Written by Bob Bagley Bob Bagley
Published: 07 December 2020 07 December 2020
The first five megatrends shared in the previous blog post are forces outside the church that are shaping missions. We now turn to megatrends within the church that must be considered.
6. Church & Mission Demographics
Two important trends emerging from the reality of the growth of the global church: a) there is a huge disparity between the growth rates of global churches and the churches that sent missionaries to start them in the first place; and b) there has been an explosion of new mission agencies.
A paper presented last month to the GBA of the Wesleyan Church sums up the state of the Wesleyan Church in North America: “The denomination has not statistically gained a great deal since the 1968 merger. When looking at 150 years of history, the last 50 looks closer to plateau rather than growth.” General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt describes the situation like this: “TWC has been a relatively healthy and incrementally growing denomination. However, we are losing ground in reaching North America with its growing and changing population, as well as its increasing secularization.”
Meanwhile the Wesleyan Church around the globe has been growing by leaps and bounds. A denominational structure which seeks to support a rapidly expanding global church from a plateaued North American base is increasingly becoming unviable.
Although hard to ascertain objectively, anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that an increasing number of Wesleyan m’s that are supported by their home church are serving with agencies other than GP. Unfortunately one hears stories of potential missionaries in Wesleyan churches who are surprised to learn that the Wesleyan Church has a mission agency of its own!
Arthur’s summary of the implications for mission agencies in the UK holds true for agencies in North America and Global Partners as well:
“This presents an extremely challenging situation for agencies, who find themselves competing for support with a growing number of other organisations at the same time as their pool of potential supporters both shrinks and becomes less interested in their work. It is clear that in the long term, this situation is not sustainable, and the likelihood is that in the short to medium term, some agencies will find themselves unable to continue because of a lack of support.” (Arthur, 2019)
In our day, we are witnessing the greatest non-western mission’s movement in history. The mission field in many parts of the world is producing a powerful mission force. And with this seismic change, new strategies are emerging. These strategies will require humility, courage, and the willingness to take risks in order to serve the global church as sending nations. (https://www.storylinemissions.org/about-us/)
It is difficult to quantify the extent of the shift in missionary sending because it is exceedingly difficult to get hard data. In 1989, Larry Pate shocked the missions world by projecting that by the year 2000 the majority of Protestant missionaries would be from the non-Western world. In 2003, Michael Jaffarian called Pate’s projections into question, concluding that “we should recognize the growth in the number of foreign missionaries from the Four-Fifths World, rejoice over it before the Lord our God, and support it—even though we cannot say there are more non-Western missionaries than Western missionaries. At least not yet.” However, Steve Moon’s analysis in 2019 concluded that perhaps Pate was not far off, noting “If we compare Protestant missionaries only, we could conclude that Pate’s projection was simply delayed in coming true. It could be that the number of non-Western Protestant missionaries outnumbered that of Western counterparts not by the year 2000, but by, say, 2010. To verify this hunch would demand solid empirical research.”
The International Conference of the Wesleyan Church meeting in Barbados in 2019 chose as its theme, “Everywhere to Everywhere” in recognition that in the Wesleyan Church places that had in the past received missionaries are now beginning to send missionaries of their own. While as a church we have been slower than other churches in seeing this trend emerge, it is undoubtedly gaining momentum.
The wave of missions engagement by the global Wesleyan Church is running ahead of the development of the structures and systems to undergird it. Neither GP nor the ICWC were developed to provide oversight and direction to a polycentric missions reality. Failure to address the structural issues could impede the growth of vision and enthusiasm in the church around the world.
8. Decline of Denominations
Fifty years ago, local churches looked to their denomination for both a source of identity as well as their programming, including for their missions program. That’s no longer the case.
In 2015 Ed Stetzer wrote about the increase in evangelicals identifying themselves as nondenominational and provided the following chart to illustrate.
Within denominational churches there has been a trend to deemphasize their denominational affiliation. Stetzer explains:
Despite recent data from LifeWay Research, which found most Americans are open to denominational churches, many pastors feel they can be more effective by not promoting their denominational affiliation. They aren't necessarily hiding it, but it's not something that comes up frequently.
Many evangelicals are happy to talk about Jesus, but perhaps are reticent to talk about their denomination. Or they might not even know their church is affiliated with a larger group.
The Wesleyan Church is no exception to this trend. For example, 50 years ago local churches invariable used the name “Wesleyan” in their local church name (e.g. Podunk Wesleyan Church) but are increasingly adopting more generic names (e.g. New Life Church). The denominational headquarters has downsized a number of times, for example moving from four General Superintendents to three and now to one. Whole departments – Youth, Sunday School, Wesleyan Women, Wesleyan Men – have disappeared or been merged. Wesleyan pastors who used to look to the denominational headquarters for programming direction and help are just as likely (or more so) to look elsewhere, especially to prominent megachurches and their pastors – for example, a Wesleyan pastor is just as likely to “borrow” a sermon series from Andy Stanley as they are to use a sermon series from Fishers, IN.
