Updated June 7, 2006


The Coming “Missionary Crisis”

David Mays

For the past twenty years I have been observing the missions ministries of churches in the Midwest.  I believe I see some emerging patterns in church budgets designated for the support of U.S.-based mission agencies and missionaries working outside the U.S. 


Higher Proportion of Budget:

Lower Proportion of Budget:

·      Traditional churches

·     Contemporary or seeker churches

·      Older congregations

·     Younger congregations

·      Older churches

·     Younger churches

·      Baptist and Bible churches

·     Community churches

·      Stabilize churches

·     Churches in change

·      Churches between 200 and 1000

·     Churches over 1000


Where is the trend headed?

An increasing number of churches are working to grow in their community by becoming more contemporary, following mega-models, improving and building facilities, and changing the church name.  Many new churches are being started, the great majority of them focused almost exclusively on reaching their culture and community.


It is common for young churches to give less than 5% of their income to missions.  Many churches are reducing their missions giving because of increasing expenditures for staff and facilities, building programs, increased ministry in the community, internal conflict, or financial crises. And the scope of missions is broadening.  The proportion of the missions budget that supports U.S.-based organizations and missionaries that work overseas is shrinking.


Overseas ministries funds are increasingly being dedicated to mission projects, partnering with national organizations and workers, mission trips, and increasing the support of current missionaries. This makes it difficult for new missionaries to raise support.  In the fall of 2004, a group of 20 missions pastors of very missions-active churches was asked, “How many of you are prepared to take on the support of a new missionary?”  None said yes.


How were missionaries supported in the past?

The London Missionary Society was the first sustained Protestant, English-speaking foreign missionary movement.  Based in England, it began in the 1790s.  Its initial policy was to provide funds for the first year of a missionary’s support needs.  Within the first year, the missionary was expected to start a self-sustaining farm or find other means of self-support.


The missionary sending paradigm of churches providing the full support of a missionary over an extended period of time may be less than 200 years old.  Perhaps it will turn out to be a historical anomaly, a pattern developed and sustained only among relatively wealthy, missionary-minded, church cultures.  While this paradigm is still strong, it seems to be declining and we may expect the trend to continue. 


Missions is becoming more “individualized.”

What is taking the place of declining church support?  First, missionaries are raising an increasing portion of their support from individuals.  Second, an increasing number of individuals are seeking their own missionary role or “niche” without the guidance or support of their church.  And third, individuals are getting involved on their own in locations or careers that provide opportunity for witness among other cultures. 


Several years ago some friends sold their chiropractic office and moved to Portugal to set up a practice, largely out of a concern for the spiritual state of the people.  I was startled when the son of a former pastor graduated from the University and moved to Taiwan and got a job.  He is now teaching worship leaders across the country and elsewhere in Asia. 


Business-as-missions is exploding, with individuals working under the auspices of mission organizations or simply entering the marketplace around the world as overt Christians. The popularity of the Finishers movement and the annual Medical Missions Conference in Louisville may be indicators of this individualization movement. 


The World “Missionary Crisis”

A few weeks ago, wandering around in the Lincoln Christian College Library, I found a whole wall of missions books.  One of the first to catch my eye was Overcoming the World Missions Crisis, by Russell Penny, published in 2001.  As I began to look at it, an old book on the shelf above caught my eye.  It was The Missionary Crisis, by the great missionary-hearted preacher, A. T. Pierson.  I looked inside.  It was published in 1886.  “My goodness,” I thought to myself, “Missions has been in crisis for 120 years!” 


But simultaneously I realized that the past 120 years has seen the greatest world missionary movement in history!  While missions has been in crisis, God has been moving mightily around the world! 


A changing missionary paradigm may create a crisis for some of us and look like a crisis to others but it is not a crisis for God.  It may be an opening for great advances from another direction.  The big question is: How can we adjust our thinking and our practices to accomplish the most for the Kingdom in this era?


Missionary paradigms change but God is relentlessly fulfilling his missionary vision.  His reputation continues to spread around the globe in accordance with his promise that “Everything that is written about me…must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44) Perhaps He is in the process of inspiring much more effective paradigms for global involvement in the next generation of churches. 

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