On March 7th of this year, prior to really knowing what Covid-19 was and the effect it would have, I spoke at a men’s breakfast and touched on several ways that missions would change in 2020. My points back then don’t compare to what has taken place, nor what will happen in the area of missions in the near future.
We have all seen the statistics that talk about the potential effects this year has had on the local church. Whether it be numeric and/or financial as predicted, is yet to be seen. In a recent article by Barna, they referenced predictions they made when the decline in church attendance in America began in 2008. Stating that what should have taken another 5 years from now to take place (decline in attendance), Covid-19 may have exceeded that in the last ten months. I do emphasize the word may since we really don’t know yet what the long term effects on the church will be. Plus, every church and location is different.
We are seeing similar, if not worse predictions when it comes to missions. However, just as in the decline in overall church attendance, Covid-19 has only sped up the trends already taking place in missions. Talk to any mission agency president or director, and you’ll find many of the same trials facing each of them.
In part one I will talk about one of the five trends to expect. These have been put together by personal research as well as discussions had with leaders and staff within many of the leading mission agencies, sending organizations and churches. I do not claim that these are scientific by any means, however, the same topics and trends have been shared by a majority of those with whom I’ve had discussions.
- The number one trend that will affect all of us is that of attrition. The rate of new missionaries is not outpacing that of attrition. At no other time in modern American missions are we seeing fewer missionaries going to the field. In a recent Missio Nexus survey, from 2016 to 2018, 11 organizations had a net gain of only 40 over the three year span. Those same 11 organizations are now showing a net loss.
After speaking at a meeting with a 90 plus year old mission agency, the topic of attrition came up and they stated they are expecting to lose 25% of their existing missionaries just to retirement over the next four years. The mission agency my parents were with is about half the size that they were. Almost every agency is either showing a net loss or minimal gains in attracting new missionaries. Many agencies are happy that missionaries who should retire aren’t because there is no one to replace them.
We realize there are more sending agencies today and the total number of missionaries are spread out between them. However, more mission agencies, churches acting as their own agency, or missionaries just going on their own, does not negate that the overall numbers of American missionaries on the field is down. There are many reasons why this trend is taking place. In a later article we will discuss why and ideas to help foster a spirit of missions in the hearts of believers.