Friday, May 18, 2007

Making A Negative A Positive

The other day I attended a denominational national meeting. I chatted with the Missions Director and he was telling me about the missionaries that would be appointed that week.

“We have four couples who will be approved as career missionaries, eight missionaries who will be approved for short term internship.”

He then went on to explain their short-term program, which is a two-year assignment, is designed to give missionaries hands on experience.

“Sixty-percent of those who complete this internship program go on to become career missionaries,” he added.

What the Director did not talk about, which I thought was significant, is the forty-percent who come home after the two year project and who do not sign up for career service.

For many years I have argued for equipping people better for those going to the mission field. From the time a missionary family is approved or appointed by their mission board, the two years it takes for them raise their support, living in a country for one term (traditionally four years), the financial investment is approximately $500,000. In some organizations, where the standard of acceptance and screening is low, the attrition rate among first term missionaries averages between twenty and forty percent. With an investment of a half-million dollars, or more, you’d think that mission agencies and sending churches would seek ways to insure that their financial investment was not in vain. Yet, there are very few sending agencies that require any training or internship for those who venture out into career cross-cultural work.

The forty percent interns who do not sign up for career missions reveals what is obvious -- some people are just not cut out to live overseas for a long period of time. It may be because of family matters, personal issues, lack of culture adjustment, not finding their niche in ministry overseas or a host of other reasons for not re-signing for longer than a two year service.

Being able to live overseas does not an effective missionary make. The best internship program will include focused training and hands-on coaching. Though successfully living overseas for two years is helpful, it is only half the battle. Did the interns learn language, culture and do the research necessary to have a long lasting impact are the questions needed for an effective internship program. And for the forty percent not re-upping as missionaries, a thorough exit evaluation of why would enhance the internship program in making it a more valuable program in the future. Counseling for the forty on their “next step” should also be a part of the program in helping those people readjust into their local community and church.

I do not see the forty as a negative, but a positive in this internship project. If more agencies would offer similar programs it would no doubt help reduce missionary attrition and save money in the process.