Monthly Archives: September 2014

Listening well…and why it matters


Does your mission organization listen well?

How would you know?

One of the more famous mission research studies since the turn of the millennium was the ReMAP II study of missionary retention, done by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Fieldwork, conducted in 2002-03, involved 600 agencies across 22 countries, representing some 40,000 missionaries.

GMI associates played a prominent role in the research and analysis, as well as in the creation of the book that reported the results, Worth Keeping.  The first half of the book is available free from WEA Resources.

It is an important book and well worth having on your shelf if you are involved in recruiting, assessing, training or leading field missionaries.  The book provides a helpful formula for calculating retention rate that every agency should apply.  Beyond that, its insights include:

    • Some agencies retain missionaries much better than do others.  The average (mean) tenure of those serving in high-retention agencies was 17 years—compared to 7 years in low-retention agencies (p. 3).  That is especially important for certain ministries, for the time between the seventh and 17th year is, according to Patrick Johnstone, “The period most likely to prove fruitful in cross-cultural church-planting ministry” (Future of the Global Church, p. 227).
    • Large agencies offer a decided advantage in retention over smaller agencies (pp. 39-41).
    • Setting a high bar in missionary selection correlates strongly with retention—the more criteria an agency considers in selection (character references, physical health, local-church ministry experience, affirmation of a doctrinal statement), the more likely it is to have strong retention (pp. 69-71).
    • The greater the percentage of an agency’s budget spent on member care—and especially preventative member care—the more likely it is to have strong retention.  In newer sending countries (Majority World), high-retention agencies spend twice as much as low-retention agencies (as a percentage of budget) and twice as much on preventative care (pp. 182-183).

All of these findings are meaningful and credible.  They come from the portions of the survey questionnaire that ask agency administrators to report on facts: What is your agency’s size?  Its retention rate?  The average tenure of departed field staff?  What criteria does it consider?  How much does it spend on member care?  These are facts that would be reported similarly, regardless of who completed the survey on behalf of the agency.

However, a large chunk of the survey instructed agency administrators as follows:

“Please evaluate your mission agency’s practices in the following areas (as evidenced by time, effort and effectiveness).”  Items were listed on a six-point scale ranging from “Not well done” to “Very well done” (p. 413).

Among the 49 items in this section:

  • Missionaries are assigned roles according to their gifting and experience.
  • Good on-field supervision is provided (quantity and quality).
  • Missionaries are generally not overloaded in the amount of work they do.
  • Effective pastoral care exists at a field level (preventative and in crises).
  • Missionaries are included in major decisions related to the field.

During the analysis phase, Jim Van Meter, who led the U.S. analysis, noticed that several items in this section did not significantly correlate with retention rates—and some significant correlations were counter-intuitive.  He asked GMI for a second opinion about why.

Our response: The problem isn’t the questions.  It’s the person answering them!

Administrators can reliably answer factual questions about their agency’s practices, but they cannot reliably answer evaluative questions related to their support of field staff.  The field staff has to answer those questions!

That’s why we launched the Engage Survey in 2006—so that field missionaries could give their input on issues like these.  It is also why we sought a grant to again promote Engage—with a substantial discount to agencies—in 2014-2015.

Consider the last item in that list above: Missionaries are included in major decisions related to the field.  In ReMAP II, agency administrators, both Western and Non-Western, indicated this as an area of strength for agencies.  Further, the item was not linked to retention.

But when we surveyed 1,700-plus fieldworkers, a completely different picture emerged.  “My organization involves employees in decisions that affect them” was one of the 10 lowest-rated items (out of 68).  When combined with related items like “My organization’s management explains the reasons behind major decisions” and “My organization acts on the suggestions of employees,” the factor we titled “Involvement in Decisions” was the lowest rated of 11 themes (principal component factors) in the survey.


What is more, the factor was significantly correlated with agency retention.

When we did follow-up depth interviews with current and former missionaries, inclusion in decision-making was one of five encouraging themes related to continuing service.  Exclusion from decision-making was one of six discouraging themes.

In short, everything we hear from field staff says, “This issue is important, and most missions have significant room for improvement.”

