a financial planner and elder at the Pasir Panjang church in Singapore warns, “Do not underestimate the power of money to shift loyalties, undermine accountability and circumvent local spiritual authority.”116 Van Rheenen states, “The use of money in missions is like a two-edged sword: It can empower missions on the one hand while hindering or destroying it on the other.”117 Churches of Christ must be prayerfully strategic in the use of money so that it empowers without destroying the work or dignity of the recipients.118

Rejoice. A major outcome of this study should be the assurance that the Lord is significantly using Churches of Christ to advance the kingdom of God on earth. They can be grateful for being his instruments of grace and mercy through reconciling people to the Father, planting new communities, and performing numerous humanitarian ministries. Churches of Christ likely have as many as 55,000 congregations and 2.4 million members outside the US and Canada.

Prospects for continued growth seem especially positive in Africa, Latin America, and select countries of Asia. Western Europe and the South Pacific with large post-Christian populations will continue to prove difficult. Overall, with God’s help there is reason for a healthy increase in congregations and members over the next several decades.

Bob Waldron, president of Missions Consulting International, is a former co-director of Great Cities Missions and the founding executive director of Missions Resource Network. He preached for the Juneau Church of Christ in Alaska and has ministered cross-culturally in the villages of South India, among the Japanese-Americans in California, and in Guatemala for six years. He co-authored, with Gailyn Van Rheenen, The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (ACU, 2002). He holds a doctorate in missions from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

1 Representative countries from each continent were selected on the basis of three factors, weighted roughly in the following order: response to the 2015 survey of missionaries; information I was able to access from the Internet, books, and periodicals; and finally, my knowledge of the work in a given country.

2 Center for the Study of Global Christianity, Christianity in its Global Context, 1970–2020: Society, Religion, and Mission (South Hamilton, MA: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 2013), 22, http://gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/research/documents/ChristianityinitsGlobalContext.pdf.

3 Erik Tryggestad, “Africa: A Century Later, Church Membership Tops 1 Million,” Christian Chronicle, July 2009, http://christianchronicle.org/article/africa-a-century-later-church-membership-tops-1-million.

4 For a more detailed account of work in Africa by Churches of Christ, see Stanley E. Granberg, ed., 100 Years of African Missions: Essays in honor of Wendell Broom (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2001); see also World Convention, “The Global Family of Stone-Campbell Churches,” http://www.worldconvention.org/resources/profiles.

5 Mark Berryman and Wendell Broom, “Status of Missions in Sub-Saharan Africa,” an unpublished report compiled for the Jabulani celebration (July 2002) estimated 14,669 congregations and 1,077,121 members.

6 “Our History,” Zambia Mission, accessed September 5, 2015, https://zambiamission.org/history.

7 “History of Church of Christ Missions in Zambia,” Zambia Missions, last updated 2015, http://zambiamissions.org/about/introduction/history.

8 Responses to my 2015 survey; cf. D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds. The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (St. Louis: Chalice, 2013), 323, fn. 61.

9 Berryman and Broom.

11 Gailyn Van Rheenen, “Back to Africa,” Missional Church Planting: A Mission Alive Blog, September 8, 2014, https://missionalchurchplanting.org/2014/09.

12 Gailyn Van Rheenen, with Anthony Parker, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 361. For an explanation of the stages of maturation see 350–61.

13 E-mail to the author, October 6, 2015.

14 J. Dudley Woodberry, ed., Reaching the Resistant: Barriers and Bridges for Mission, Evangelical Missiological Society Series 6 (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1998), vii.

15 Elvis Yusif Kwasi-Goka, “Appendix 2: Malian Report” in “Africa Missions Network (AMIN) Ivory Coast Trip Report,” ed. Ken Dadzie, unpublished report, July 7, 2015, 11.

16 Erik Tryggestad, “The Miracle of Malawi: After a Century of Dramatic Growth, Churches of Christ Focus on Unity, Urban Ministry,” Christian Chronicle, January 2011, http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/the-miracle-of-malawi-after-a-century-of-dramatic-growth-churches-of-christ-focus-on-unity-urban-min.

17 Joy McMillon, “Jabulani Africa!” Christian Chronicle, September 2002, http://christianchronicle.org/article/jabulani-africa.

18 Kwasi-Goka, 11.

19 Ibid.

20 These include, among others, Nigerian Christian Bible College, West Nigeria Christian College, and Tsumeb Bible Academy in Namibia, all three of which are under the umbrella of African Christian Schools Foundation (Nashville, TN); Southern Africa Bible College in Benoni, South Africa; Nairobi Great Commission School; Siriat Bible School in Kenya; the Bible Training Center in Benin; and African Christian College in Swaziland. Ghana has five training schools: Heritage Bible University College in Accra; Ghana Bible College in Kumasi; National Bible College housed at the Nsawam Road Church of Christ in Accra; Knutsford University in Accra; and another school in Takoradi. A new school, LivingStone University, has begun in Mbale, Uganda. Sunset International Bible Institute (TX) is associated with 23 preacher training schools in Africa, while Bear Valley Bible Institute (CO) partners with nine other schools.

21 John Reese, “2015 Fall Report to the WBS Board,” e-mailed to the author, November 24, 2015. For a fuller treatment of World Bible School, see Terry Cowan, “World Bible School,” in Douglas A. Foster, Paul M. Blowers, Anthony L. Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, eds. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 783–84.

22 C. Philip Slate, “Report on the Five-Year Partnership for the Initial Evangelization of Mali, West Africa,” unpublished report, n.d.

23 Christianity in its Global Context, 34.

25 Erik Tryggestad, “In Hometown of Jesus, Church Names Elders,” Christian Chronicle, December 2010, http://christianchronicle.org/article/in-hometown-of-jesus-church-names-elders; Erik Tryggestad, “In Israel, Threatened by Violence, Small Church Is Gaining Strength,” Christian Chronicle, August 2003, http://christianchronicle.org/article/in-israel-threatened-by-violence-small-church-is-growing.

26 Bill McDonough, e-mail to the author, April 22, 2016.

27 Erik Tryggestad, “Converts in Cambodia,” Christian Chronicle, April 2003, accessed January 22, 2016, http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/converts-in-Cambodia.

28 Rich Dolan, e-mail to the author, January 22, 2016.

29 Data for Figure 2: 2001, 2005, 2010: my 2015 survey; 2015: Bill McDonough, in an e-mail message to the writer, January 22, 2016, said that he, Rich Dolan, Dennis Welch, and Phanat agreed that a realistic estimate is that there may be as many as 70 congregations but no more than 90 with a total of 300 to 350 Christians.

30 “Sources Say Nepalese Arrested,” Christian Chronicle, February 1987.

31 Jerry Golphenee, e-mail to the author, October 14, 2015.

32 Bear Valley Bible Institute International, “Nepal Center for Biblical Studies,” http://wetrainpreachers.com/nepal.

33 Jerry Golphenee, e-mail to the author, October 14, 2015.

34 Morgantown Church of Christ, “Mission Indonesia,” http://morgantowncoc.org/mission-indonesia.

35 “Special Year in Review: Great Evil, Great Revival,” Voice of the Martyrs (2015), 4.

36 “Pakistan,” Around the World, Christian Chronicle, November 2012, http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/around-the-world-november-2012.

37 Hans V. Nowak, “The Indigenous Method in Europe,” Contact 15, no. 1 (1968): 6–7.

38 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, 95.

39 Bob Waldron, “Status of Churches of Christ in Europe,” unpublished report, March 2016.

40 Christianity in its Global Context, 44.

41 Ibid.

42 Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 4, A History of the Restoration Movement, 1919–1950 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987), 377.

43 Jean Gibbs, Joe Gibbs, and Beth Hammond, eds., “Overseas Directory,” Contact 22, no. 2 (1976), 22.

44 Christian Worker, https://web.archive.org/web/20150811133814/http://www.christian-worker.org.uk/directory/church.asp. The variance in membership data may reflect the difference between estimates and actual numbers. Note: by February 20, 2016 the website had been taken down and by 2017 the domain had been purchased by another Christian organization.

45 Richard Sharpe, “Family News,” Christian Worker 47, no. 8 (August 2015), 9.

46 Jean Gibbs, Joe Gibbs, and Beth Hammond, eds., “Overseas Directory,” Contact 22, no. 2 (1976), 25; my 2015 survey.

47 Bert Richie, e-mail to the author, February 25, 2016.

48 Lynn McMillon, “On Faith across the Pond,” Christian Chronicle, August 2015, http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/on-faith-across-the-pond.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid.

51 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, 347.

52 Joel Petty, e-mail to the author, February 26, 2016.

53 Igor Egirev, email to the author, March 31, 2016.

54 Joel Petty, e-mail to the author, February 26, 2016.

55 Ibid.

56 Phil Jackson, interview by the writer, Bedford, TX, February 23, 2016.

58 These include Gibraltar, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Finland, where Churches of Christ once had several small churches.

59 These are, with the number of congregations in parentheses, Belarus (3), Bulgaria (2), Crete (1), Cyprus (1), Czech Republic (2), Denmark (2), Estonia (2), Hungary (4), Republic of Ireland (4), Latvia (1), Lithuania (1), Luxemburg (1), Malta (1), Norway (3), Portugal (2), Serbia (1), Slovakia (1), and Sweden (2).

60 Missions Resource Network, “God Is On the Move,” Resources (Fall 2016), 1.

61 For an example of what could happen in Europe, see Dwight L. Baker, “How a Whole Church Vanished: Five Reasons Why No Large Body of Christendom Exists in North Africa, the Middle East and Asia Minor,” Christianity Today 11 (November 1996), 3–5. Three of Baker’s reasons are (1) the heart of the Christian gospel, Christ’s saving grace, was buried beneath a sacramental system; (2) “in the absence of fresh experiences of Christ’s saving grace, there was a lack of a sense of spiritual power in the lives of Christians;”(3) the church’s “almost total abandonment of its early missionary thrust.”

62 Reuel Lemmons, “A Second Look at Europe,” Christian Chronicle, February 1984.

63 Christianity in its Global Context, 58.

64 Ibid.

65 Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 3, A History of the Restoration Movement, 1800–1918 (Delight, AR: Gospel Light, n.d.), 362–70.

66 William McDaniel and Howard L. Shug, “Central and South America,” in The Harvest Field, ed. Howard L. Shug and Don H. Morris (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian College Press, 1942), 42–43.

67 Bob Waldron, “God Is at Work in Central America,” a report given at the 1977 Pan American Lectures in Lima, Peru. The data in the report, and in Figure 3, was based on the writer’s written survey, “Cuestionario Sobre la Historia y Crecimiento de las Iglesias de Cristo,” conducted in May 1977; data for the years 1959, 1963, 1967, 1971, 1975, and 1981 are from my paper, “A Preliminary Study of Church Growth in Guatemala: A Comparison of Evangelicals and Churches of Christ,” Abilene Christian University, 1971, which I have updated regularly from interviews with Guatemalan evangelists; 2015: Roberto Alvarez, e-mail to the author, November 5, 2015.

68 Roberto Alvarez, e-mail to the author, November 5, 2015.

69 Roberto Alvarez, “Guatemala,” World Radio News 47, no. 5 (2010).

70 Misión Para Cristo, “About Misión Para Cristo,” http://misionparacristo.com/About-Misi-n-Para-Cristo.

71 Dan Coker, “Sorrows, Joy, and Aggravation,” Toluca Tales (November 2002), a monthly newsletter.

72 Christianity in its Global Context, 44.

73 World Convention Profiles, “Jamaica,” http://www.worldconvention.org/resources/profiles/jamaica.

74 Matt Prewitt, “Country Data Sorted by Name,” unpublished report e-mailed to the author, May 23, 2005.

75 Erik Tryggestad, “Go into All the World, with Respect,” Christian Chronicle, April 2013, http://christianchronicle.org/article/go-into-all-the-world-with-respect.

76 José Antonio Fernández and Timothy Archer, A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba (Abilene, TX: Herald of Truth, 2015), 15.

77 Ibid.

78 For a more complete treatment of the early work in Cuba, see Earl Irvin West, The Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 4, A History of the Restoration Movement, 1919–1950 (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987), 394–98.

79 José Antonio Fernández and Timothy Archer, A History of Churches of Christ in Cuba (Abilene, TX: Herald of Truth, 2015), 39; Mac Lynn, Churches of Christ around the World: Quick Reference Guide (Nashville: 21st Century, 2003), 69, mentions 161 churches with 5,000 members by late 1959. Because Fernández is a Cuban evangelist for Churches of Christ and the Cuban representative for Herald of Truth Ministries, and Archer, whose Herald of Truth weekly radio program, Lea la Biblia, is heard throughout Cuba, and he has made more than 18 trips to Cuba, I have used their figures.

80 Lynn, Churches of Christ around the World: Quick Reference Guide, 69.

81 Fernández and Archer, 41.

82 Ibid., 45.

83 Data for Figure 4 is from 1946: Slayden J. Hiler, “Growth of the Church in Cuba,” The Harvest Field: An Account of Evangelistic Work of Churches of Christ throughout the World (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian College, 1947), 123; 1959: Erik Tryggestad, “Seeing the Light in Cuba,” Christian Chronicle, January 2016, http://christianchronicle.org/article/seeing-the-light-in-cuba, provides this estimate from Juan Monroy; 1976 and 1990: Fernández and Archer, 45, 48; 1994: Abilene Christian University Missions Department, “World Survey: Churches of Christ Outside the US and Canada—April 1994,” Journal of Applied Missiology 4, no. 2 (October 1994), http://web.ovc.edu/missions/jam/wrldsur2.htm; 2005: Tryggestad; 2015: Timothy Archer, e-mail to the author, July 7, 2015, relaying this data from José Antonio Fernández.

