Over several posts, we’ve been looking at how to develop an effective missions program. In today’s post, we move from developing and documenting your new missions strategy, to how your current missions program should be evaluated to determine how closely it matches up with the new strategy. This will enable your leadership to determine if any adjustment or realignment should be made.
This evaluation is vital in the process of rebuilding a missions program, and it requires great care. Your church’s missionaries are well loved by the congregation. They have likely established relationships with the people in your church through regular visits over the years. Some members may have personally supported their work in the past, and others may even be related to the missionaries. It should be expected, then, that some in your congregation will be leery of any critical evaluation of your missionaries, even if done with the best intentions. The more objective the evaluation process, the less personally and emotionally challenging it will be to the congregation, and the more God-honoring it will be when finally implemented.
In order to evaluate your current missions program in light of your newly outlined strategy, there are three phases that must be worked through. The first phase involves collecting data on your current missions effort, and the next two phases require evaluating your current missions activities and missionaries.
Phase 1 – Collect and Document Current Missionary Activity
Begin by collecting and documenting all the current missionary activity that your church supports. If one does not already exist, you will be well served to construct a comprehensive list or spreadsheet showing the names of all of your missionaries, along with important information, such as:
- Names and ages of each missionary’s family members
- Contact information and agency contacts
- Support start date and initial support level
- Current support level
- Date and amount of last support increase/decrease (if available)
- How the missionary came to be supported (e.g., close connections within the church, introduced by someone outside the church, etc.)
This information will help to give you the full picture of your current missions efforts. It will also be important to gather information about your missionaries’ particular activities and doctrinal convictions. Because this is sensitive and important data, it is advisable to ask the missionary directly rather than rely on old or second-hand information.
To gather these responses, your church may send a Missionary Update Form (MUF) for each missionary to fill out. As mentioned in our post on communication, this process should not only be clear and transparent to your congregation but also to your missionaries. Therefore, along with the MUF, your elders should provide the missionary a letter explaining your desire to receive updated information as part of your missions program evaluation. The tone and wording of this letter should be carefully decided so as not to cause undue alarm on the part of the missionary or concern that your church will suddenly cut his support.
The MUF should request enough data to give your missions leadership a clear idea of what activities the missionary is engaged in, his personal contribution to that ministry, and his current doctrinal beliefs. If you have not recently asked the missionary for prayer requests, the MUF should contain these types of questions, as well. Some sample questions on the MUF may include:
- What are the broad goals of your current ministry?
- What are your particular responsibilities in regards to the ministry. In other words, what day-to-day activities are you generally involved in that advance the overall purpose of the ministry?
- Please read over the church’s Doctrinal Statement and Statement of Faith. Are you in agreement with this statement? If not, please comment on areas of difference or concern.
- What are the biggest challenges in your current ministry?
- What are the greatest blessings that you have seen recently in your ministry?
- How can our congregation be praying for you and your family?
- Is there anything else that we can do to serve you and your family that we are not currently doing?
The information contained on the MUF will be instrumental for your evaluation of the missionary and his ministry focus. The answers you receive will update you on ministry goals, problems, financial status, contact methods, etc. You will also be able to determine if the missionary is still doing the same ministry for which he or she was originally sent, and if not, what has changed.
While the MUF is a useful way to gather information, it should not be a substitute for personal interaction. If your church leadership has not visited or been visited by a missionary lately, it is worth the effort to arrange it. If possible, work with the missionaries’ furlough and visit schedules to coordinate personal interviews with them. Have your pastors, elders, and the missions team share a meal with them and ask questions about their ministries and families. In these settings, you are able to get to know the missionary and understand his priorities and ministry focus far better.
After compiling all of the data on your current missions activities, your missions leadership team will be in a good position to evaluate your current activities to see how they line up with your defined missions strategy and philosophy. We recommend you first evaluate the missionary’s ministry focus and then doctrinal beliefs.
