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Broadening Mission Research Impact GMI Connection - Issue 2 : Article 1

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nl2-1.jpgBroadening Mission Research Impact

True or False: For every missionary who does a graduate degree with research about his or her place of service, there should be at least 10 missionaries who do small-scale field research on their own ministry situations.


Though we are not precisely sure about the number 10, we have been investing heavily in further development of our "Breakthrough" training program because we believe this statement is true.


Mission work would be more effective if mission workers were more clued in to their situations and did research that helped them deal with the challenges they face on a daily basis.


We believe that the mission community needs to get over the crippling notion that field research is an elite activity for those few missionaries who are privileged to do graduate degrees. We do not want to take anything away from graduate programs, but in our view it is a serious strategic mistake to leave the whole task of mission research to a small group of professionals, especially when missionaries so rarely go back to their fields of service after earning their degrees.


Instead of 10 missionary practitioners relying on one professional to give them information about their ministry situations, why not have 10 times as many missionaries doing small research projects while they are still engaged in ministry? After all, which missionaries do not need to understand their situations better? Which ones do not need more insight that will help them grow into their jobs so they can evangelize and serve more effectively? Wouldn't mission strategies improve and wouldn't whole mission agencies bring more glory to God if they were leavened with mission practitioners who were also researchers? If even 5% or 10% of the field workers did this, the nature of the agencies would change.


We are not talking about setting up a research department in a mission agency, staffed by full-time professional researchers. The professionals are valuable, but a whole new world of possibilities opens up when field missionaries, motivated by their own ministry concerns and passions, start doing part-time research on their own ministry situations rather than expecting the outside experts to do it all.


We would love to help field missionaries do the research that only they can do. Our piece of the puzzle has been to develop "Breakthrough," a form of research training that an ordinary missionary with no research background can access and apply, and one that builds prayer intentionally into every step of the research process. Rather than detailing out all the steps for you, we thought we would simply share a few success stories, inviting you to consider how you might use Breakthrough to your own advantage:

Non-formal e-mail and Skype coaching via GMI Research Services, 12 weeks

An American Bible teacher in Albania observed that there was little desire for Bible study or life transformation among ordinary members of Albanian evangelical churches, even though there were many missionaries and many Bible institutes. How are so many Albanians hearing the gospel and not connecting it with a genuine reorientation of life? How should the gospel be communicated? This is, of course, too big an issue for a short course, but not too big to prevent the Bible teacher from making progress. He discovered that Albanians did not like to summarize the gospel in an abstract way which means that they could not tell him how they would present the gospel unless they knew to whom they were presenting it and under what circumstances. This led him to rethink his entire approach to Bible teaching.

Non-formal e-mail and Skype coaching via GMI Research Services, 12 weeks

An American church planter in Central Asia observed that individual youth were coming to Christ in the city where the foreigners worked but they were not taking the gospel back to their small home towns in the surrounding area and starting churches there. Why not? She discovered that more informal evangelism was going on than the foreigners thought, and that the young local believers were divided about 50/50 on those who thought they had shared with their family in their home town correctly and those who wished they could do it over. The proper approach for the foreigners was therefore not to ratchet up the pressure for local evangelism and provide some more advice/training for it (as they had been considering before the research) but rather to get the successful 50% of the locals talking to the other 50% and to the newest converts.

One-week workshop + four months e-mail coaching; MA in Organizational Leadership, Development Associates International and Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology

A Kenyan Bible translator observed that his agency took meticulous care to train translators to produce high quality translations, assuming that strong churches would result. But in two groups with recently completed New Testaments, the churches were very syncretistic and nominal. What was going on? What could the agency do differently? He discovered that there had been no systematic promotion of the new translation; that the local pastors were not united behind it; and that local youth were biased toward English rather than their own language. He is now working to help his agency focus on these issues in this language area and other language areas where similar factors are likely to affect the use of translations that are now in preparation.

