New research: Field staff estimate that 1 in 3 interns convert to long-term missions

In 2004 I attended The Mission Exchange/CrossGlobal Link (then EFMA/IFMA) Personnel Conference.  One of the breakout sessions dealt with AIM’s TIMO program, one of the longest-running mission internship programs.

There was a bombshell moment when the presenter cited statistics about how many of the interns were still on the field. (I can’t recall exactly, but the numbers were staggering — something along the lines of 90 percent still serving, two-thirds of those with AIM.)  Mobilization directors’ jaws were dropping across the room, and you could sense that any agency there that didn’t have an internship program would soon be considering one.

Given that prospective cross-cultural workers today are less likely than those in previous generations to commit to a lifetime of service with a particular agency or among a particular people, and internships seem to make sense — an on-field experience that allows future workers to understand what it takes to live and work “out there,” and a low-risk opportunity for agencies to train and assess the fitness of candidates.

But creating an internship program requires time and money – plus substantial cooperation from long-term field staff, who will have to oversee the interns. Is it worth the effort?

In November and December 2011, we put this question — actually, several questions — to the GMI Research Panels — large groups of current and future cross-cultural field missionaries ready to give their opinion on mission-related issues.  We asked about perceptions of field internships (defined as a cross-cultural field experience lasting from six months to three years); satisfaction with internship programs, the likelihood of prospective missionaries to do an internship, and estimated conversion of interns to long-term field staff.

We heard from more than 300 cross-cultural missionaries (from more than 18 agencies) and from more than 300 people who are considering long-term cross-cultural service.  The following charts show some of the topline statistics:

A third of prospective missionaries said they are somewhat or very likely to do a mission internship. As you might expect, interest increases with one’s commitment to entering long-term cross-cultural service. More than half of those who intend to serve long term said that they are somewhat or very likely to do an internship in preparation.

Three quarters of the field missionaries surveyed had experience with interns. Of those, 6 in 10 agreed or strongly agreed that they are satisfied with their agency’s internship program, while acknowledging in open-ended comments that internships involve a lot of work for field staff.

They also estimate that 45 percent of interns stay active in full-time field service after their internship, with a third continuing to serve with the agency for which they interned.

How does these perceptions compare with your experience?  Are field internships worth the effort?

In the next post, we’ll explore current and future missionaries’ open-ended comments about mission internships.

Keep your eye on the GMI store for the detailed report, which will include more information about the key elements that lead to satisfaction with internships, as well as descriptions of three types of interns based on their motivation for service.