84 For an account of Monroy’s bold conversation with Fidel Castro that led to his receiving a visa to enter Cuba, see Fernández and Archer, 45–46.

85 Ibid., back cover.

86 Tryggestad, “Go into All the World.”

87 Christianity in its Global Context, 60.

88 Ibid.

89 Reuel Lemmons, “Ghosts of Past Failures,” audiocassette of lecture presented at ACU Summer Seminar in Missions, June 1971, Center for Restoration Studies, Milliken Special Collections, Brown Library, Abilene Christian University, Abilene, Texas.

90 Gene Vinzant, “Church Growth in São Paulo: A Preliminary Study of Churches of Christ from 1961 to 1984,” unpublished paper, January 1, 1986, 5.

91 Gary Sorrells, Make Your Vision Go Viral: Taking Christ to Great Cities—a Proven 5-Step Plan that Really Works (Bedford, TX: Creative Enterprise Studio, 2013), 64.

92 Data for Figure 5 is from 1961: Glover Shipp, “Current Status of Churches of Christ in Brazil,” unpublished report, 1997; 1989: Allen Dutton, Sr., “Annual Report 1989 [of Church of Christ growth in Brazil],” unpublished report, 1990; 1994: Abilene Christian University Missions Department, “World Survey: Churches of Christ Outside the US and Canada—April 1994,” Journal of Applied Missiology 4, no. 2 (October 1994), http://web.ovc.edu/missions/jam/wrldsur2.htm; 2001: Abilene Christian University Missions Department, “Status of Churches of Christ—Latin America,” unpublished document; 2011: F. H. Gates, “Data for Churches of Christ in Brazil 2011,” unpublished report, e-mail to the author, July 21, 2015.

93 Gary Sorrells, “The Continent of Great Cities Ministry: A Goal and a Strategy for Church Establishment in Urban South America” (project/thesis for Doctor of Ministry, Abilene Christian University, 1994), 91; Sorrells, photos following page 122; Great Cities Missions, “Teams on the Field,” http://recruiting.greatcities.org/template.php?filename=field-teams.html.

94 Great Cities Missions, “Teams on the Field.”

95 Missionary response to my 2015 survey.

96 For a brief description of Churches of Christ in several countries of Latin America, see Gary L. Green, “Missions in Latin America and Caribbean, Churches of Christ” in Foster, Blowers, Dunnavant, and Williams, 460–67.

97 Christianity in its Global Context, 64.

98 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, 110.

99 Glover Shipp and Bob Waldron, New Zealand Nationscan (Abilene: McCaleb Institute for Missions Education, 1991), 7.

100 Erik Tryggestad, “Boiling Faith in Lands Down Under,” Christian Chronicle, November 2015, http://www.christianchronicle.org/article/boiling-faith-in-lands-down-under.

101 Justin Cherry, email message to the author, April 7, 2016.

102 See David Roper, Voices Crying in the Wilderness: A History of the Lord’s Church with Special Emphasis on Australia (Adelaide: Restoration Publications, 1979), for a detailed history of the Australian Restoration Movement told through the stories of immigrants who brought with them the idea of using the Bible as their only guide.

103 Joy L. McMillon and R. Scott LaMascus, “Amazing Australia,” Christian Chronicle (April 1988), 12–13.

104 Peter Gray, 2013 Survey of Non-Denominational Churches of Christ in Australia (Victoria, Australia: Klesis Institute), 22.

105 Ibid., 17.

106 Norm Peterson, “Church Growth: Australian Leaders Eager for Growth,” Christian Chronicle (August 1984).

107 Peter Gray, “Australian Church Surveys,” Asia Pacific Exhorter 1 (July 1993), 18.

108 Tryggestad, “Boiling Faith in Lands Down Under.”

109 Ibid.

110 Robert W. Herndon, personal correspondence to the author, June 24, 1980.

111 New Guinea Missionaries, “Walking in Yesterday,” 1979, unpublished report.

112 Williams, Foster, and Blowers, 284.

113 Stephen Randall, “Australian Churches: Today’s Realities and Challenges,” in “Australia: Exemplifying Many Indigenous Churches, Australian Congregations Strive to Come of Age,” ed. Bailey McBride, Christian Chronicle, June 2001, http://christianchronicle.org/article/Australia.

114 For a more detailed description of the roles receptivity, unreached people, and the leading of God play in field selection, see Gailyn Van Rheenen with Anthony Parker, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 455–75.

115 Christianity in its Global Context, 76.

116 Winston Chong, “What Good Is Partnership?,” Resources (Spring 2015), 2, https://mrnet.org/system/files/2015SpringResourcesNewsLetter.pdf.

117 Gailyn Van Rheenen, “MR #2: Money and Mi$ion$,” February 9, 2000, http://missiology.org/mr-2-money-and-miion.

118 Glen J. Schwartz, When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement—A Compendium (Lancaster, PA: World Missions Associates, 2007).

Posted on

Short-Term Missions among Churches of Christ: A National Survey

This paper interprets the results of a national survey of practices and perceptions related to short-term missions among Churches of Christ in the US. The author organizes the discussion of implications into four domains: (1) local church participation, (2) pre-trip preparation, (3) the trip itself, and (4) post-trip reflection. The paper concludes by characterizing a typical short-term-mission scenario among US Churches of Christ and identifying positive and negative trends.

In 2006, Robert Priest et al. reported that “there is good reason to believe that more than one and a half million U.S. Christians travel abroad each year on ‘short-term mission trips.’ ”1 Some estimate that the number now approaches two million per year.2 Since thousands of organizations and tens of thousands of churches are involved in short-term missions, it is difficult to determine the numbers with precision. What these trips actually accomplish is also unclear in many cases.

Within Churches of Christ, Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron conducted the most recent survey of mission work in 2002. The following paragraph describes the state of short-term missions at that time.

Our survey showed that 72 percent of the responding churches sent members on at least one mission trip during the two years preceding the survey. Thirty percent of these went to domestic mission points while 65 percent of the campaigns were to international locations. An encouraging note is that 37 percent of the churches participating in these mission trips sent at least 20 of their members, indicating the depth of commitment in these churches.3

In order to understand the current participation of Churches of Christ in short-term missions, the present survey was conducted.

Method

A survey of thirty-two questions about short-term mission was sent as a surveymonkey.com link to all churches on the 2015 Nationwide Church of Christ Database as provided by 21st Century Christian Inc.4 The survey was sent out on November 19, 2015, and the last data collected on January 13, 2016. In order to be as inclusive as possible, no selection criteria were applied to the survey recipients: churches were not excluded or chosen based upon any criteria of size, location, budget, or current missionary work. Participants were asked to indicate their agreement to participate in the survey with the understanding that the survey results would not reference individual churches.5 The research was open to any congregation of the Churches of Christ.

It should also be noted that participants could opt in or opt out of the survey. Thus, the sample is not a clear cross section of churches. It is also a survey for churches and not individuals; many Christians are involved in missions through universities, non-profit organizations, or individual efforts. These are not taken into consideration in the survey.

After allowing for bounced addresses, opting out, and incompletions, 138 completed responses were gathered from the 4023 emails sent; a response rate of 3.4% overall and 3.9% once bounced emails were excluded. The low response rate is probably attributable to a range of issues including lack of designated mission leader, lack of interest, volunteer workers, and length of the survey.

The introductory paragraphs of the survey were as follows:

This survey is conducted in order to accurately describe the state of Short Term Missions in Churches of Christ. It requires your honest response with one answer per question unless otherwise stated. All responses are confidential in that no individual will be singled out for analysis but only group percentages or averages. Thank you in advance for the few minutes this will take.

For the purpose of this survey, Short Term Missions (hereafter referred to as STM) is defined as a cross-cultural missionary trip lasting less than one year in length. It can be to a different culture within the USA, e.g., inner city, refugee camp, distant region, etc., or to a different culture outside of the USA.

Results

In order to facilitate a more complete understanding of the results, this portion of the article will follow the same order as the survey unless otherwise noted. Interpretation of the results will be presented in the discussion section.

Question 2: How many members are in your congregation?

  • 0–100 members = 30.4%
  • 101–500 members = 52.9%
  • 501–1000 members = 10.9%
  • > 1000 members = 5.8%

Thus, the vast majority (83.3%) of respondents were churches with less than 501 members.

Question 3: How many members of your congregation participated in an STM this year?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0–20
participants

39/40 (97.5%)

50/72 (69.4%)

2/15 (13.3%)

n/a

21–50
participants

n/a

16/72 (22.2%)

6/15 (40%)

1/7 (14.3%)

50–100
participants

1/40 (2.5%)

5/72 (6.9%)

5/15 (33.4%)

1/7 (14.3%)

101–250
participants

n/a

1/72 (1.4%)

2/15 (13.3%)

3/7 (42.9%)

Over 250
participants

n/a

n/a

n/a

2/7 (28.6%)

  • 66.7% of churches reported 0–20 members participated in an STM.
  • 84.8% of churches had 50 or fewer members participate in an STM.

Question 4: Within what percentage range of your congregation does this (the answer in #3) represent?

  • 89.6% of the time, less than 25% of a congregation participated in a STM.

Question 5: How many members of your congregation participated in STMs in the year 2010?

  • Churches sending 0–20 people decreased slightly (73.3% down to 66.7% in 2015).
  • Churches sending more than 50 members on a STM almost doubled (8.2% up to 15.2% in 2015).

Question 6: What was the average number of participants in each STM this year?

  • 71% of groups are composed of 10 or fewer people.
  • Only rarely (11.1%) of the time will a group be composed of more than 20.

Question 7: What was the average number of participants in each STM in the year 2010?

  • Data for 2010 was virtually identical with data for 2015 varying by less than a 2% increase or decrease in every category.

Question 8: How many STM trips did your congregation take this year?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

1–2 trips

29

45

6

1

3–5 trips

5

22

5

1

Over 5 trips

n/a

3

4

6

  • 63.8% of churches take 1–2 trips per year.
  • 26.0% of churches take 3–5 trips per year.
  • 10.2% of churches take more than 5 trips per year.

Question 9: How many STM trips did your congregation take in the year 2010?

  • No significant change from 2010 to 2015.

Question 10: Rank the following groups of people involved in STM from most participation to least participation with the most participation receiving a 1 and the least participation receiving a 6.

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

Youth (12–18)

3.75

3.14

1.67

2.0

College (19–23)

3.43

3.26

2.92

2.38

Singles (24–30)

4.19

4.28

4.0

3.88

Young Marrieds (19–29)

4.2

4.10

4.5

5.29

Middle Age (30–50)

2.5

3.0

3.92

3.38

Older (50+)

1.97

2.78

3.64

4.0

Question 11: Please rank the importance of the following goals for your STM(s) with the most important goal receiving a 1 and the least important receiving a 6.

Responses are listed below in order of most important to least important; weighted total score is given to the right. The lowest weighted score indicates the most important goal.

Evangelism

1.78

Growth of participants

2.85

Orphan care

3.37

Construction

3.49

Medical

3.63

Sports

5.45

Question 12: How long was the average STM including travel days to and from?

  • 38.9% of STM trips lasted 7 days or less in length.
  • 31.3% of STMs lasted 8–10 days.
  • Combined, 70.2% of STMs last 10 days or less.
  • Only 16% of STMs exceeded two weeks in duration.

Question 13: What was the cost of the average STM per person? Please include all expenses including airfare, ground transportation, hotels, food, materials, tourism, etc.

  • 19.2% cost less than $1000.
  • 49.2% cost $1001–$2000.
  • 16.9% cost $2001–$3000.
  • 7.7% cost $3001–$4000.
  • 6.9% cost more than $4000.

Question 14: What percentage of the church’s annual budget—not just mission budget but overall church budget—is allocated for STMs?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0–10%

29

61

12

6

11–20%

5

21

n/a

n/a

21–30%

1

n/a

1

n/a

31–40%

1

n/a

1

1

41–50%

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Over 50%

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

Question 15: What percentage of the church’s annual budget—not just mission budget but overall church budget—is allocated for LONG TERM MISSION work (work longer than one year)?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0–10%

26

36

7

n/a

11–20%

6

20

5

5

21–30%

4

12

n/a

2

31–40%

1

2

2

n/a

41–50%

n/a

1

n/a

n/a

Over 50%

n/a

1

n/a

n/a

Question 16: What percentage of the church’s annual MISSION budget—not overall church budget but only mission budget—is allocated for STMs?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0–10%

20

35

6

3

11–20%

3

18

5

1

21–30%

2

10

1

3

31–40%

2

1

2

1

41–50%

2

4

1

n/a

Over 50%

7

5

n/a

n/a

Question 17: What percentage of the church’s annual MISSION budget—not overall church budget but only mission budget—is allocated for LONG TERM MISSION work (work longer than one year)?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0–10%

20

14

2

n/a

11–20%

4

8

1

n/a

21–30%

1

9

1

n/a

31–40%

1

4

1

n/a

41–50%

1

9

1

1

Over 50%

11

27

8

7

Question 18: How does the annual mission budget compare to the annual mission budget in 2010?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

Decreased

5

10

1

n/a

Same

18

24

1

2

Increased

12

35

12

6

Question 19: Please rank the following items in order of cost for your STM(s) from the most expensive item as #1 to the least expensive item as #7.

Responses are listed below in order of most expensive to least expensive; weighted total score is given to the right. The lowest weighted score indicates the most expensive item.