One-week workshop + four month e-mail coaching; MA in Organizational Leadership, Development Associates International and The Evangelical Seminary in Cairo

An Egyptian observed a drop from 180,000 to 120,000 children in his organization's summer Bible school program for children in poor communities. Was it due to traditional teaching methods that were out of touch with today's children? What could be done to bring more children back into the program? He discovered that children were most interested in the songs and plays, that is, the parts of the program where the teachers were following an interactive style of teaching. Teachers generally fell back into a "preaching" style for the main Bible story and the children tuned them out. He is now working on ways to encourage teachers to use interactive methods for the heart of the lesson in each session.

Independent study (two hours credit), e-mail and Skype, M.A. in Intercultural Studies, Wheaton

An American missionary in Hungary observed that the response to the Alpha course was fairly good among those who come, but it was very hard to get enough people to form a viable Alpha group. He was looking for a "pre-Alpha" method that would warm up more non-believers to the idea of signing up for the Alpha course. He thought that a class or a few classes on relationships of couples, married or not, might be of general interest, so he did research on 10 Hungarian men he played basketball with. He was surprised how much they engaged with his questions and how much better he knew them after the research. His theory proved to be correct, and he discovered that a major hindrance to relationships was that couples had so little quality time together, largely due to excessive work schedules. He is exploring the idea of holding dinners for small groups of couples, partly just to give them some quality time together.

Independent study (two hours credit), e-mail and Skype, M.A. in Intercultural Studies, Wheaton

An American regional director for a campus ministry observed that the method of holding a cluster of campus evangelistic events in one week produced over a hundred decisions at Ohio State last year, but less than a handful joined the organization's local chapter. Why the attrition? Should the blitz method be abandoned? Modified? Have a different follow-up? She found that the local staff and students had done far more consistent follow-up than she thought (though prayer after the blitz was a specific weak spot), and that the blitz had several good, long-term benefits for the chapter.

Development of a new edition of the Breakthrough course

Most of the success stories above come from formal graduate programs because that is where the course has been most often used. However, we designed the material primarily for use in non-formal, non-accredited structures, such as mission agencies' in-house training programs or GMI's e-mail version of the course, and we still believe that only the non-formal structures will ever enable Breakthrough to percolate through the entire mission community and reach our "leaven" goal of 5% or 10% of active missionaries.


We are therefore developing a 2nd edition of the material, based on teaching experiences of the last several years. For example, the introductory section is rewritten to show how a Breakthrough project relates to the total context and life outlook of the researcher, the case study method is added as the background for the main study, the interview method is emphasized more, the survey method is emphasized less, and the focus group method is shifted from the data-gathering phase to the application phase. The section on drawing insights from data has been greatly expanded, and the word "insight" is now consistently emphasized as the one key word in the whole manual.


The new edition will be available both in print and electronically. The electronic edition is about 1/3 longer than the printed version, including many additional examples, explanations, and options reached via hyperlinks in the body of the text.


Our goal is to get Breakthrough training within reach of field missionary so that new insights are found, missionaries make adjustments, and their service becomes more fruitful. Fruitfulness shows that indeed we are disciples of Jesus (Jn. 15:8). Sola Deo gloria!


Here are some practical next steps for you to consider:

  • Missionaries: Consider signing up for the Breakthrough course yourself, whether with GMI, through your agency, or through an institution that offers it for academic credit.
  • Mission agency field directors or regional directors: Identify one or more of your field workers and steer them into the program both for their own development and for help with strategic planning in your area.
  • Trainers with mission agencies: Consider building the Breakthrough course into the training program of your mission agency, whether you handle the actual teaching in-house or out-source it.
  • Mission professors and researchers (including retirees): If you have any time for some freelance work, consider coaching even one or two missionaries per year using the e-mail version of the program. You are free to edit it as you see fit.

If these options have sparked a new idea of how to integrate missionary research into your efforts, contact us and allow us to brainstorm with you. Breakthrough is an extremely flexible program, and we are prepared to invest time custom fitting it to your needs.


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