So, back to the original questions:

  • Does your mission organization listen well?
  • How would you know?

One clue is your agency’s annual retention rate for long-term cross-cultural workers.  If it is 97 percent or above, you probably listen well relative to other agencies.  If it is below 94 percent, you very likely have room for improvement.

To be sure, I would strongly recommend surveying your field staff.  Use a survey that assures anonymity for respondents, ideally administered through a third party.  Even better would be to do it collaboratively with other agencies, so you could learn how well you are doing compared to like-minded organizations with globally distributed staff.  And if you could find an experienced researcher to walk you through the results and make sure you make an action plan, so much the better.

That’s Engage.  Pricing is reasonable (less than $1,000 for many agencies) and is graded by the number of missionaries on staff.  Those signing up by November 30 save 25 percent on registration (via a $125 check from GMI, courtesy of a foundation grant) and 20 percent off the per-missionary graded rate.  Bu the way, none of the registration fees comes to GMI—our involvement is funded fully through the grant.

Count the hours that it would take you to do this on your own, without comparative benchmarks or a professional-grade survey instrument and follow-up consultation.

Pardon the shameless plug, but Engage is one of the best deals I know of in mission research.  Everyone wins:  Leadership teams get to celebrate successes and identify priorities.  Boards receive meaningful measures and see how leaders are taking initiative.  Field staff gets a chance to be heard and offer ideas.


Your Mission Starts with #ThrivingPeople


Exuberant, flourishing missionaries can have such an incredible impact on the Kingdom, if they stay in the mission field. Our survey provides your mission organization with the ability to reach into the hearts of your staff and find out if they are truly thriving.

All of us here at GMI are very excited about the launch of our latest project. It is a Field Missionary-Friendly employee survey called Engage.

We teamed up with Best Christian Workplaces to create this customized assessment to help agencies understand their global staff and make Spirit-led decisions to help them thrive. You may remember us doing this survey almost a decade ago, but it is revamped and even better this time around.

“The Engage Study is the best way to measure the health of those on your front line and strategically focus your resources to improve their effectiveness. The return on your investment in Engage could be significant.  Best Christian Workplaces Institute is thrilled to join with GMI to serve leaders supporting those ministering on the front lines,” said Al Lopus, Best Christian Workplaces Institute president. (GMI Press Release)

We launch the survey fully later this week at the Missio Nexus Conference.


As the latest Casting Crowns song, “Thrive,” goes, “We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive!” This is not only true in our everyday lives, but also in the mission field.

We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, all desire to see the unreached people of the world hear the great news of the Gospel and for peoples of all different origins and countries become disciples of Jesus. But this can only be achieved with effective missionaries that are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and thriving people is where it starts.

What does thriving people mean to you and your mission agency? This is the tagline of our campaign and we want to hear what you think thriving people equals. With fun photo contests on social media and at the Missio Nexus Conference, we are trying to raise awareness about the idea of thriving people.

What difference do thriving people make? You know the answer but what are you doing about it? Will you Engage with your missionaries and learn from what they have to say? Your mission depends on it!


Connect with us at for the full description along with prices, information about our #ThrivingPeople social media contest, and more!

Find us on Facebook, and You Tube,

How Can You Personalize Missions Recruitment? Understanding Five Categories of Searchers

Among all the possible workers for your ministry, how can you sift through those who have potential and personalize your connection with them?

Your website strategy and process for gathering contact information online can help you focus on those most likely to serve with your agency.

GMI research on the attributes of those searching has yielded five distinct profiles of searchers. Understanding and addressing the needs of each of these segments helps you develop specific strategies for each segment.


Scouts are serious about missions someday — when they finish school, pay off debt or obtain workplace experience that could equip them for service. The objective in creating a web experience for Scouts is to build engagement so that when the time for serving arrives, your agency has top of mind awareness.

Scouts are interested in understanding the identity of agencies and discovering resources that may be helpful to them — and others — as they proceed along their journey.


Strategists have clear focus and goals as they are exploring mission opportunities. Their actions on your agency website are designed to help them answer this basic question: “Does this agency do the kind of mission work that I feel led to do?”