Flights

1.50

Hotel / overnight arrangements

2.81

Supplies

3.65

Ground transportation

3.66

Donations / gifts

5.03

Preparation material

5.16

Debrief material

7.02

Tourism

7.02

  • 86.4% of churches marked flights as the most expensive part of the STM budget.
  • 59% of churches marked hotel / overnight accommodation as the second most expensive item.

Question 20: Where did the STM stay at night?

  • Response frequency to the options of hotels, hostels, homes, and “other” is almost equal.
  • Only 1.5% of STMs stay in tents.
  • There is no common trend among STMs regarding where the groups stay despite the consensus that this category is the second most expensive item in the STM budget.
  • Those reporting a star rating for the hotel where they stay gave the following distribution.6

1 star

12.1%

2 star

9.1%

3 star

51.5%

4 star

9.1%

5 star

3.0%

Question 21: What percentage of the STM trip cost was related to rest, relaxation, or tourism?

  • 76.2% of churches reported that less than 5% of the trip cost was related to rest, relaxation, and tourism.
  • Combined with the next category, 93.9% spent 10% or less of their trip funds on rest, relaxation, and tourism.
  • No church spent more than 15% of the STM cost on rest, relaxation, and tourism.7

Question 22: Who led the STM? You may check more than one option.

  • No one category was clearly dominant.
  • 37.7% indicated “A missions committee member or missions deacon” led the STM.
  • When the categories referring to staff members are combined, 47.7% of churches agree that someone on staff led the STM.
  • When staff answers are combined with other categories referring to local church leadership, someone in a recognized leadership position leads 70.5% of STMs.
  • When categories that include the words “former missionary” are combined, 24.6% of churches reported that a “former missionary” led the STM.

Question 23: How was the approved trip leader selected?

  • No clear consensus emerged from the options given.
  • When write-in responses referring to some form of approval were added to existing categories, 57.8% reported some form of approval system for STM leadership.

Question 24: Which most accurately describes the way the STM participants prepared for the trip?

  • 23.4% = no special preparation.
  • 30.5% = a monthly meeting.
  • 17.2% = a weekly meeting.
  • 14.0% = only one meeting.
  • 12.5% = every other week meetings.
  • 2.3% = only readings.
  • Thus, a combined 60.1% of churches require participation in multiple meetings of some sort while 16.3% of churches required only one meeting or only readings.

Question 25: Indicate how much importance was placed upon thoughtfully and appropriately engaging the local culture during the STM from most important as #1 and least important as #4.

  • 87.6% of churches reported that significant or moderate effort was made.
  • 1.68 was the average weighted score.

Question 26: How are the STM participants debriefed after the trip (check all that apply)?

  • 71.3% of churches required a presentation.
  • 45% of churches required a “one-time meeting.”
  • 12.4% of churches reported “no debriefing.”
  • 4.7% of churches required multiple weeks of meetings.

Question 27: Where did the STMs go (check all that apply)?

The responses appear below in descending order. (Churches could select more than one option; hence, the total adds up to more than 100%. Mexico—a country—was a separate option due to the common confusion of whether to include Mexico in North or Central America.)

Central America

49.2%

North America

33.9%

Africa

29.2%

Mexico

21.5%

South America

20.8%

Asia

18.5%

Caribbean or Bermuda

18.5%

Europe

13.9%

South Pacific

5.4%

Question 28: What percentage of your STM trips went to support a long-term missionary(s) that your congregation also supports?

 

0–100
members

101–500
members

501–1000
members

Over 1000
members

0%

14/37 (37.8%)

23/70 (32.9%)

2/14 (14.3%)

2/8 (25%)

0–10%

7/37 (18.9%)

12/70 (17.1%)

4/14 (28.6%)

1/8 (12.5%)

11–20%

n/a

2/70 (2.9%)

1/14 (7.1%)

n/a

21–30%

n/a

7/70 (10%)

1/14 (7.1%)

2/8 (25%)

31–40%

n/a

2/70 (2.9%)

n/a

1/8 (12.5%)

41–50%

n/a

1/70 (1.4%)

1/14 (7.1%)

2/8 (25%)

Over 50%

16/37 (43.2%)

23/70 (32.9%)

5/15 (33.3%)

n/a

Question 29: What long-term effects have you perceived from your STM efforts (check all that apply)?

Responses are below in descending order.

The missionary was encouraged.

77.5%

The mission church grew spiritually.

75.2%

The mission church grew numerically.

48.0%

Buildings were constructed.

45.7%

The mission budget and/or missions contribution grew.

34.9%

The mission point leadership was trained and/or taught.

32.6%

Other

23.6%

STM participants joined the missions committee.

12.4%

  • 66.6% of “other” responses had write-in answers related to the participants’ spiritual growth.

Question 30: How did your congregation determine where the STM should go and/or what it should do (check all that apply)?

Due to the option to “check all that apply,” responses total more than 100%. When descriptive write-in answers were reallocated to the categories given, the following are the results.

  • 53.1% repeated trips to a former location.
  • 50.0% supported a long-term missionary.
  • 26.3% went to a work suggested by the church membership.
  • 9.7% were taken in partnership with another church or organization.

Question 31: Which answer best describes how you measured your effectiveness/success?

  • 41.0% indicated that effectiveness is measured by anecdotal stories or not at all.
  • 32.0% indicated some option involving surveys or an assessment of participants, the missionary, or the local church.
  • 9.3% indicated documentation of long-term growth of the mission church.
  • 5.4% indicated follow up visits to the field by leaders.
  • 1.6% indicated feedback from the mission church. When answer from write-ins were reassigned, it can be argued that this number rises to 4.5%.

When the categories were conflated into subjective/qualitative or objective/quantitative and the responses in the “other” category were assigned to these options, then the following were the results:

  • 48.9% subjective/qualitative.
  • 51.1% object/quantitative.

Question 32: Rank the following 7 goals of STMs in order from most important (1) to least important (7).

Responses are listed below in order of most important to least important; weighted total score is given to the right. The lowest weighted score indicates the most important item.

Evangelization at the mission point

2.48

Spiritual growth of the STM participants

3.07

Development of relationships at the mission point

3.10

Numerical growth for the mission church

4.10

The relief of suffering at the mission point

4.19

Physical development at the mission point

5.26

Distribution of literature at the mission point

5.47

Discussion

For ease of discussion, the survey questions have been organized into the four domains of (1) local church participation, (2) pre-trip preparation, (3) the actual trip, and (4) post-trip reflection.8

Domain 1: Local church participation

Data indicate that Church of Christ congregations most frequently number around 100 in size.9 The survey, however, tended to be overly represented by midsize congregations (52.9%). Hence, the numbers reported in areas of size, frequency, and cost might be higher than those of the average smaller congregation.10

In two out of three congregations, the following scenario unfolds. One or two STMs with less than ten members on each trip are taken each year. This is basically the pattern that has been happening since—at least—the year 2010. These low numbers are probably due to many factors including but not limited to travel logistics and cost management. On the upper end of the spectrum, one in four congregations conducts three to five trips per year but with the same number of participants (0–10) on each trip.

Based upon the questions regarding participation and averaging all categories, the average STM team will be composed of four people older than 50, three people between 30 and 50, two youth, and one college student. This exact distribution is probably rare but when all groups are averaged, this is the composition. However, the composition of the group changes when church size is taken into consideration. In churches greater than 500 in size, the youth group and college students are the most represented in STMs. In churches with less than 500 in attendance, the older generation (+50) is clearly more participatory than either the youth or college population. It is likely that these changes are representative of the composition of the respective church bodies in general.11

Regardless of church size, absent will be the single professionals, graduate students and young marrieds. Youth and those either established in their careers or retired from their careers enjoy much more flexibility.12

In a society that praises youth, and in which the youth STM may have already replaced the summer camp as a “right of passage,” one might expect the youth group to represent the most common STM participant. These expectations appear valid in congregations that are of substantial enough size to possess large youth and college groups. That congregations of less than 500 tend to have more participation from older members than youth or college members should not be discouraging. One would hope that the wisdom which accompanies age would make older members less prone to rash words or actions that can be interpreted locally as offensive. “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12 NIV).

Across the board in the USA, STM budgets are on the rise.13 Responses in this study indicate that in 77.7% of churches, the STM budget makes up 10% or less of the church’s mission budget. Only churches that are 101–500 in size indicate a tendency, though weak, to budget more than 10% of the annual budget to STMs. When only the mission budget is considered, it is still rare that any church allocates more than 20% of the mission budget to STMs. There is a clear tendency for smaller churches to allocate a higher percentage of their mission budget to STMs. As church size increases, the percentage of the mission budget allocated for STMs decreases. There is an inverse relationship between church size and percentage of the mission budget dedicated to STMs.

Although the focus of this survey is on STMs, questions were included about long-term missions. What was discovered was that the percentage of a church’s annual budget dedicated to LTMs tends to rise with congregation size though no congregation reported allocating more than 30% of the annual budget to LTMs. In smaller congregations (less than 100), it appears that the norm is for 0–10% of the overall budget to be dedicated to LTMs. On the other end of the size spectrum, no church over 1000 in size reported allocating less than 10% of the annual church budget to LTM support.

When the mission budget—not overall church budget—is reviewed, the same tendency holds true: the larger the congregation, the higher percentage of the mission budget allocated to LTMs. Most churches (52.6%) with less than 100 members allocated 0–10% of the mission budget to LTMs. Among congregations of 101–500 in size, only 19.7% reported allocating 0–10% of their mission budget to LTMs. This number dropped to 14% and 0% for churches 501–1000 and greater than 1000, respectively.

An impressive 28.9% of small congregations—those less than 100 in size—reported dedicating over 50% of the mission budget to LTMs. This percentage grew with each jump in size category until churches over 1000 reported 87.5% of their mission budget is allocated to LTMs. Thus, the tendency reported by churches in this survey is that as church size increases, the percentage of the mission budget dedicated to STMs decreases and the percentage dedicated to LTMs increases.

It is possible that dedicating a higher percentage of the budget to STMs is more common among smaller congregations due to the fact that smaller congregations often cannot afford the cost of LTM support. With that in mind, it is admirable that so many (28.9%) of small congregations actually dedicate over 50% of their mission budget to LTMs. It is possible that some congregations had little if any mission budget prior to member participation in STMs. If this is the case, then the STM participation may have led the congregation into LTMs.14

How one interprets the numbers related to overall annual budget and missions most likely depends upon where one is standing when one reads the numbers. If one stands in the shoes of missionaries and mission churches who often work with insufficient resources in the majority world or under other difficult conditions, then it might be disappointing that only 2.2% of churches dedicate more than 30% of the annual budget to STMs and only 5.4% of churches dedicate more than 30% of the annual budget to LTMs. However, if one is standing in the general fellowship of North American evangelical churches, then the fact that 19.2% of churches dedicate over 20% of the annual budget to LTMs might be quite encouraging.

When the question of budget amount over time was introduced, the survey results were quite encouraging. Since the year 2010, only 14.4% of churches under 500 in size reported a decrease in the mission budget while only one congregation over 500 in size reported a decrease. Among congregations less than 100 in size, half (51.4%) reported that the mission budget stayed the same since 2010.15 Growth, however, was reported in the mission budgets of the majority of all churches over 100 in size. Among larger congregations of 501–1000 and over 1000, growth in the mission budget since 2010 was reported in 85.7% and 62.5% of the churches, respectively.

Domain 2: Pre-trip preparation

When the average congregation puts together an STM, it does so with two primary goals: evangelism and growth of the participants. These two responses rose to the surface on two separate questions easily taking priority over all other options.

One might question how Boomlets and Millennials define evangelism and if this might have had an effect on reporting. However, the most common generation involved in STMs in congregations less than 500 in size is the older generation (age 50+). Boomers have always been active and driven by a strong belief in progress. Hence, Boomers most likely view evangelism as a positive activity and overt primary goal more frequently than Millennials or Boomlets.16

At the same time, those filling out the surveys are most likely of the Boomer generation. When this is coupled with the fact that many in our heritage perceive the “right” answer for doing missions is overt evangelism as opposed to medical aid, housing development, sports ministries, and so forth, then one would expect evangelism to be the primary focus of STMs.

The two questions about goals made it clear that “growth of the participants” is a very high priority. It is not uncommon to see an increase in STM member participation in other areas of church life following a trip. Yet, the effect of STMs on participants is a matter of debate in missiology, and more studies are needed to determine what actually happens over time. Much of the quantitative research on STMs is based upon studies that are not well designed scientifically: they lack control groups, longitudinal studies, and/or triangulation with other populations. Hopefully, better methodology in studies can be employed in the future to resolve the apparent discrepancy between the quantitative and qualitative findings related to the results of the long-term effect of STMs on participants.17

My primary concern with “growth of the participants” as a goal is its potential conflict with the ultimate example of missions—the life of Jesus. Jesus did not come to earth to improve himself but rather to give himself fully in sacrificial love for others. He not only called his disciples to respond to the great commission but also to the greatest commandments—love God and love others. While “growth of the participants” is a positive outcome to be embraced, caution should be exercised not to allow short-term missions to become so focused upon the participants that authentic love for others is adversely affected. Perhaps “the growth of the participant” is a better bi-product than goal.

Perhaps “the growth of the participant” is a better bi-product than goal of STMs.

The goal of each STM is perhaps also related to the leader of the STM. It is encouraging that the survey indicated that most churches vet the leader using some form of approval system. One would hope that this approval system helps to keep the focus of the STM on healthy goals.