The implications for denominational missions agencies such as Global Partners are huge. Fifty years ago, the primary contact with missions for most local Wesleyan churches was through Wesleyan World Missions. Missionaries on “furlough” made regular tours around the church with a visit to most local churches at least once a year. Wesleyan missions was promoted by the Women’s Missionary Society which later changed to become Wesleyan Women with a greater emphasis on ministry to women in the church and a decreased emphasis on missions – and eventually WWI disappeared. Under the WMS children were exposed to Wesleyan missions through the Young Missionary Workers Band (YMWB), which later changed to Wesleyan Kids For Missions (WKFM) until it too disappeared from the scene. The November Self-Denial Offering at one time was the major source of income for Wesleyan World Missions, but as support for the denominational offering declined, WWM/GP transitioned to a system of pooled support (all missionaries raised the same amount) and eventually to our current individualized support system.
It is arguable that GP has not adapted as much to the changing denominational realities as the denomination as a whole. However, our structure as an organization has it’s roots in a time when denominational loyalty was a high value and is likely to be unsustainable in the long term without significant reorganization to reflect current realities.
9. Missional Churches
In their book, When Everything is Missions, authors Spitters and Ellison argue that although the rise of the “missional” church is commendable, it has often brought with it a deemphasis on global cross-cultural missions. In their introduction they explain:
We greatly appreciate much of what we have seen in the “missional” church movement of the past decade. Pastors, teachers, and ministry leaders identified with this movement have exhorted the Church and all believers to be “on mission with God” to make disciples in our own contexts. We find this commendable and praiseworthy; it offers a great hope for future generations of the Church. We embrace the exhortation of these leaders who have called us to make the discipleship process central to our obedience to the Great Commission. Careful examination of Jesus’ earthly ministry makes it abundantly clear that the process of making disciples was the center of His five commissioning statements and exhibited by the enormous quantity of time He invested in His own disciples.
Yet we are concerned that an uncritical use of words, and in particular a lack of shared definition for the words mission, missions, missionary, and missional, has led to a distortion of Jesus’ biblical mandate, ushered in an everything-is-missions paradigm, and moved missions from the initiation and oversight of local churches to make it the domain of individual believers responding to individualized callings. . . . A strong embrace of the everything-is-mission paradigm has sometimes led us to a humanitarian mission devoid of the gospel. While “everybody is a missionary” thinking has been intended to level the playing field for greater participation in making disciples, has this inclusivism had another, unintended result, at times? Has it led to a serious decline in interest in and support for apostolic, pioneering missions activity?
Their argument is that the understanding of missions has been broadened to include just about anything that the church does in fulfillment of God’s mission in the world that the specific focus of the great commission gets lost. There is no reason to think that Wesleyan churches are any different.
10. Development Focus
There has long been a tension between evangelistic, church-planting ministries and compassionate ministries within missions. The pendulum is now swinging toward an emphasis on social ministries. Theologian Scot McKnight has asserted that mission work has become social work explaining:
Missions, international missions and foreign missions are now engulfed in NGOs and global justice and water and infrastructure. Evangelicalism was built on evangelistic church-planting pioneers. Always, or at least nearly always, such missionaries were fully engaged in church-planting as well as compassion and provisions so far as they were able. But they were there to preach and teach the gospel and win people for Christ. That’s evangelicalism. A friend of mine, a missionary, told me that the last 15 years in his corner of the missionary world has seen not one new missionary concerned with church planting and evangelism; they are all NGO types. Giving to NGOs is on the rise; giving to church-planting on the decline. Organize a day for evangelism training and you will be alone or close to it; organize a day for some kind of social action and you may see more than Sunday morning service.
This is undoubtedly true within the Wesleyan Church. Exhibit number one – the growth of World Hope International. It is not unusual to find Wesleyan churches whose “missions” budget is heavily skewed toward organizations such as WHI, World Vision, and Compassion with less focused on the work of starting and developing churches around the world. Many church members see little difference between drilling a well and helping to provide the living water for spiritually thirsty people. This is not a critique of relief and development agencies, simply an observation of the increasing prominence they play in church engagements with the world.
11. Rising Cost of Western Missionaries
Not too long ago, I was speaking at a mission conference and met a young family excited about moving overseas to become missionaries. They were a handsome family. The father was tall and lean and reminded me of the branch manager at my local bank. His wife was well dressed and manicured and I guessed probably came from a well-to-do home. Their two blonde daughters were beautiful and shy with one already a teenager and the other anxious to be one. The youngest, all boy, looked like he’d rather be anyplace but in this church talking about going overseas.
They were heading to Mexico City.