Phase 2 – Evaluate Current Missions Focus
After documenting your current missionary activity, it is ready to be evaluated in light of the new strategy. First, categorize your current missionaries’ ministry focus. Categorizing your missionaries by the focus of their ministry will help you evaluate the level of agreement or disagreement with your church’s priorities. In our post on principles we identified a broad range of missionary emphases drawn from Scripture, such as preaching publicly, church planting, church strengthening, leadership training, missionary support ministries, and mercy ministry. Identify what your missionaries are aiming to accomplish in their activities. Even though most missionaries are involved in a variety of ministries, the goal at this point is to identify the predominant focus. If a missionary’s main ministry focus does not fall within the categories above, you will need to assign that ministry a different category.
Once you have categorized and documented each missionary’s ministry focus, you can aggregate the current support amounts for each category. These numbers will provide you with a valuable set of data reflective of what your current missions program does and does not emphasize. With this objective analysis, it is much easier to compare the current allocation of missions resources with the strategy you have already developed.
Using the hypothetical example from our post on developing a strategy, we will imagine that your church’s new missions strategy outlined the following allocations of missions funding:
- Evangelistic outreach/Church planting: 40%
- Leadership training: 30%
- Mercy ministry: 20%
- Support activities: 10%
However, when you categorized each of your current missionaries and added the funding levels, you found that your current program allocations are as follows:
- Mercy ministry: 75%
- Support activities: 15%
- Evangelistic outreach: 10%
This comparison clearly and objectively reveals that your current allocations are significantly different than the goals set in developing a strategy.
Another important aspect of the missions focus evaluation is to look carefully at each of your missionaries’ ministries in terms of their Great Commission impact. Our Lord’s Commission was to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach men to obey all of Christ’s commandments; is that what your missionaries are doing? If one of your missionaries is engaged in mercy ministry, is that mercy ministry a platform for serious and intentional gospel witness and evangelism, or is it merely a way to meet physical needs? If it is the latter, your evaluation should clearly reflect that. Similarly, if your missionary is involved in ministry administration or support, is the ministry that is being supported contributing to one of your identified ministry emphases? If not, this is also an important finding that should be documented in your evaluation.
It is crucial that you assess the Great Commission impact of your missionaries’ ministries because it is not uncommon for certain activities to be deemed “missions” while not actually possessing any Great Commission elements: no evangelism, no discipleship, no teaching, no emphasis on obedience to Christ, no distinctly Christ-centered witness at all. An alarming trend in missions today is that many people are engaged in cross-cultural activities that on the surface seem to be ministry-driven, but in reality are absent of any Christian message. Your leadership team must guard your missionaries and your church from this all-too-common pitfall. As you evaluate the missions focus, your missions team should gain a solid understanding of exactly what your missionaries are engaged in as it relates to these issues.
Phase 3 – Evaluate the Missionaries’ Doctrinal Beliefs
The third phase is to evaluate each of your missionary’s doctrinal convictions with regard to your church’s Statement of Faith and Doctrinal Statement. Ideally, your missionaries should be in agreement with the doctrine that is taught in your church and they themselves should be an extension of that teaching around the world; however, ministry challenges, missions agency pressure, and other factors can shift a missionary’s doctrinal stance over time. Additionally, if your church has changed its doctrinal position, the missionary may be unaware and might no longer be in agreement with your doctrinal stance. It is important, therefore, to find out from your missionaries where they stand on your church’s theological positions.
From the MUF, you should have a relatively clear understanding of where your missionaries agree and disagree with your doctrinal statement. If there is disagreement, there is an opportunity to come alongside and teach the missionary the biblical support for the church’s stance. If there is continued disagreement, the church leadership will need to decide the best way to proceed forward with that missionary.
The three steps listed above are essential in order to do a one-time evaluation of all of the missionary endeavors that your church currently supports; however, evaluation of your missionary efforts should not only be a one-time occurrence. Your leadership team should perform regular evaluations of your missionaries and the ministries they are involved in. Not only will this prevent unwanted drift in your missionary efforts, but it will also provide opportunities for your missions leadership to shepherd, guide, and encourage missionaries in their difficult work. It is desirable to do evaluations every three to five years if possible.
Now that you have thoroughly evaluated your current missions effort and compared it with your identified strategy, you are ready to begin the process of aligning your current program with your documented strategy. We’ll have more on that next time.
This post was adapted from the booklet, How to Build an Effective Missions Program.