The survey revealed that in 7 out of 10 cases, the STM leader is a recognized leader—staff, committee member, deacon, or elder—in the local church. One would hope that leadership in the local church translates into maturity for the STM, though it does not necessarily automatically translate into missional understanding or cultural sensitivity. Another positive effect of this tendency is to connect STMs with the heart of the local congregation.

It is intriguing that most (75.4%) of STM efforts were not led by a former long-term missionary. On the one hand, it reflects the amateurization of missions experienced in churches today.18 For a movement that once held high the banner of “priesthood of all believers,” it is a short step to the “mission of all believers.” If these STMs are conducted well, this can be positive. The statistic might also reflect the nature of the small congregation with limited connections and opportunities. It is conceivable that many churches simply do not have former missionaries in their relationship network who are experienced in their area of interest and available at the right time.

On the other hand, the statistic is concerning. Scripture repeatedly calls us to seek the wisdom of those who are more experienced and points out the danger of a failure to do so.19 One has to wonder how many STMs fail to reach their full potential or even result in undetected damage due to a lack of cross-cultural experience and missional understanding at the leadership level. The inexperienced eye may look but not see.

How many STMs fail to reach their full potential or even result in undetected damage?

The passing on of this experience—or lack of it—lies at the heart of STM preparation. In 6 out of 10 churches, STM participants are required to attend multiple meetings prior to departure. What happens in those meetings and how effective they are is a subject for further research. Yet, it is encouraging that the majority of churches recognize the seriousness of the STM endeavor to the degree that sequential meetings are required for preparation.

The flip side means that in 4 out of 10 churches, this recognition might not be at the level that it should be. It is concerning that this number of trips can be taken in the name of Jesus without more significant preparation. If the primary goal of the STM is indeed evangelism, then the ability of the average church member to communicate effectively across cultural barriers might require more preparation. In fact, the concept that we know what is best for another person in another culture without deeply engaging in a dialogue of understanding is “the assumption that allowed Rome, England, and Spain to say their colonialist domination was not purely self-centered.”20 To represent Christ cross-culturally requires our best efforts, not our best assumptions.

This potential lack of preparation also begs the question of the response given to question 25 regarding “thoughtfully and appropriately engaging the local culture.” 87.6% of respondents said that “significant effort” or “moderate effort” was given to the issue. One has to question: if only 6 out of 10 churches required more than one meeting to prepare for the trip, how does that translate into significant or even moderate effort? Perhaps the answers more accurately reflect intentionality than actual measured effort. If so, then the intention should be lauded and the effort enhanced.

Domain 3: The trip itself

As would be anticipated, most STMs are, well, short. For 7 out of 10 groups, the trip lasted ten days or less and cost less than $2000.

When cost is broken down, the greatest expenses for STMs are travel and overnight accommodations.21 That churches attempt to keep costs to a minimum is reflected in the fact that when hotels were used, the vast majority reported using a 1–3 star hotel.

Another indication that churches attempt to keep STM costs to a minimum and stay focused is the set of responses regarding tourism and relaxation. Responses from two questions indicate that tourism is the lowest cost of most STMs, composing less than 10% of the overall cost for 9 out of 10 trips. Thus, even though the lure of adventure and the opportunity to see other parts of the world might be built into the nature of STMs, the budget of the trips is rarely guided by tourism per se.22

One might speculate that the low focus on tourism might be precipitated by STMs returning annually to the same location in support of long-term missions (LTMs) supported by the congregation. This, however, is simply not the nature of the STMs reported in the survey. An amazing 50% of the respondents indicated that STMs were taken to locations unrelated to their church’s LTMs or that only 1 in 10 of their STMs were taken to support an LTM of the congregation. In other words, 5 out of every 10 churches either never or very rarely connect their STMs with their LTMs. Only 3 out of 10 churches reported that at least 50% of their STMs were sent to support the LTMs.23

There seems to be little correlation between the long-term efforts and the short-term efforts in congregations. Though this might indicate a disconnect between STMs and LTMs at the level of the local church, other factors may play a significant role in the lack of correlation. As noted previously, many smaller congregations do not have an LTM with whom to connect. It is also possible that a congregation’s LTM is located in a region or situation where STMs would not be appropriate due to cost, timing, or cultural context. It is also possible that membership within the local church has changed so that a new focus for mission effort has arisen that is in addition to the church’s LTM. In other words, multiple issues might be involved.

The lack of correlation between STMs and LTMs brings us back to the question of the reported goal of STMs as evangelism. If effective evangelism involves relationships, and 50% of all STMs are not connected to long-term relational efforts, then is it even possible for these STMs to accomplish their primary goal of evangelism with any degree of effectiveness?

If effective evangelism involves relationships, is it even possible for these STMs to accomplish their primary goal?

When it comes to the geographical nature of site selection for STMs, the survey asked respondents to indicate the area where their STMs worked. The frequency of visits to each area was not questioned. Thus, the results actually reflect whether an area is represented in STM trip selection rather than the actual proportion of trips to the area. With that in mind, the survey indicates that when respondents determine where to take an STM, Central America and North America are the most commonly represented areas, while Europe and the South Pacific are the least. Again, it may be that the locations that are less commonly represented in the survey results actually received multiple visits per year from respondents. Yet the question simply measures “representation of the country in the selection process.”

The upside of the results is that we are interacting with our closest neighbors. One can hope that the focus close to home means that we are as concerned with those across the fence as we are with those across the world.

The downside of this is that it again raises the question of evangelism. If 92% of Australia and 90% of New Zealand are unchurched, then why are these areas less represented24 One can understand that travel to these locations is both expensive and time consuming. Also, that outreach is needed everywhere and that some of the more receptive locations are in the western hemisphere is valid.25

Domain 4: Post-trip reflection

The questions that dealt with reflection on the trip led to interesting insights. The most common responses to the question of long-term effects were “the missionary was encouraged” and “the mission church grew spiritually.” Both of these responses were very strong with respondents, indicating that they were observed 77.5% and 75.2% of the time, respectively.

As a former missionary and current missionary-care worker, I believe that supporters’ visits to the field are critical for missionary longevity. The chance to share ministry and spend time in dialogue with supporters on site is invaluable.26 STMs can be part of a healthy, intentional, balanced approach to LTM support.

LTM workers may struggle with casting a vision of what a healthy larger congregation might look like. As Rich Mullins once sang, “It’s hard to walk beyond your vision.”27 Visits to the field through STMs by spiritually healthy supporters provide the opportunity for vision casting both collectively and individually. Thus, the view that an STM helped a mission church grow spiritually is legitimate; however, whether this is more perceived than actual is a valid question and will be dealt with below.

The third most frequent response to the question of long-term effects was that “the mission church grew numerically.” Again, if the top goal of STMs is evangelism, then the fact that this is the third response given to the question of long-term effects raises the question of how effective the efforts of STM evangelism actually are.

The remaining options given for the question of long-term impact are all much more quantitatively measurable responses—teaching conducted, buildings constructed, joining the mission committee, and increased financial contribution/offering. The fact that these are objectively measurable, while encouragement and spiritual growth are subjectively measurable, makes the comparison difficult.

When asked how STM success is measured, the results demonstrate that the effect of 1 out of 2 STMs is objectively evaluated. Yet, all responses to the effects of STM are somewhat shadowed in doubt, since half of all efforts rely strictly upon anecdotes or no measurement of any sort.

That STM participants return from a trip feeling excited and blessed is understandable and even expected. Yet, to interpret that excitement as growth is probably an overstatement. The review of work by Ver Beek in 2007 indicates the need for better evaluation of STMs, and Moreau postulates STMs might even lead to a negative effect on participants over time.28 Now that we know that the results of only 1 in 2 STMs is objectively evaluated, it is a hope that one outcome of this review will be that churches will begin to scrutinize more closely what is actually happening during and after STMs.

Truly lamentable is the fact that our efforts are conducted and evaluated from only one side of the table. Only 6% of respondents indicated that locals or outsiders were petitioned for any type of evaluation of effectiveness. What does it say about paternalism that we conduct STMs and evaluate STMs without input from those we feel called to serve?

What does it say about paternalism that we conduct and evaluate STMs without input from those we serve?

Dr. Duane Elmer tells the following story of the monkey and the fish as a parable about conducting missions without local input.

A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place on the shore, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

A tree precariously dangled over the spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved far out on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.29

In no way is this critique given to question the hearts of those involved in STMs. On the contrary, it is a call to go beyond the heart and truly determine how efforts in the name of Jesus are being conducted. In the story, the monkey had a wonderful heart of compassion. Jeremiah reminds us that the heart, however, “is deceptive above all things” (Jer 17:9). In order for STM efforts to be evaluated properly and to avoid falling into a self-affirming trap of paternalism, it is crucial that more than 4.5% of our efforts receive feedback from locals.

Unfortunately, when attention is given to what happens to participants after a STM, the results indicate a deficiency. The most common response given regarding debriefing is “presentation to the congregation” (71.3%). Presenting to the congregation certainly provides an avenue for reinforcement of all that is positive and for Q&A. Yet, it is rare that any congregational presentation involves deep critique, self-evaluation, or the reporting of any negative outcomes. Simply put, congregational presentations are typically more pep rally than evaluation.

Simply put, congregational presentations after STMs are typically more pep rally than evaluation.

Meeting together once after an STM was indicated by almost 1 out of 2 respondents. The factor of concern with this answer is that it indicates the low frequency of ongoing debriefing—meeting more than once—that takes place. In fact, only 5.4% of respondents indicated that some form of ongoing processing is required of STM participants. Again, this raises the question of evaluation.

“Growth of the participants” was the second most common answer regarding STM goals. Yet, if this is truly a high goal, then effort to achieve that goal after the trip is severely anemic. In 9 out of 10 cases, churches trust that the experience without any intentional sequential processing will produce lasting spiritual change in participants. Studies, however, indicate that greater learning comes through processing an experience rather than experience alone. To slow down and process seems counterproductive in our hurry-sick world; yet the evidence is convincing.30 It is a shame that great spiritual experiences that cost considerable time and effort are rarely reflected upon in-depth after the fact. The financially and physically difficult portion of the STM is already accomplished but the easily accessible chance to make the change permanent is not pursued.

Another concern is that churches rarely know what participants are actually thinking. What many could describe as a great trip might not be so great in the minds of all participants. Church members come from a wide range of experiences that include abuse, pain, neglect, poverty, and more. How members are adversely affected by exposure to those same features during an STM trip can go undetected without better follow-up.

Likewise, STMs are only partially about the effort of the participants directed towards the local work; much time and energy is spent in fellowship with other participants from the sending church. It is my experience in working with more than 800 summer interns evaluated through the Cerney-Smith stress assessment and debriefing interviews that trauma experienced on STMs can commonly be attributed to the interaction between participants or between participants and the missionary.31 It is also my experience that this trauma is frequently unreported due to the fact that the participant “doesn’t want to upset anyone” or “get anyone in trouble.”

Thus, an STM trip that most report as wonderful and a huge success might actually have adverse effects on the spiritual life of a given participant who quietly internalizes the trauma he/she experienced. Left undetected, this trauma can become the proverbial “bitter root [that] grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb 12:15 NIV).

Conclusion

The average scenario of short-term missions for these Churches of Christ—without consideration of church size—is the following:

The congregation conducts one or two STMs per year with less than ten participants. Of the participants, four people are older than 50, three people are between 30 and 50, two are from the youth group, and one is a college student. The trip will last less than 10 days and cost less than $2000 per person, with most of that going towards the flight and hotel costs; a very small piece of the cost will be for relaxation or tourism. The hotel will be in the 1 to 3 star range, and the congregation will spend less than 10% of the church mission budget on the trip. A staff member who has never served as a missionary will lead the trip to somewhere in North America or Central America to a work that stands a 50/50 chance of being related to the congregation’s long-term mission work. Usually the leader will require participants to attend more than one meeting in order to prepare for the trip. The STM will be focused on evangelism, with the hope that it will result in personal growth of the participants. Upon return, the STM group will make a presentation to the congregation. The effectiveness of the trip may or may not be evaluated and the STM team will meet only one more time. The leader will not ask the local people at the mission site to give any feedback about the trip.

And then next year we will do it all over again.

This national survey has served to capture a bird’s eye view of STMs in the Churches of Christ. That view is both encouraging and concerning. It is encouraging that most churches engage in STMs with the help of vetted leaders who require some level of preparation prior to the trip. It is widely reported that participants grow spiritually from the experience and, in about half of the cases, a long-term work of the church also benefits from the trip. It is encouraging that mission budgets tend to be holding steady or increasing. The level of participation by the older generations indicates that these generations are using their disposable income and time to bless the work of the church in missions.

A big concern is the lack of measurable outcomes for most STMs. Frankly put, are we actually accomplishing what we propose to accomplish? It is hard to say at this time. Welcoming feedback from the people STMs serve would be a great place to start, and it is lamentable that in 95% of the cases, the sending church never asks the local people at the mission site for feedback.

It is also concerning that STMs are not more frequently connected with a church’s long-term mission work. Though there may be multiple factors involved in the explanation of this fact, there is, at best, a 50/50 chance that a given STM connects with a church’s long-term effort.

Similarly, it is of concern that the long-term effect on participants is not known. If the vast majority of participants do not engage in any form of intentional sequential processing, then it again raises a question regarding the true long-term effect of the STM, not only at the mission site but even in the heart of the participant.32

In the age of globalization, short-term missions have become part of the fabric of missions in the local church. I hope this survey has helped to clarify what that fabric looks like and how to strengthen it in the Churches of Christ.