Clarity of purpose leads Strategists to seek out specifics about what an agency is doing, how it is going about the work, and how they might fit into the picture.


Enthusiasts are excited about the prospect of cross-cultural ministry. Enthusiasts typically take time to explore your website and all aspects of your agency’s identity, including vision, focus, strategy, and beliefs.

A distinctive of the enthusiasts is that they are interested in specific information about opportunities for service (both short- and long-term), requirements and salary structure. They want to picture what it would look like for them to serve through your agency.

Faith Matchers

Theology matters more to some searchers than others. Faith Matchers believe their affinity with an organization’s statement of faith is an essential screening mechanism for considering a particular missions agency. Once the doctrinal questions are answered, Faith Matchers will explore mission and vision, geographical focus and cross-cultural mission opportunities, both long-term and short-term.


Tourists are focused on short-term opportunities as their avenue for cross-cultural engagement. This segment is experiential and wants to understand what a short-term opportunity would offer them. They want media-rich sites so they can see what happens in the field.

Agencies that offer a variety of short-term opportunities should develop a specific web strategy related to Tourists.

Segments and Strategy

While you may focus on one or two segments of searchers, a deeper understanding of all the segments can spark creative engagement strategies. Emphasizing key segments is important for effective recruiting, but understanding and accommodating a variety of paths to service can multiply your efforts.


Want to read more from Searching to Serve: Recruiting Kingdom Workers Online? The full report gives specific web strategies that your organization can use. Click the link to read more about the book by James Nelson and Carla Foote and purchase your copy today!

International Literacy Day: What do Oral Learners do in a World of Words

The majority of Africa, along with a few other countries, has a literacy rate of 75% or less. However, approximately 80% of the world (5.7 billion people) is classified as primarily oral communicators (

Why are so many people oral communicators? Technology. Andy Butcher states, “And in parts of the world with long-term high literacy rates, many younger people prefer to listen to, watch, or discuss something rather than read about it” (page 51, Seeing Your World). People, especially the youth, just don’t like reading.

Words and Women

Technology is not the only reason, however. The inability to access education also creates a barrier to literacy. This hindrance has caused women and girls to make up 2/3 of the world’s illiterate population due to their lack of access to education.

Not only that, but many women are faced with the responsibilities and duties of being the sole providers and care-takers for their families. (see Female Head of Household Map on page 14).  In addition to all of the stress and limitations, mothers are “victims of all evils within communities and societies,” according to Waghmare (page 17).  This in turn can lead to women having poor health and further decreasing their chance to become literate.

Spoken Possibilities

As technology becomes increasingly more advanced and spreads into areas of low literacy rates, it also becomes simpler and easier to use for both literates and non-literates.  Examples of this can be seen in all the latest smartphones and apps.  Siri, equipped with speaking capabilities, can speak and type the information that you requested.  The information is then available to both someone who can read and to someone who cannot.  Also, all apps are represented on a tablet, iPad, smartphone, etc. as icons (sometimes with or without words), rather than just a word or words.  These new advances encourage orality rather than literacy.

Reframing Evangelism and Discipleship

The Church has had a large focus on developing literate Christian leaders so that they could be more effective thinkers and doers.  Stan Nussbaum, an expert in African Missions, thinks differently.  His thoughts on this traditional development “has been tragically handicapped by attaching it so exclusively to literate methods” (page 53).  Literate methods are still needed and very important to global missions; however, a focus on non-literate tactics in areas where the people are primarily oral communicators could see tremendous success.


To learn more about Seeing Your World or to purchase a copy, please visit

Is Your Ministry Challenge a Puzzle or a Mystery

The type of research and thinking required in global mission has fundamentally shifted and few have taken notice. I don’t say this to be controversial, I say it because today I see people asking last century’s questions and hoping for 21st Century insight.

Most of our line of inquiry in mission is assuming that we simply do not have the information and need to collect it in order to understand our world better and make decisions. This was the case in the mid-1900’s when the amount of activity and complexity of the activity were fairly limited. In those days the question, “Where is the church and where is it not?” “How many Christians are there in a given country or province?” “Where is a Scripture translation underway and where is a translation needed?”

