Missionary Retention: Going the Distance

By Jon Hirst (with Randy Rosso)

“If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.” - Emil Zatopek

Missionaries who are called to cross-cultural service want to make a significant difference in the lives of those they go to help. They intuitively know that it is a marathon, not a sprint. But too many are being pushed to sprint and aren’t making it to the most productive times.

In a world where everything is expected to speed up and get more efficient, spiritual transformation and incarnational ministry still require long-term investment. You can’t speed up God’s work, as He works apart from time; however, we all seem to be trying to do just that: hurry Him up. With attention spans decreasing by the year, our modern world thrives off of quick, interesting, and constantly new ideas and processes.

Somebody once said to try to do things the right way the first time, because otherwise you will probably end up having to re-do it later. The same could be said about missions. Some agencies seem to be focusing on getting more and more missionaries sent, and not properly selecting, training, and supporting their current missionaries, causing them to leave. Efficiency is not always effective.

The cost of sending a missionary cross-culturally is significant, and sadly, too many aren’t making it to the 8-17 year window where statistically missionaries see the most fruitful service. High turnover has far reaching and widely spread effects, from the missionaries themselves, to the organizations, to the people they were serving, to other missionaries and staff at that agency. US agencies were found to have a varying 38-78% 10 year retention rate. This proves further the importance of the problem at hand.

So, how can we look at field service as a marathon and support these key field workers in their long-term service?

Our missionary retention infographic along with the reflection and application will provide you with some ways to go the distance and increase your missionaries’ effectiveness, rather than their efficiency.