To him be the glory.

Dr. Gary L. Green left his veterinary practice for missions in 1989. Following a master’s degree from Harding University, he and his wife spent nine years in Venezuela and Costa Rica. He then established and directed the WorldWide Witness internship program at Abilene Christian University (ACU). Through this program, he helped prepare over 800 students for cross-cultural internships and cooperated with over 60 missionaries worldwide. From 2013–2016, Dr. Green served as the Associate Director for the Halbert Institute for Missions at ACU where he focused on team building. In 2014, he published Now What? Spiritual Discernment for Cultural Encounters, a debriefing guide for short-term missions. He and his wife currently serve fulltime in missionary care.

1 Robert J. Priest, Terry Dischinger, Steve Rasmussen, and C. M. Brown, “Researching the Short-Term Mission Movement,” Missiology: An International Review 34, no. 4 (October 2006): 432. See also Robert Wuthnow and Stephen Offutt, “Transnational Religious Connections,” Sociology of Religion 69, no. 2 (June 2008): 218.

2 “Research and Statistics,” http://shorttermmissions.com/articles/research.

3 Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron, The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2002), 50.

4 21st Century Christian, Inc., 2809 12th Ave S, PO Box 40526, Nashville TN 37204. Access to this database is a “for cost” service provided by 21st Century Christian.

5 Agreement to participate served as question #1.

6 When a hotel rating was given as a range such as 2–3 or 4–5, only the higher rating was used for the data.

7 This information correlates well with the results from question 19 in which churches ranked “tourism” as the least expensive factor in their STM budget.

8 Domains for discussion with their corresponding questions are as follows:

Domain 1: Local church participation. Questions related to church size, group size, and costs; these include questions 2–10 and 13–18.

Domain 2: Pre-trip preparation. Questions related to preparation, goals of the trip, and leadership of the trip; these include questions 11, 22–25, 32.

Domain 3: The actual trip. Questions related to trip length and location; these include questions 12–13, 19–20, 21, 27, 28, 30.

Domain 4: Post-trip reflection. Questions related to debriefing and evaluation; these include questions 26, 29, 31.

9 Thomas H. Olbricht, “Churches of Christ,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 213.

10 Reasons for this high representation might indicate lesser participation in STMs by smaller congregations or simply that there was no member with the time, responsibility, or information to fill out the survey.

11 That larger congregations have a high number of youth involved in STMs is consistent with the research of Priest, et al., who found that “94 percent of megachurch high school youth programs organize short-term mission trips abroad for their youth, with 78 percent doing so one or more times per year.” Robert Priest, Douglas Wilson, and Adelle Johnson, “U.S. Megachurches and New Patterns of Global Mission,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 34, no. 2 (April 2010): 98, http://www.wfstapleton.net/resources/Mid-U.S.+Megachurches+and+New+Patterns+of+Global+Mission+.pdf.

12 2015 research indicates the average retirement age in the USA is 64 for men and 62 for women; those enjoying good health can often spend many years participating in STMs. Alicia H. Munnell, “The Average Retirement Age: An Update,” Center for Retirement Research, Issue in Brief 15-4 (March 2015), 1–5, http://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/IB_15-4.pdf.

13 Some estimate that US protestant churches now spend as much as $3.4 billion on STMs every year. Gilles Gravelle, “Short-Term Missions & Money,” Moving Missions, http://movingmissions.org/short-term-missions-money.

14 It is also possible that in some cases the effect of inoculation against LTMs is occurring as churches participate in STMs. See A. Scott Moreau, “Short-Term Missions in the Context of Missions, Inc.,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right! , ed. Robert J. Priest (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008), 16.

15 Churches reporting 1–5% growth in the budget were included in the “same” category.

16 The attitude of Boomlets—born after 2001—is still forming, since the oldest of the generation is only 15 years of age. Millennials—born 1981–2000—tend to see religion as part of the personal sphere and not public sphere. Since evangelistic efforts that lead people to a point of decision may result in a negative response and sour the relationship, Millennials are prone to avoid the issue. Within a generation that suffers from frequent broken relationships due to divorce or transient families, evangelism is a dangerous proposal. For more on the beliefs and worldviews of the different generations, see the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe, including their work at http://fourthturning.com.

17 For a good overview of the studies conducted on STMs, see Kurt Alan Ver Beek, “Lessons from the Sapling: Review of Quantitative Research on Short-Term Missions,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right!, ed. Robert J. Priest (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008), 475–502.

18 For a good article on the concept of amateurization of missions, see Justin Long, “The Democratization and Amateurization of Missions,” http://www.justinlong.org/democratization-amateurization.php.

19 See Prov 11:14; 12:15; 13:10; 19:20; 1 Kgs 12:1–17.

20 David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 94.

21 Several “write-in” responses indicated that STMs stayed in homes, camps, churches, or other free options. Yet, these were in the minority.

22 It should be noted here that only the church budget was taken into consideration; no questions were asked related to how much individuals may add to the trip for tourism purposes.

23 A second question related to STM site selection received a slightly better response when 50% of respondents checked “we focused on supporting our long-term missionaries.” This might be an intention but not a reality. The subject is worthy of further research.

24 61.1% of Australians self-identify as Christians, though only 8% assemble on a given Sunday. See The McCrindle Blog, “Church Attendance in Australia,” March 28, 2013, http://www.mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/church_attendance_in_australia_infographic; Glenn Capuano, “2011 Australian Census—Christian Religions,” .id: The Population Experts, August 30, 2012, http://blog.id.com.au/2012/population/australian-census-2011/2011-australian-census-christian-religions. 48.9% of New Zealanders self-identify as Christians, though only 10% assemble on a given Sunday. See Statistics New Zealand, “2013 Census QuickStats about Culture and Identity,” April 15, 2014, http://www.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx; Mike Crudge, “Pop Quiz: When Did Church Attendance Peak in New Zealand?” Mike Crudge: Communication, Church, Society, July 19, 2013, http://mikecrudge.com/2013/07/19/pop-quiz-when-did-regular-church-attendance-peak-in-new-zealand.

25 John L. Allen Jr., “The Dramatic Growth of Evangelicals in Latin America,” National Catholic Reporter, August 18, 2006, http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/dramatic-growth-evangelicals-latin-america.

26 One would hope that the days of missionaries spending twenty years on the field with no visit is over—although I can sadly attest to visiting a missionary last year who has only been visited by a supporter once in 28 years. In some locations, the danger is now approaching excessive frequency of visits that distract from the work at hand. Research indicates that too little or too much missionary care is detrimental to the long-term health of the missionary. For more on the concept of too little or too much missionary care see Detlef Blocher, “What ReMAP I Said, Did, and Achieved,” in Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention, ed. Rob Hay, Globalization of Mission (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2007), 19.

27 Rich Mullins, “Hard,” A Liturgy, A Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band, Reed Arvin, 1993, compact disc.

28 Moreau, 15–16; Ver Beek, 474–502.

29 Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006), 27–28.

30 Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary Pisano, and Bradley Staats, “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning,” working paper, Harvard Business School, Dec 5, 2016, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers2.cfm?abstract_id=2414478.

31 WorldWide Witness program, Halbert Institute for Missions, Abilene Christian University. Student participation in summer internships from 2002-2016 totaled 810.

32 To address the issue of debriefing STMs over a period of time, see Gary L. Green, Now What? Spiritual Discernment for Cultural Encounters (Franklin, TN: Carpenter’s Son, 2013).

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The Final Frontiers: Are We Reaching Them?

Churches of Christ profess a great commitment to the Great Commission—Jesus’s parting instruction to make disciples of all peoples, to preach good news to all creation. To what extent have Churches of Christ prioritized reaching those with the least access to the good news of Jesus? This article presents the challenge of reaching those in extreme spiritual poverty—people groups that are unreached and Bibleless. The article gathers the limited available data to demonstrate that Churches of Christ need to make a more intentional effort to evangelize these groups. It also looks at the history and current status of two Bible translation ministries that have emerged from the Restoration Movement—the World Bible Translation Center and Pioneer Bible Translators—and explains their distinctive but complementary emphases.

A young American family returned from their first term as missionaries in Southeast Asia. During that first term, they focused on learning the national language while they worshiped with a small Church of Christ. As we visited over lunch, they explained that most of the energy of the congregation was invested in hosting a steady stream of short-term workers from the US. This left little time for the local believers to reach out to their neighbors. Any evangelism, whether by local believers or by their foreign visitors, was aimed at attracting members of other churches to their congregations.

The couple identified at least three reasons for this. First, national preachers have observed and been taught this model while attending training schools in a neighboring country. Second, the government has passed anti-coercion laws that bring any conversions under suspicion. (Switching churches does not constitute conversion in the eyes of the government.) Third, believers find that it is much easier to persuade those who already share a Christian worldview and respect for Scripture than those who do not.

Some time ago, I shared breakfast with two brothers from Churches of Christ who facilitate ministries in South Asia. They spoke of people being baptized, churches being planted, and leaders being trained. They also spoke of the increasing difficulty of transferring funds from the US into the country in order to support national preachers.

Having just attended a conference that addressed “insider movements”1 among Muslims and Hindus, I was curious as to whether there were other, less traditional means to reach these populations. I asked my tablemates about the background of those who were coming to Christ in South Asia—whether they were primarily Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, animistic, or some other background. “Some,” they said. “But mostly,” my colleagues replied unashamedly, “they come from the denominations. We focus on converting denominational pastors and their congregations.”

* * *

These situations reflect, anecdotally at least, a tendency for missions among Churches of Christ to focus on reaching people who already have access to the message of Jesus Christ. Do these stories, however, reflect the true picture? To what extent are missionaries from Churches of Christ reaching out to unreached people groups? Related to this question is the issue of providing access to Scripture to people in the language(s) they most readily understand.

To what extent are missionaries from Churches of Christ reaching out to unreached people groups?

Before looking specifically at the involvement of Churches of Christ, the article will first examine the areas of greatest need by explaining what is meant by unreached people groups, looking at progress in the larger Christian world in reaching out to these groups, and briefly examining what is being done and what remains to be done in the field of Bible translation.

Next, the article will look at the extent to which Churches of Christ are sending missionaries to unreached people groups. It will also advocate for extending our efforts to areas of more extreme spiritual need. Finally, it will look at the works of two Bible translation ministries that have their origins in the Restoration heritage and their efforts to provide access to God’s word to all people.

Areas of Greatest Need

Unreached People Groups

Missiologists commonly speak of unreached people groups. At the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, Ralph Winter challenged the growing assumption that the epoch of world missions was over. Even though Christians could then be found in every nation on earth, this did not mean, Winter argued, that there was no longer a Great Commission mandate. He was convicted that there were myriads of “hidden peoples” who would never be reached if believers maintained such a mentality. He diagnosed the church with “people blindness,” which prevented believers “from noticing the subgroups within a country which are significant to development of effective evangelistic strategy.”2

Winter’s address spurred a conversation about what it would mean to reach all of the people groups of the world. In 1982, Edward Dayton convened a group of evangelical missiologists in an effort to arrive at a consensus definition of the terms that had newly entered the discussion. This gathering defined a “people group” as “a significantly large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another. From the viewpoint of evangelization this is the largest possible group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”3

This definition points to two factors that help distinguish between people groups, at least in terms of gospel communication: factors of understanding and of acceptance. A believer in a group must be able to communicate the gospel in a language and through forms that another in the same group can understand, and there must be no social, economic, or political barriers strong enough to prevent the unbeliever from hearing the gospel.4

The Joshua Project, a service of Frontier Ventures (formerly The US Center for World Mission), provides a helpful analysis of how the number of “people groups” varies according to whether one considers only major linguistic differences or includes dialectical, cultural, political, and subcultural differences.5 The Ethnologue identifies approximately 7,000 major linguistic groups,6 whereas the World Christian Encyclopedia counts about 27,000 groups if cultural and subcultural distinctions are considered.7 Other variations occur when one considers people groups that are divided by national borders, leading some authorities to consider them as separate groups.

Dayton’s gathering defined an unreached people group as “a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group without outside (cross-cultural) assistance.”8 While this definition is helpful, determining what constitutes “adequate numbers and resources” is difficult. Most mission agencies consider a people group to be “reached” when one or two percent of the total population are identified as followers of Jesus. The Joshua Project defines “unreached/least reached peoples” using the dual criteria of “less than 2% Evangelical and less than 5% Professing Christian.”9 Others describe unreached peoples as social groupings that have never heard the gospel, have not responded to the gospel, do not have a community of believers within their midst, or do not have a Bible in their mother tongue or readily available for people to read.10

According to the Joshua Project, 40.6 percent of the world’s people groups, representing 42.2 percent of the global population, or over three billion people, are unreached.11 An additional 16.9 percent of people groups have only a nominal Christian presence.12 Using somewhat different definitions, researchers from the International Mission Board (IMB) arrive at a higher percentage of unreached people groups, almost half of which it considers unengaged—there is no active evangelical church planting strategy in place to reach them.13

Progress in Reaching the Unreached

At the 1989 Lausanne II Conference in Manila, Luis Bush proposed that, if the goal of missions is to reach the unreached, mission finances and personnel must focus on what he called the 10/40 Window. This “window” extends from ten to forty degrees north of the equator and stretches from North Africa through the Middle East to China and Japan. Because this area is largely unreached by Christian missions, it constitutes the “core of the challenge” for world evangelization. Ninety-five percent of the four billion people living in the sixty-nine countries of the 10/40 Window are considered unreached.