Their first missionary stop, however, was to be a two-year stint in Costa Rica to learn Spanish. After that, they were off to Mexico to plant a church in a neighborhood yet to be determined. They said that within five years of landing in Mexico, they hoped to have a church with at least 20 to 30 families attending. But of course, they first needed to raise their annual support of $95,000 a year. After 10 months of work, they were closing in on pledges totaling 30%. (https://logoi.org/2013/10/how-much-does-a-missionary-cost/)
The scenario above written in 2013 sounds all too familiar. The cost of sending traditional missionaries from North America is rising rapidly. Organizations that advocate supporting “national missionaries” (as in the above scenario) are quick to point to seemingly poor stewardship of paying Americans to do what nationals can do for a fraction of the cost. And the costs continue to rise.
In earlier days Wesleyan missionaries were considered to be poorly compensated in comparison with ministry professionals at home. By a deliberate effort that picture has changed, and it is estimated that GP missionaries are paid on par with a pastor of a medium-sized church. Bob Waldron’s study of missionary compensation patterns suggest that Global Partners is very similar to other North American missions agencies in relation to the salaries and benefits that are provided.
The cost of sending a GP missionary increases annually faster than the rate of inflation which over the past decade has fluctuated between 0.7% and 3% per annum. A rough estimate would be that the average GP missionary support budget increases by around 5% a year. Why? The base salary for a GP missionary is set to increase by 5% annually. GP also budgets for a 10% annual increase in the cost of health insurance. And, “starting in the third year, a service increment of $120 per adult per year (maximum 20 years) shall be added to the base salary.” (Handbook for Missionary Personnel of The Wesleyan Church) Those increases all have a trickle-down effect increasing the budget for things like pension, social security, and life insurance.
The effort to reduce administrative costs charged to missionary support funds will provide a welcome relief but continued increases in basic support will bring budgets back to the same level in 4-5 years.
The implications of steadily increasing support budgets are obvious. New missionaries face an increasingly higher support raising bar before their initial deployment can begin. Continuing missionaries are consistently under pressure to increase support levels to account for lost support as well as increased budgets. And all missionaries face the difficult PR job of explaining and/or justifying the amount of support they are seeking.
As we said as we began the discussion of megatrends, missions agencies are not immune to the patterns of change shaping the world around us. We can choose to ignore the handwriting on the wall, or be like the men from Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (I Chron.12:32) It is a choice between proactively moving the mission forward and scrambling to stay relevant and viable. As Craig Groeschel noted, “The difference between a good leader and a great leader is one who learns to anticipate rather than react.” (Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast – 11/5/20)
How will GP anticipate or react to the changes to which these trends are moving us? In coming blog posts we will discuss major shifts in GP we believe will (or should) happen in responding to the megatrends. What shifts in GP do you think will/should happen in the next few years?
Arthur, E. (2017). The Future of Mission Agencies. Mission Round Table, 12(1), 4-12.
Arthur, E. (2019). Mission Agencies in the 21st Century [Scholarly project]. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/38654079/Mission_Agencies_in_the_21st_Century_A_Research_Report_for_Agency_Leadership_and_Boards
Connectional and Entrepreneurial DNA of The Wesleyan Church (Rep.). (2020). Fishers, IN: Wesleyan Church. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LVjqgX9Fe2AlbNj6lF9AhEnsbFqhUtqu4wm7Hx_zTSw/edit?ts=5fbbd99c
The Future of Missions 10 Questions About Global Ministry that the Church Must Answer with the Next Generation (Publication). (2020). Barna.
Gina A. Zurlo, T. (2019, October 16). World Christianity and Mission 2020: Ongoing Shift to the Global South. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2396939319880074
Global Mission in the Twenty-first Century. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Global_Mission_21.pdf
Jaffarian, M. (2004). Are There More Non-Western Missionaries than Western Missionaries? International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 28(3), 131-132.
McKnight, S. (2017, February 15). The Soul of Evangelicalism: What Will Become of Us? Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/02/15/soul-evangelicalism-will-become-us/
Moon, S. (2019, January). Toward True Globalism in World Missions. Retrieved from https://www.lausanne.org/content/lga/2019-01/toward-true-globalism-in-world-missions
Pate, L. D. (1989). From every people: A handbook of two-thirds world missions with directory/histories/analysis. Monrovia, Calif: MARC.
Pocock, M., Rheenen, G. V., & McConnell, D. (2005). The changing face of world missions: Engaging contemporary issues and trends. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Schmidt, W. (2018, August 20). The Gospel Gap. Retrieved from https://www.wesleyan.org/the-gospel-gap
Spitters, D., & Ellison, M. (2017). When everything is missions. United States: Bottomline Media.
Stetzer Bio, E. (2015, June 12). The Rapid Rise of Nondenominational Christianity. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/june/rapid-rise-of-non-denominational-christianity-my-most-recen.html
Waldron, B. (2014). How Much is Adequate? In Search of Equitable Missionary Compensation. Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 50(4), 286-295. Retrieved from https://missionexus.org/how-much-is-adequate-in-search-of-equitable-missionary-compensation/