In today’s globalized world the complexity is much higher but the amount of information we have is also exponentially greater. Today’s complex world requires us to ask questions that will overlay various pieces of the information already collected to give us insight to very specific situations.

The difference between a line of research defined by a lack of information and a line of research defined by multiple streams of complex or conflicting information is described in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, “Open Secrets” (reprinted in his book “What the Dog Saw”). In this article Gladwell applies Gregory Treverton’s principle of “Puzzles vs. Mysteries.” Simply put, when solving a puzzle the main ingredient needed is more information. However, when solving a mystery the main ingredient needed is insight.” Gladwell goes on to give very practical examples. Finding Osama Bin Laden was a puzzle whereas understanding Enron’s fall was a mystery. The first required information in the form of intelligence. The second required people to go through mind-numbing amounts of publicly filed paperwork and understand the complex financial tools being employed in risky ways.

In the missions world today, we have fewer puzzles and more mysteries. There are still places in the world where we simply need more information. There are countries like Laos, North Korea or parts of India where we truly need more basic information about the Church and the status of the Gospel. However, for most of the world you can get this information at one level or another.

Our greater challenge involves the mysteries of mission. For instance, “How do we know when a church is sustainable?” “What triggers growth in a national Church?” “How do we measure and understand discipleship?” “How do we reach a people group when so many are in cities and in diaspora communities?”

For each of these items we have a myriad of data points, on-the-ground stories and theories. The challenge is to work through the data and the complex situations to try and come up with possible ways to understand these questions and make decisions based on that understanding.

If what Gladwell described is really the situation facing mission, that has significant implications for the mission community. For one thing, we need fewer counters and more analysts. We need fewer people out collecting data in the field and more people analyzing what we already have. We also need people who are able to understand complex cultural, religious and geopolitical realities.

Secondly, those of us in leadership need to recognize the difference between the puzzles and mysteries and think strategically about what we are trying to solve. Many of us are mobilizing the resources necessary to solve a puzzle when we really have a mystery on our hands.

The last century required persistent puzzle solvers but this new century will require inquisitive detectives who love a good mystery. Do you have any good detectives in your mission agency? If not, now is the time to start looking.

The People Have Spoken - Top 5 Missiographics

Last September we launched our Missiographics Service. So instead of sending out a new infographic this week, we decided to bring together the 5 most popular ones we have produced based on the amount of people that have viewed them. These infographics provide very unique information on topics ranging from church planting, globalization and growth of the church in Brazil and Indonesia.

We hope that taking another look at these will give you the chance to engage with the content in a deeper way, allowing you to revitalize your mission efforts with our research findings. Also, for those of you who are new to our bi-monthly emails, our prayer is that this Top 5 collection will give you a quick look at what Missiographics are about along with providing possibly some of the most relevant information we have collected thus far.

NOTE: Click on the image to visit the Missiographic Page on our site.

1. Global Bible Searches - What Are People Searching For?

Have you ever wondered what passages people around the world were searching for?
Thanks to Bible Gateway (, we are able to bring you that information so that you can get to know the people you are trying to reach better.






2. What Roles Should Individuals and Nations Play in Global Church Planting?

Church planting can seem fairly simple, but many questions arise like who, where, when, and how. This infographic, thanks to the Global Church Planting Network, will help you understand the size of the challenge, the types of roles needed and some examples of who should fill them.






3. Indonesia: THINK BIG!

Indonesia is a vastly underrated country for how BIG it is. This infographic will help you better understand the religious makeup, population, geography, and more.








4. Brazil: An Emerging Force in Global Mission

Brazil has been in the headlines a great deal recently, from the World Cup and the upcoming Olympics to economics and poor living conditions. But did you know that the Brazilian Church has been impacting the mission field immensely?






5. On Mission in a Moving World

In the world today, there are many people moving from place to place, and a large amount of them are moving due to extreme pressure from war, trafficking, and others. This infographic will help you meet them where they are now.