Figure 1: The 10/40 Window

In addition to being mostly unreached, the 10/40 Window exhibits a number of other characteristics.14 All three major non-Christian religions—Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism—originated in the 10/40 Window. Animism, atheism, and Sikhism are also strongly rooted there. Eighty-seven percent are the poorest of the poor, living on an average annual income of only $250 per family.15 Finally, Satan has a significant stranglehold on this area of the world. Bush writes, “The people living in the 10/40 Window have suffered not only hunger and a lower quality of life compared with the rest of humanity, but have also been kept from the transforming, life-giving, community-changing power of the gospel.”16 God’s people must seek to break these strongholds of Satan. They must reflect the ministry of Christ by proclaiming “good news to the poor” and “release [to] the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

The Bibleless: Progress and Remaining Need in Bible Translation

Although “Bibleless” and “unreached” are distinct categories of spiritual need, they often overlap. From the early days of Christianity, Bible translation has frequently been an integral element in making and maturing disciples of Jesus.17 According to 2016 statistics from the Wycliffe Global Alliance, the complete Bible is available in only 636 of the approximately 7,000 languages in the world today. The New Testament is available in an additional 1,442 languages, while Scripture portions exist in yet another 1,145 languages.18 Understanding that these statistics are constantly changing, it is still evident that there are no Scriptures available in over half of the world’s languages.

In some areas where the Scriptures have been translated, there are problems of access to Scripture because of limitations of printing, distribution, and literacy. Some translations are so literal or archaic that they are not readily understood by the common person, so that a new translation is warranted. On the other hand, beginning translation work in some Bibleless languages is not necessary because they are quickly dying. By the same token, existing languages are developing, in some cases rapidly, and different populations within a language group use the language differently. As evidenced by the availability of numerous English translations, the work of Bible translation is never truly complete.

Although well over 2,500 active Bible translation and language development programs are currently in progress, the Wycliffe Global Alliance has identified an additional 1,700–1,800 languages where there is a “likely need” for additional Bible translation programs.19

Extreme Spiritual Poverty: Unreached and Bibleless

An October 2015 search using Joshua Project’s People Group Filter identified 3,302 people groups where Bible translation is needed; that is, no translation project has been initiated. Joshua Project classifies 1,238 of these as unreached. That number grows to 1,682 when people groups with only a nominal or formative Christian presence are included.20 When one considers that these people groups, numbering somewhere between 1,200 and 1,700, have no active witness to Jesus—neither through mother-tongue Scripture nor through an active community of believers among them—one is driven to the conclusion that these groups constitute the area of most extreme spiritual poverty in the world today.

Just as it is wrong for the church to ignore areas of extreme physical poverty (the need for clean water, food security, affordable housing, and safety from violence), it is equally wrong for the church to ignore extreme spiritual poverty (the need for enduring access to the word of God). Justice cries out against those who live as physical gluttons yet make no effort to provide for those who lack access to basic resources. That same voice cries out against those who dine at an abundant spiritual table yet make no effort to provide for those who cannot yet taste a morsel.

Just as it is wrong to ignore extreme physical poverty, it is wrong to ignore extreme spiritual poverty.

Status of Church of Christ Missions to the Unreached

Harding University currently maintains the International Missionary Database, which attempts to list missionaries associated with Churches of Christ currently serving cross-culturally.21 Because of the decentralized nature of missions among Churches of Christ, maintaining an accurate database is extremely difficult, and Harding University is to be thanked for their efforts. In surveying the data for this article, the author noticed several missionaries that he knows to have left the field. There are, no doubt, others who are serving who are not listed in the database. Furthermore, any analysis of the data represents a snapshot in time, while the presence of field missionaries is more analogous to a moving picture. The statistics reported in this article, therefore, are illustrative of the situation among Church of Christ missions, but do not purport to be an authoritative or exact representation of the number of missionaries serving in each context.

In November 2015, the database listed 791 family units serving cross-culturally. Of these 791 family units, sixty-eight were listed as serving in countries classified by Joshua Project as lying inside the 10/40 Window. Ninety-five percent of the four billion people living in those sixty-nine countries are considered unreached. Even allowing for the inexact nature of the data available, it is safe to say that less than ten percent of Church of Christ missionaries are serving among this unreached population. The information in the database does not reveal whether those who are serving in these countries are evangelizing unreached populations or if they are, rather, focusing on reaching members of other Christian groups. Even when this is the case, there is a potential for these missionaries, or those they train, to extend their evangelistic impact to unreached peoples. If the anecdotes cited at the beginning of this article—both of which concern countries with large numbers of unreached people groups—are representative, however, there is reason to question how much intentional effort is being made to reach the unreached who are in close proximity to our missionary and national Christian evangelists.

Less than 10% of Church of Christ missionaries serve in the 10/40 window.

The potential to reach the unreached is not limited to the 10/40 Window. Using a wider definition of “unreached people group” (UPG), Operation World has classified the forty countries with the highest number of UPGs. The International Missionary Database indicates that a much higher number, 219 family units, or over a quarter of the Church of Christ missionary force, is serving in these countries. Again, this does not indicate that these missionaries are evangelizing among unreached peoples, but it does indicate that they are in some proximity to these groups. With intentional, strategic planning, either missionaries or nationals trained by them could be more effective in reaching the unreached.

Table 1: Known Church of Christ Missionary Personnel Serving in Countries with the Highest Number of Unreached Peoples22

Country

Unreached Peoples

Missionary Family Units

Brazil

58

87

Burkina Faso

28

3

Cambodia

30

3

China

427

9

France

33

7

Guinea

29

3

Kenya

35

12

Laos

134

1

India

2,223

5

Indonesia

200

1

Israel

40

1

Nigeria

67

14

Malaysia

56

1

Russia

77

20

Senegal

27

1

Sri Lanka

64

1

Sudan

138

1

Tanzania

33

29

Thailand

75

8

Turkey

38

1

United Kingdom

28

11

In an effort to gain a deeper perspective on Church of Christ missions among the unreached, in December 2015 this author sent an online survey to email addresses listed in the International Missionary Database. Over a one-month period, eighty missionaries supplied usable responses to the survey. With only ten percent of the missionaries in the database responding, the results of this survey may not be representative of Church of Christ missions as a whole. As a measure of missionaries who are serving unreached populations, the results may be skewed conservatively. Those serving unreached peoples may have been hesitant to respond to the survey because of security concerns. The results of the survey, then, serve only as an indicator, and not as a definitive measure, of efforts by Church of Christ missionaries to reach unreached peoples.

Almost eighty percent of the respondents were North Americans serving outside their country of origin. The remainder were non-North Americans serving either inside (11.25%) or outside (8.75%) their countries of origin. Over ninety-three percent considered themselves “residential” missionaries—that is, their primary residence lies within their field of service.

The survey asked respondents to estimate the religious makeup of their target populations. Only three of the eighty survey respondents reported serving populations that would meet the Joshua Project’s definition of an unreached people group (less than two percent Evangelical and less that five percent Christian adherent). Even allowing for the limitations of this study, it is clear that there is not a widespread focus on sending missionaries to the least reached peoples of the world.

This does not, of course, mean that there are not deep spiritual needs in the areas where missionaries currently serve. Twelve and a half percent of survey respondents reported serving populations that are ten percent Christian or less. Forty percent of the respondents serve in areas where fifty percent or fewer of the people profess Christianity, and over eighty percent describe fifty percent or less of the people they serve as Protestant or Evangelical. Even in places where the majority of people profess Christianity, there are often needs for continual teaching, equipping, and discipleship.

Extending Our Efforts To Areas of Extreme Spiritual Poverty

There is no question that authentic ministry in Jesus’s name is currently taking place, but the fellowship of Churches of Christ should make an intentional effort to send more cross-cultural missionaries to people in extreme spiritual poverty. Gailyn Van Rheenen and I have discussed both strengths and limitations of prioritizing unreached peoples.23 Most obviously, by placing an emphasis on reaching unreached people groups, a missions movement focuses on areas where Satan has the tightest stranglehold. As the gospel is lived out and proclaimed, the kingdom of God makes inroads into the dominion of darkness.

We should make an intentional effort to send more missionaries to people in extreme spiritual poverty.

If we wish to expand our movement’s passion for world missions, we can expect that many will be motivated to address the disparity between those who have opportunities to hear the gospel and those who do not. Such an obvious need moves people to heed the call to go, and it can also inspire others to send. We, as a movement, however, may not be adequately aware of the extreme differences of access to the gospel that exist between different areas of the world. Although a desire for adventure is certainly a secondary motivation in missions, people with pioneering spirits may be drawn to such areas and can often develop new, innovative strategies to allow access to these often hard-to-reach areas.24

These considerations must be weighed against the reality that unreached populations are often the most resistant to the gospel and that Christians may face intense persecution. Some locations cannot be easily accessed by North Americans. Perhaps God intends to send other nationalities to some of these groups. One could argue that, if only unreached peoples are prioritized, then vibrant kingdom ministries in other parts of the world could unjustifiably suffer.25

We must also consider that unreached peoples are found outside of the 10/40 Window as well. In this age of global migration, many unreached ethnic groups are scattering throughout the world. Missionaries to Europe may find themselves living next door to someone who has never heard of Jesus. Will they recognize the opportunity that is before them? Believers in a Nashville suburb may have Asian neighbors whose worship takes place at an ancestral shrine in their living room. Will the followers of Jesus intentionally build relationships that will give them credibility when they share an alternative worldview?

Bible Translation in the Restoration Movement

David Burke has observed, “It is noteworthy that, over many centuries, it has remained true that the Bible has most commonly been read in translation. . . . As churches spread geographically, they indigenized the faith into the local culture, and one of the first aspects of that process was the translation of the Scriptures into the local language.”26 Bible translation has indeed been a feature of Christian mission since the earliest days of the expansion of the church. The rise of Protestant missions and the International Bible Society movement that began in 1804, however, gave rise to the rapid multiplication of translations. Paul Ellingworth calculates, “More than twice as many languages received a complete Bible for the first time in the nineteenth century as in the entire previous history of printing.”27 Bible societies connected missionary translators, who learned local vernaculars and could work in the original languages, with the printing press and provided important financial assistance.28

The work of Cameron Townsend, in particular, led to the development of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and its associated mission agency, Wycliffe Bible Translators. Wycliffe/SIL is the single most influential and productive force in Bible translation today, and it has inspired the formation of a number of smaller Bible translation agencies, each with its distinct emphasis. Two of these have emerged within the Restoration Movement: World Bible Translation Center (now part of Bible League International) and Pioneer Bible Translators.

World Bible Translation Center/Bible League International

The World Bible Translation Center began in the early 1970s as a ministry of the Hillcrest Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas. Ervin Bishop, now Senior Translation Consultant with Bible League International, recalls a presentation at Abilene Christian University’s Summer Seminar in Missions in 1973, where he first learned of the church’s plans for this new ministry. They were already supporting Stanley Morris, who was then working on a modern Persian translation.29 With a background in Biblical Languages and Classical Greek, as well as seven years of mission work in Athens, Greece, Bishop was immediately attracted to this new ministry and agreed to join it the following year. Although Bishop had not anticipated working on an English language translation, research pointed to the need for a translation for the deaf. Bishop worked with Benton Dibrell, a sign language expert, and other WBTC staff to complete the New Testament, and Baker published it as the English Version for the Deaf in 1978. The text was simultaneously published as the Easy-to-Read Version. The English Version for the Deaf proved effective in communicating God’s word to the deaf, while the Easy-to-Read Version, which has undergone periodic revisions, proved to be particularly effective for people whose reading skills in English are not fully developed. For that reason, use outside the United States has grown substantially.

The publication of the Easy-to-Read Version laid the foundation for the focus on producing easy-to-understand translations for many of the world’s most widely used languages. The first of these was Telugu, the language of eighty million people in southeast India. Initial evidence that the existing translation was unsuitable for the majority of Telugu speakers came from an interview with a non-Christian university student studying in the US and was confirmed through on-field research by Dr. Carley Dodd.30

The principle that has guided this translation work is that both believers and nonbelievers should be able to read the Bible in a language they can understand. While believers who have lived with older versions may find them adequate and even spiritually formative, in many cases the style used is incomprehensible or off-putting for many speakers of the language. Although translations may exist in those languages, those people are, for all practical purposes, without readable Bibles. Bishop writes, “Unless people have a Bible they can understand, they don’t have a Bible!”31

Around 1980, the World Bible Translation Center came under the oversight of the Richland Hills (now The Hills) Church of Christ. After twenty years, the organization’s board of directors assumed responsibility for its operations. In 2011, the World Bible Translation Center became part of Bible League International, whose February 2017 website lists twenty-two languages in which Easy-to-Read translations have been completed and an additional twelve languages for which translation is in progress.32

Bishop points out that some changes in focus have occurred through the association with Bible League International, whose primary interest is in providing translations for those areas where it is already engaged in assisting the under-resourced church. This means that translation work is mainly focused on these areas. Perhaps a more significant change is that now, as part of Bible League International, more Bibles translated by the World Bible Translation Center reach the people who need them, and this provision of Bibles is supported by training and discipleship.33

Pioneer Bible Translators

In the early 1970s, Al Hamilton began promoting Bible translation by recruiting workers from Christian Churches and Churches of Christ for this task. In 1974, Pioneer Bible Translation and Recruiting Service (PBTRS) was incorporated in Oregon.34 Hamilton did not originally set out to form a sending organization. He directed those he recruited to move to Dallas to be trained at SIL and did not offer specific direction or coordination for field service. However, some missionaries recruited by PBTRS found that SIL was not a good match, due in part to distinctive doctrines of the Restoration Movement and its emphasis on the church as the agent of God’s mission in the world.

