Study Shows Breakdown in Practical Supervision for Missionaries



Contact: Jon Hirst, 719-531-3599 or info(at) for media inquiries




Colorado Springs, CO, December 17, 2020 – One of the key factors to the long-term staying power of cross-cultural missionaries is the degree of decision-making freedom they are given.  Another is the quality of supervision they receive.  How well do mission agencies balance these priorities?


In GMI’s recent Engage Study of more than 1,700 missionaries from seven agencies,  84 percent North American cross-cultural field workers agree that they have the decision-making authority they need to be effective. But while many missionaries are being empowered in decision-making, the bad news is that practical supervision falls short in three key areas:

  • Spiritual Health: Only 2 in 5 missionaries say their supervisor regularly inquires about the condition of their soul
  • Planning & Progress: Only half say their supervisor helps them make plans and measure progress
  • Feedback: More than a third did not agree that their supervisor gave them valuable feedback in the past year

James Nelson, Project Director: “Most mission agencies give workers the freedom they need to innovate and make decisions. But they can also become too “hands off” in supervision. Everyone—and especially those working in high-stress cross-cultural environments—needs someone who cares enough to check on the condition of their heart.”


The 2015 study intentionally listened to field workers through a comprehensive workplace survey designed especially for them. The Engage Study offers mission leaders a unique look into the strengths and weaknesses of the global missionary force. Readers can hear missionaries express their joys and frustrations in their own words and explore leadership priorities through statistical models that directly link leadership decisions to staff retention, thriving and willingness to recommend the agency to others.


An adaptation of Best Christian Workplaces Institute's highly respected survey, the Engage Study addresses 12 key areas of field worker engagement.  Since 2006 more than 25 agencies and nearly 3,500 cross-cultural field workers have participated. For more information on the study or to order Thriving People, the report of aggregate Engage results, visit


“One of the major shifts I have seen in ministry organizations is a focus on creating a flourishing staff culture,” said Al Lopus, president and co-founder of Best Christian Workplaces.  “These agencies have taken a first step toward measuring progress toward that goal.”


GMI leverages research and technology to create, cultivate, and communicate mission information leading to insight that inspires Kingdom service. Founded 30 years ago on the campus of the U.S. Center for World Mission, GMI has a rich history of facilitating strategic mission research and mapping for international Christian churches and ministries. GMI is a member of Missio Nexus and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and subscribes to the Lausanne Covenant.