In 1975, an ad hoc committee, led by Rondal Smith, met during the National Missionary Convention in St. Louis to discuss a suggestion from Wycliffe Bible Translators that churches from the Restoration Movement establish their own Bible translation agency. A founding board was established, with Smith serving as chairman. In 1976, Pioneer Bible Translators was founded and incorporated in Texas, with Al Hamilton as its first president.35 In 1988, Smith began eighteen years of service as PBT’s president. Greg Pruett, veteran missionary and Bible translator in West Africa, was named as president in 2006 and continues to serve in that role.

Pioneer Bible Translators’ field ministries began in 1977 when brothers John and David Pryor, along with their wives Bonita and Sharran, entered Papua New Guinea. In cooperation with SIL, the Madang province was chosen as the focus for meeting translation needs. In 1983, the first Scripture portions were published.36

Since those earliest days, the work of Pioneer Bible Translators has spread to other Asia-Pacific nations, to several areas of Africa, and to Eurasia. According to the Fall 2016 report to the Board of Directors, Pioneer Bible Translators is a team of 425 adults and 238 children, translating the Bible in 66 languages for 32 million people in 16 countries. Administration and financial operations take place both through various field offices and through the International Service Center in Dallas, Texas. Through international partnering organizations, missionaries are already being sent from Canada and Ukraine, and partnerships are emerging in the Philippines, Brazil, and Poland.

The work of Pioneer Bible Translators differs significantly from that of the World Bible Translation Center and Bible League International. In almost all language groups where Pioneer Bible works, no previous publications of Scripture are available. In some cases, linguists must work with local people to develop a system of writing the language, and literacy must be taught. Highest priority is given to churchless, Bibleless people groups. To the extent possible, Pioneer Bible missionaries live among the people for whom translation is being done. The ministry is not limited to Bible translation; rather, missionaries are often engaged, along with local people, in church planting, community development, and relief ministries. Because of these additional challenges, the pathway to published Scripture is considerably longer. As of February 2017, three complete Bibles have been published, along with New Testaments in 17 additional languages and portions of Scripture in at least 26 others.

The approaches represented by the legacy of the World Bible Translation Center, currently embodied in Bible League International, and Pioneer Bible Translators are, ultimately, complementary. The former’s emphasis on providing Easy-to-Read translations in the world’s most widely spoken languages helps enable access to Scripture to those who speak these languages, including multilingual readers without access to Scripture in their mother tongue. Pioneer Bible Translators’ emphasis on providing Scripture in the languages of unreached, Bibleless people groups addresses the need for mother-tongue Scriptures among unreached people groups, particularly those who live in areas of extreme spiritual poverty.

* * *

Although the research for this article did not investigate the reasons why Churches of Christ have not given sufficient attention the unreached, Bibleless people groups, one might safely assume that the difficulty of the task is a contributing factor. Recognizing the importance of the challenge does not diminish its difficulty. In a recent exchange between blog commenters, one reader responded to another’s claim that, by December 2016, “27,000+ people have gone to the world’s areas and have reached all known and unknown groups of people.” To this claim, his correspondent responded,

If anyone is telling you that a people group has been “reached”—you need to ask some more questions: What percentage of the UPG population has been discipled? Bible translations available? Churches established? How did the 27000+ people who went out learn the target languages so quickly (as this takes many many years to achieve fluency, particularly when dealing with faith terminology), How did this group gain access into closed nations beyond the usual tourist visas 30 days etc.37

Reaching the unreached will not be done easily or quickly. Not everyone is called to live among the least reached, who are often also hard to reach. Nor is everyone called to serve in the ministry of Bible translation. But some are. Are our churches opening our eyes to the need? Are our training institutions encouraging and equipping disciples to go to them? Are our families inspiring our children with examples of sacrificial service? While not all missions need be directed toward unreached people groups, both the anecdotal and the limited statistical evidence available suggest that these crucial populations deserve more attention from Churches of Christ.

Anthony B. Parker is the Global Partnerships Officer and a Training Coach for Pioneer Bible Translators, based in Dallas, Texas. He is also an adjunct professor of Intercultural Studies at Johnson University. Anthony served cross-culturally for over sixteen years in New Zealand, Benin, and Togo. He received his DMin in Missions and Evangelism from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and collaborated with Gailyn Van Rheenen on the second edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies (Zondervan, 2014).

1 According to advocates, “An ‘insider movement’ is any movement to faith in Christ where a) the gospel flows through pre-existing communities and social networks and where, b) believing families, as valid expressions of the Body of Christ, remain inside their religious communities, retain their identities as members of those communities, while living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Bible.” Rebecca Lewis, “Promoting Movements to Christ Within Natural Communities,” International Journal of Frontier Mission 24 no. 2 (Summer 2007): 75, http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/24_2_PDFs/24_2_Lewis.pdf.

2 Ralph D. Winter, “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism,” in Let the Earth Hear His Voice: Official Reference Volume, Papers, and Responses, International Congress on World Evangelization, Lausanne, Switzerland, ed. J. D. Douglas (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1975), 221.

3 Edward Dayton, “Reaching Unreached Peoples: Guidelines and Definitions for Those Concerned with World Evangelization,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 2, no. 1 (January 1985): 32–33.

4 Bible translation ministries often distinguish their projects by speaking of “language groups” rather than “people groups.” While a language group may incorporate multiple people groups, a single translation project may be sufficient for all. At the same time, when this is the case, those organizing the translation project must assure that members of diverse, sometimes conflicting, groups share ownership of the translation process so that the resulting translation will find acceptance by all who can understand it.

5 Joshua Project, “How Many People Groups Are There?” https://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/how_many_people_groups_are_there.

6 M. Paul Lewis, Gary F. Simons, and Charles D. Fennig, eds., Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 18th ed. (Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2015), https://ethnologue.com.

7 David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Encyclopedia: A Comparative Study of Churches and Religions in the Modern World, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

8 Dayton, 33.

9 Joshua Project, “Joshua Project,” https://joshuaproject.net/about/details.

10 Damian Efta, “Who Are the Unreached?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 30, no. 1 (January 1994): 29.

11 Joshua Project, “Global Statistics,” https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/statistics.

12 Joshua Project, “Lists: All Progress Levels,” https://joshuaproject.net/global/progress.

13 The IMB counts 11,751 people groups, 7,042 of whom it considers unreached. Of these, it considers 3,229 to be unengaged. Data gathered in April 2016 from IMB, “Global Status of Evangelical Christianity,” http://grd.center/Research-Data-GSEC-Monthly.

14 Luis Bush, Getting to the Core of the Core: The 10/40 Window (San Jose, CA: Partners International, n.d.), 3–8.

15 Window International Network, “About the 10/40 Window,” http://win1040.com/about-the-1040-window.php.

16 Bush, 7.

17 By the end of the fourth century, John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople, refers to a translation of the Gospels made by the Parthians “into their own tongue.” There is also evidence of the Gospels being translated into Georgian in the fifth century. Also in the fifth century, Theodoret, bishop of Cyrrhus mentions translations of the Hebrew writings into the Latin, Ethiopian, Persian, Indian, Armenian, Scythian, and Samaritan languages. See Manuel Jinbachian, “Introduction: The Septuagint to the Vernaculars,” in A History of Bible Translation, ed. Phillip A. Noss (Rome: Edizioni di Stroria e Letteratura, 2007), 44, 51.

18 Wycliffe Global Alliance, “Scripture & Language Statistics 2016,” http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics.

19 Wycliffe Global Alliance, “2016 Bible Translations Statistics FAQ: Going Deeper,” November, 2016, 4, http://resources.wycliffe.net/statistics/Wycliffe%20Global%20Alliance%20Statistics%202016%20FAQs_EN.pdf.

20 Joshua Project, “People Group Filter,” https://joshuaproject.net/filter.

22 Known Church of Christ Family Units as listed in the International Missionary Database provided by the Center for World Missions at Harding University (November 2015). Paramaters for “unreached peoples” here follow Operation World, “Unreached Peoples,” http://www.operationworld.org/hidden/unreached-peoples. Countries in bold lie in the 10/40 Window according to the revised list at Joshua Project, “What is the 10/40 Window?” http://www.joshuaproject.net/resources/articles/10_40_window. Church of Christ missionaries also serve in Albania (fifteen family units) and Japan (six family units). These countries are within the 10/40 Window but do not fall in Operation World’s list of countries with the highest numbers of unreached people. 10/40 Window countries with no Church of Christ missionary personnel listed include Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Brunei, Chad, Djibouti, East Timor, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea, Maldives, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, West Bank/Gaza, Western Sahara, and Yemen. Note that active congregations of Churches of Christ, led by nationals or by missionaries not listed in the database, are present in several of these countries.

23 Gailyn Van Rheenen with Anthony Parker, Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 460–61.

24 Ibid., 112–13, 460.

25 Ibid., 461.

26 David G. Burke, “The First Versions: The Septuagint, the Targums, and the Latin” in A History of Bible Translation, ed. Phillip A. Noss (Rome: Edizioni di Stroria e Letteratura, 2007), 60–61.

27 Paul Ellingworth, “From Martin Luther to the English Revised Version” in A History of Bible Translation, Phillip A. Noss, ed. (Rome: Edizioni di Stroria e Letteratura, 2007), 133.

28 Ibid., 136; William A. Smalley, Translation as Mission: Bible Translation in the Modern Missionary Movement, The Modern Mission Era, 1792–1992: An Appraisal (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1991), 28.

29 Ervin Bishop, Telephone interview with author, February 18, 2016.

30 Ibid.; Ervin Bishop, “Some Thoughts on the Need for Different Types of Translation,” Paper presented to the Forum of Bible Agencies (April 1999), 3.

31 Bishop, “Some Thoughts,” 1.

32 Bible League International, “Translation,” https://www.bibleleague.org/what-we-do/translation.

33 Bishop, interview.

34 Eunice Herchenroeder, PBT History—A Timeline of Firsts (Dallas, TX: Pioneer Bible Translators, 2001).

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.

37 Allen O., comment on Aaron Earls, “10 Key Trends in Global Christianity in 2017,” Facts & Trends, http://factsandtrends.net/2016/12/12/10-key-trends-in-global-christianity-for-2017/#comment-213734.

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The Challenge of Missiology among Churches of Christ (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Greg McKinzie

The fundamental challenge of missiology among Churches of Christ is, in a word, autonomy. I limit the meaning of missiology here to its simplest terms: the formal study of Christian mission. Furthermore, I have in view a particular dimension of missiology among Churches of Christ, namely, research regarding the tradition’s mission practices (in contrast with other dimensions such as mission theology or intercultural studies). Naturally, the challenge of missiology in the tradition is a reflection of the challenge of missions in the tradition. The same limitations that congregational autonomy creates for mission work find expression in the study of that work. The issues are not a mystery; all the benefits of collaboration are at stake. Funds, understanding, skills, experience, workforce, relationships, and everything else that missions organizations manage to pool are relatively limited—often practically inaccessible—for local churches that take practices such as sending, support, and oversight of missionaries to be matters of congregational autonomy.

Historically, for Churches of Christ, the arguments in favor of congregational autonomy outweighed these challenges on a basic level. I will not repeat those arguments in detail here, but the primary concern was to safeguard the church against organizational structures “unknown to the New Testament.”1 In time, we learned to compensate in a variety of ways. The tradition developed practices of intercongregational cooperation compatible with autonomous sending, support, and oversight. And institutions such as university missions programs and other training agencies now provide services for mission works apart from the functions still limited to local churches. In any case, some Church of Christ missionaries felt (and continue to feel) that other benefits—like freedom from mission society bureaucracy or direct relationships between supporters and missionaries—make up for what is lacking in organizational synergy.

The challenges for missiology are similar. While the autonomy of local churches often impedes finding answers to research questions about missions among Churches of Christ, however, it benefits the research process nothing. Autonomy not only stymies collaboration and communication but also undermines the organization necessary for collecting missiological data on the tradition as a whole. I chose the word organization carefully in the preceding sentence, to highlight the difference between the “other organization”2 that haunts the Restoration imagination and the organization of efforts that permits the kinds of collaboration autonomy does not.

Various articles of the present issue exemplify both the adaptation of Churches of Christ to confront these challenges and the ongoing limitations we must address. Missions Resource Network (MRN) generously agreed to collaborate on this issue of Missio Dei, which we have titled “The Status of World Missions among US Churches of Christ” following the 2002 book The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ, by Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron.3 MRN exists in the no-man’s-land of mission organizations that serve the congregationally autonomous missions of Churches of Christ. MRN’s efforts to represent the status of missions among Churches of Christ deserve our gratitude. They address the challenge of autonomy head-on by resourcing the survey of a representative sample of congregations in a variety of studies. The response rates of these surveys, in turn, stand as a jarring symbol of the persistent challenge. For example, Becky Holton and Dale Hawley report in their study of missionary care that “a low response rate affects the overall validity and reliability of the survey results.”4 Likewise, Gary Green’s study of short-terms missions indicates only “138 completed responses were gathered from the 4023 emails sent.”5 I wonder, with whom will our autonomous congregations share their missions practices if not organizations like MRN?

Of course, gathering this sort of data is always a complicated and fraught process. There is not one single cause of low response rates, and I certainly do not mean to suggest that “autonomy” is a sufficient explanation. In fact, I do not reflect on autonomy as a problem but as a challenge—one we must come to terms with. The fact is, in a tradition that numbers something less than 1.2 million members among roughly 12,240 congregations in the US,6 we do not know how many missionaries are in the field, where they serve, how long they have been there, or what specifically they do. Harding University helpfully maintains a database, but it necessarily relies on self-reporting, which is liable to the same difficulties that plague the surveys conducted for this issue.7

In my view, there are two major implications of autonomy’s challenge for missiology among Churches of Christ. The first is the need for efforts at further organization aimed at coordinating not only the capacities and initiative for boots-on-the-ground research but also motivating congregations’ interest and participation in ongoing research. The latter requires an argument to participant churches for the justification—the practical value—of such an effort. I take the research articles published in this issue to be part of such an argument. They indicate the relevance of the information such research stands to acquire, the kinds of conclusions we could draw on the basis of that information, and the importance of the decisions such insights might inform.

The second implication is that we may be well served by a turn toward the practices of qualitative research rather than relying solely on quantitative research. Certainly, some of the interests that motivate survey research—to find, for example, basic data like short-term missions expenditures or long-term missionary attrition rates—continue to require quantitative methodologies. Yet, as qualitative research has in recent decades carved out a space in the hyper-positivistic world of scientific research, notions of validity and generalizability have been freed from the grip of statistics. More fundamentally, the value of the kinds of knowing that qualitative research generates has become clear.8 In-depth interviews or case studies, for example, can give us unique, vital insight into the practices of sending churches and missionaries alike. It is time to stop thinking of such data as mere “anecdote” and get on with the business of rigorous qualitative research that can answer urgent missiological questions.

I must reiterate my appreciation for the labor of our friends at MRN. They continue to take steps in the direction we all hope to travel—toward wakeful, thoughtful, faithful participation in God’s mission. At its best, missiology always serves those ends. Churches of Christ are fortunate to have embarked on mission in the twenty-first century with leaders like those at MRN, who advocate careful attention to what we’re actually doing, theological reflection on what we should do, and imaginative discernment of what God is already doing in the world. Missio Dei serves to give such voices a hearing, and I pray that readers will find the conversation both helpful and challenging for their local churches.

Soli Deo gloria.

1 See the “memorial” written to the 1892 General Christian Missionary Convention held in Nashville, TN, reproduced in “All Delighted,” The Tennesseean, October 21, 1892, 8. For more information, see Doug Priest, “Missionary Societies, Controversy over,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 534–36.

2 “All Delighted,” 8.

3 Gailyn Van Rheenen and Bob Waldron, The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2002).

4 Becky Holton and Dale Hawley, “Missionary Care among US Churches of Christ: A Comparative Study of Supporting Churches and Missionary Responses,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 8, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2017): http://missiodeijournal.com/issues/md-8-1/authors/md-8-1-holton-hawley.

5 Gary L. Green, “Short-Term Missions among Churches of Christ: A National Survey,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 8, no. 1 (Winter–Spring 2017): http://missiodeijournal.com/issues/md-8-1/authors/md-8-1-green.

6 Carl H. Royster, “Churches of Christ in the United States: Statistical Summary by State / Territory,” https://www.21stcc.com/pdfs/ccusa_stats_sheet.pdf.

8 For a helpful introduction to these issues in a theological context, see John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, Practical Theology and Qualitative Research, 2nd ed. (London: SCM, 2016), ch. 2.

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A Portrait of US Church of Christ Missionaries

Churches of Christ are among the largest missionary-sending groups of North American Protestants according to the Mission Handbook for North American Protestant Missions.1 We currently have nearly 800 missionaries deployed around the world. But what motivated them to pursue missionary service? What ministries are they performing on the field? How long are they staying and in what countries are they serving? This article seeks to answer these questions.

Our best estimation of the number of North American missionary families and individuals from Churches of Christ who are currently on the field is 752, clustered in 464 family units.2 Their distribution around the world is discussed further below.

These statistics of US-based missionaries tell only a small part of the story of missions in our fellowship, for they fail to communicate the heroic and faithful service of national Christians from whom most of the spiritual and numerical growth has emanated. It also does not include the increasing number of missionaries who have been sent from other countries. We no longer live in a time when the West alone sends missionaries to the rest of the world. Today, missionaries from everywhere are taking the gospel to everyone.3

To learn more about our missionaries, I surveyed 258 missionaries in the approximately 464 Church of Christ missionary households worldwide. One hundred ninety-three (74.8%) opted out or did not respond. Sixty-five missionaries (25.2%) responded of whom 18 completed all but the open-ended questions and 47 completed the entire survey.4

What Motivated Our Missionaries to Serve?

One area this study probed was the factors that inspired the men and women surveyed to become missionaries. Nearly 58 percent ranked the influence of missionaries or former missionaries as the strongest factor in their decision to serve as international missionaries. Experience with short-term international efforts and parental influence tied with a rating of 46.2 percent, which means that parents are doing an admirable job of influencing their children toward world evangelism. The influence of a preacher or youth minister measured a weak 15.4 percent, followed last by the influence of a Bible school teacher with only a 7.7 percent rating. Many short-term overseas experiences are provided by our Christian schools, but a growing number of congregations also provide those experiences. Local churches who do provide international experiences can impart substantial motivation for missionary service.


Figure 1: Missionary Rankings of Items that Influenced Them to Serve as Missionaries

The responses to “Other” items included receiving “a specific calling to missions,” needing “to give back to the Lord for rescuing me,” feeling “called by God to spread the gospel,” and believing that “this was not something I could keep to myself.” Other missionaries mentioned family, growing up in a missionary family, or “having a brother and close childhood friend already serving” overseas. Another commented, “I thought I could make a difference in the Kingdom and I was influenced by my Catholic upbringing which had a strong emphasis on missions.” One respondent stated that his wife influenced him because she had lived through the Khmer Rouge genocide and wanted to visit Cambodia to see if she had any family left.

What Are Our Missionaries Doing?

Asking what kinds of activities our missionaries perform on the field is like asking what a single working mother does. The answer is “just about everything.” It was important, however, to learn the major roles of their ministry and to discover if the combined ministries of all our missionaries exhibit a healthy balance in terms of evangelism, church planting, church maturation, leadership training, and humanitarian efforts. I asked missionaries I surveyed to respond to several items using a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 in Figure 2 representing the missionaries’ concept of their highest primary function and 1 their lowest primary function. Church maturing and evangelism tied for first place as the missionaries’ primary functions, with ratings of 5.2. Leadership training was next with 4.8 percent, followed by church planting with 4.7. Humanitarian efforts and medical care combined for a score of 6.3. “Other” activities came in at 1.8. The rather close grouping of the various functions, as indicated by their numerical scores, shows a relatively healthy collective balance in the missionaries’ roles does exist, at least on this survey.


Figure 2: Rankings of Missionaries’ Primary Functions

How Long Are Our Missionaries Serving?

Dr. Earl Edwards, “professor of Bible and Missions, former dean, and director of Graduate Studies in Bible at Freed-Hardeman University, commented in a private discussion with me on February 8, 2005, that in the 1970s the average tenure of missionaries was less than two years. That has changed in recent years, as indicated by the missionary responses to a query in the 2015 survey.


Figure 3: How Many Years Have You Ministered in This Country?

Many short-term missionaries, those who serve anywhere from one month to two years, also populate our missionary force, but may not have received the survey or were reticent to participate. Sixty-three percent of those who did respond indicated that they had served as missionaries in their present country for more than 10 years, 33 percent have been working in the same country for more than 16 years. Twenty-two percent have served for 6 to 10 years, 15 percent have been on the field for 6 to 10 years, and 15 percent have been on the field for only 1 to 5 years.

Table 1: Comparison of Missionary Tenures on the Field

Years

1968-1969

2015

1-5 Years

43.2%

14.8%

6-10 Years

32.3%

22.2%

11-16+ Years

23.8%

62.9%

Comparing these 2015 results with Joe Hacker’s 1968–1969 survey (see Table 1) shows that contrary to the cultural shift from long-term to shorter-term commitments, a larger number of 2015 missionaries seem to be opting for longer stays than their 1968 and 1969 counterparts.5 Longer tenures should mean more insight into the host culture and greater language acquisition which, in turn, ought to result in greater effectiveness on the field.

Where Are Our Missionaries Serving?

Table 2: Number of Missionaries and Missionary Family Units in Each Continent or Region

Continent

Missionaries

Missionary Family Units

Africa

191

107

Asia

102

83

Europe

158

94

Caribbean

13

8

Middle America

50

29

South America

170

103

South Pacific

66

39

TOTAL

750

463

The largest number of missionaries, shown in Table 2, is stationed in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world’s most receptive regions to the gospel of Christ. The second largest segment of missionaries serve in receptive South America, primarily in Brazil, and the third largest group of missionaries are found in postmodern and post-Christian Europe, one of the least receptive regions of the world.

The rest of our missionary force labors in Asia (102), the South Pacific (66), Middle America (50), and the Caribbean (13).6 More missionaries are needed but they need not all come from America. Christians in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean are taking increasing responsibility for reaching their regions.

Conclusion

This article has endeavored to provide a profile of US missionaries among Churches of Christ by examining their motives for serving, the continents on which they are serving, how long they typically remain on the field, and their primary functions or roles.

Appendix: Missionary Survey

PAGE 1: About Your Field

Q1: While we especially need data for an entire nation, we know that is not always available. Please indicate the Area for which you are reporting (please keep this Area in mind as you complete this survey):

Nation

Region / people group

City / town

Q2: If you selected “Nation,” please list your nation. _________________

Q3: If you did not select “Nation,” please list either your “Region / people group” or your “City / town.” __________________

Q4: In what year was the work initiated in your Area? ______

Q5: Rank the primary functions of the missionaries in your Area.

Humanitarian efforts

Church maturing

Leadership training

Evangelism

Church planting

Medical care

Other

PAGE 2: About the Kingdom

Q6: Number of congregations in your Area:

2014 / 2015

2010

2005

2000

Q7: Number of baptized believers who regularly worship with the above congregations:

2014 / 2015

2010

2005

2000

Q8: How would you describe the general spiritual maturity of the congregations in your Area?

Extremely mature

Very mature

Moderately mature

Somewhat mature

Not at all mature

Q9: How many congregations in your Area have elders? ____

Q10: The Kingdom is more than statistics, so please share some important or inspirational insights about some of the congregations in your reporting Area.

PAGE 3: About You

Q11: How many years have you ministered in this country?

1-5 ____

6-10 ____

11-15 ____

16-+ ____

Q12: Rank the items below that influenced you to serve as a missionary.

Bible school teacher

Parents

Preacher or youth minister

Short-term overseas experience

Missionary or former missionary

Other (please specify)

Q13: Supply addresses for any of the following media tools you use to tell about your work.

Website

Blog

Facebook

Other

Q14: Please provide names and email addresses for other North American missionaries from Churches of Christ serving in your nation. You may email contact information for additional missionaries to bob@missionsconsulting.org.

Q15: Finally, what other comments would you like to make?

Bob Waldron, president of Missions Consulting International, is a former co-director of Great Cities Missions and the founding executive director of Missions Resource Network. He preached for the Juneau Church of Christ in Alaska and has ministered cross-culturally in the villages of South India, among Japanese-Americans in California, and in Guatemala for six years. He co-authored with Gailyn Van Rheenen The Status of Missions: A Nationwide Survey of Churches of Christ (ACU, 2002). He holds a doctorate in missions from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

1 John A. Siewert and John A. Kenyon, Mission Handbook for North American Protestant Missions, 15th ed. (Monrovia, CA: Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, 1993), 60. Though future editions of the Handbook no longer ranked the entities in this manner, my 2013 telephone interviews with executives from five missions organizations (Assemblies of God World Missions, Christian and Missionary Alliance International Ministries, International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists, Presbyterian Church USA Mission Agency, and The Evangelical Alliance Mission) indicated that the relative standings have remained approximately the same.

2 These figures are from the International Missions Database for Churches of Christ, which I formerly maintained while serving with Missions Resource Network but is currently maintained by the Center for World Missions at Harding University. I further updated the information from data discovered from research for this article. Missionary couples in the database are either US citizens or US husbands married to non-US wives.

3 This phrasing reflects the subtitle of Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003).

4 Fred Van Bennekom, “Survey Statistical Confidence: How Many Is Enough,” https://greatbrook.com/survey-statistical-confidence-how-many-is-enough and Fred Van Bennekom, “Survey Sample Size Calculator,” e-mailed to the author May 15, 2017, both show that a survey of 464 missionaries with a sample size of 258 and a 14 percent response (65 missionaries) has a 95 percent confidence level with a +/-11 percent of accuracy. Bennekom is on the faculty at Northeastern University’s Executive MBA program and is principal of Great Brook Consulting. He conducts workshops in the United States and abroad on survey design and survey data analysis for government agencies and Fortune 500 companies.

5 Joe Hacker, Mission/Prepare Report 1970: Field Report of Foreign Evangelists from Churches of Christ, 1968–1969 (Searcy, AR: Harding College, 1970), 6–7.

6 This compares favorably with statistics from Bob Waldron, “2013 American Missionaries Serving Churches of Christ Internationally,” http://www.missionsconsulting.org/resources.html. The report, based on the International Missions Database for Churches of Christ (IMD), a collaborative effort of interested mission leaders housed in 2013 at Missions Resource Network in Bedford, Texas, showed 503 family units consisting of 871 missionaries serving in 106 nations (Africa, 200; Asia, 142; Europe, 122; Caribbean, 8; Middle America, 188; South America, 188; and the South Pacific, 76). The report was distributed to missions leaders at Christian universities and schools of preaching associated with Churches of Christ.