by Dave Broucek
A self-study of missionaries’ effectiveness in evangelization.
Want a hot stock tip? Invest in companies that spend heavily on research and development. So writes Michael Sivy of Money magazine. “After all,” he observes, “if top management thinks it’s worthwhile pouring money into a company’s future business, then maybe you should too. “On average, U. S. companies spend less than 4 percent of their sales on R & D. Industry leaders, such as the software giant Microsoft Corp. and the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc., spend more than 13 percent.
If potential investors were to evaluate mission agencies based on their spending for research, would they be impressed? Not a fair question, perhaps, since mission agencies are not businesses, and their aim is not bottom-line profit making. Nonetheless, there is a point here. Granted, research does not provide quick-fix answers to problems. Research may be all too easy to disparage on pragmatic grounds (“just do it”) and theological grounds (“all we need is the Bible”). Nevertheless, good field-based research provides a more solid understanding of ourselves, our context, and our task than intuition, opinion, and casual observation allow.
Such was the thinking of The Evangelical Alliance Mission’s field leaders when in 1992 we commissioned a self-study of our missionaries’ effectiveness in evangelization. The study taught us something about ourselves and, in the process, something about how to do research as well.
WHAT WE HOPED TO FIND OUT
The question we attempted to answer was: What are the attitudes of TEAM missionaries in regard to evangelization? “Attitudes” is the key word in this question. We defined “attitude” as having three components: (1) an affective component (feelings and values); (2) a cognitive component (knowledge); (3) a behavioral component (actions or practice). We wanted to discover the value that TEAM missionaries place on evangelization, the knowledge they have regarding evangelization, and their actual practice of evangelization. If we were not satisfied with what we found, we expected the information to give us an idea of what needed to be done to bring ourselves up to a more desirable standard.
The definition of “evangelize” that informed the research may be expressed in the words of the Lausanne Covenant.
To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.
HOW WE GATHERED DATA
We mailed a questionnaire to all 920 TEAM career missionaries, both on the field and on home assignment. The questionnaire contained three sections, “Tell us about TEAM,” “Tell us about yourself,” and “Fill in the blanks.” In the first two sections, respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 1-5 the extent of their agreement/disagreement with given statements about TEAM, and the extent to which certain statements were true of them individually. In the third, they were asked to give a numerical report of their evangelistic activities and results. Throughout the questionnaire, they were given the opportunity to add their own thoughts on lines marked “Comments?”
The questionnaire was administered anonymously, a common procedure if data are requested that may be threatening to the respondents. Because of the anonymity, no follow-up of non-respondents was attempted, other than a reminder in TEAM’s missionwide newsletter.
Design of the questionnaire, administration of a pretest, creation of a cover letter, and tabulation of results were handled by a four-member committee, with one member assigned to write the final report. Advice from an experienced researcher and assistance by TEAM office secretaries made the task easier, but our failure to assign control of the project to one researcher, compounded by the geographical dispersion of the committee in four countries on twocontinents,resulted in certain missteps—one of which compromised the respondents’ assurance of anonymity.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT OURSELVES
The response rate was 60 percent, of whom one-third wrote comments on their forms. It was tempting to assume that the 40 percent who did not respond were uncaring or ashamed. In reality, any number of factors may have affected the response rate, factors such as the quality of mail service, the human tendency to procrastinate, and the perceived lack of anonymity. For that matter, some missionaries may have been so busy evangelizing that they did not have time to respond to a questionnaire on evangelization. The fact is, we just do not know the reasons for nonreceipt of 40 percent of the questionnaires. We did conclude, however, that the next time we attempt a survey, we need to take steps to ensure a greater response rate.
An abbreviated summary of the findings appears in the table of affirmative responses on the following page. A glance at the “Tell us about TEAM” column reveals that we rated ourselves more highly in the cognitive domain than in the affective and behavioral. As we see ourselves, we don’t have a “knowledge problem,” but we do have a “performance problem.” In the “Tell us about yourself” section, more missionaries reported that they know the right Scripture verses than said they regularly communicate those verses to unbelievers. More indicated that they pray for unsaved people than said they are comfortable sharing the gospel with those people. Fewer than half reported that they regularly share the gospel message, or that they are aggressive in evangelization.
Comparisons such as the above can be made between category after category, but do we know why missionaries reported what they did? Comments written by respondents shed some light.
“Busyness” was identified repeatedly as a hindrance to evangelization. “We tend to be so occupied with our tasks and projects that we neither allow nor specifically take time for personal evangelism.”
Assignment to support ministries was mentioned as a hindrance. “Many days I don’t see anyone but my fellow office workers.” On the other hand, one missionary declared, “I have just changed my work assignment in order to have time to ‘aggressively’ evangelize my non-Christian friends.”
Linguistic and cultural barriers were also mentioned. As one expressed it, “In English, yes; but not in the local language.” Another said, “Though they may be able to communicate the gospel in their own culture, the cross-cultural matter complicates the message for many.”
Some identified themselves as wives or mothers who support their husband in his evangelization, but who give top priority to homemaking and parenting. “Before I had three children all answers would have been a 5. But now my time commitment is different. My thinking and desire to see the lost saved is the same however.”
A few identified themselves as members of a team whose total effort resulted in evangelization, but whose individual members were not all evangelists.
Some referred to the difficulty of evangelization among resistant people in countries closed to direct evangelization. “We have to start near zero showing a true picture of who God is and who the true Jesus is.”
A few lamented the loss of focus. “We talk more about computers than about winning the lost.” One courageous soul described the danger of a professional missionary: “I have the head knowledge to do the job, but evangelism is just that—a job. My passion for souls has become a task to make me look good.” Another confessed sadly, “Good quality, culturally relevant evangelism is a weak spot on our field.”
Others cautioned against regarding evangelization as one-way communication without thorough understanding of, or feedback from, the recipients. Others questioned our tendency to reduce the gospel to a mere formula.
On the positive side, several expressed thanks for the questionnaire, which gave them a “shot in the arm” and identified areas they need to work on. Others told of means of evangelism which they found to be helpful. Others expressed appreciation for the good work of their colleagues.
In the section that asked for a numerical report, we discovered who is doing the evangelizing. One might expect that those who identified their primary assignment as evangelism and church planting would, per capita, tell the gospel more, win more converts, and nurture more new believers than missionaries assigned to other tasks. In fact, this was the case. Nevertheless, those who did not identify their primary assignment as evangelism and church planting (namely, MK educators, office personnel, medical staff, field administrators, and others) were more numerous than church planters and collectively witnessed to more people, won more converts, and nurtured more new believers than the evangelists and church planters. Thus, those in support ministries contribute significantly to the total evangelization done by the mission.
In one year’s time our respondents reported a total of 1,069 conversions through personal evangelism and 1,373 through mass evangelism. David Watson in his book I Believe in Evangelism (1976) attributes to Leighton Ford the statement that it takes “1,000 Christians an average of 365 days to win one person to Christ.” If so, then the missionaries who responded to the questionnaire performed at a level much higher than average. It took 553 missionaries 365 days to win 2,442 persons to Christ. How to respond to that? Praise the Lord, certainly. Give the mission a pat on the back? That might be premature, especially since the survey led to the following conclusions:
- Most TEAM missionaries know how to explain the gospel, how to evangelize, but the challenges of a foreign language and culture create difficulties for many.
- Distraction by other worthwhile activities draws too many away from the dominant goal of evangelization.
- In practice, prayer for the salvation of people is more common than actually evangelizing those people.
- TEAM missionaries are more confident of their knowledge of the gospel than of their knowledge of the people to whom they tell the gospel.
- There is a gap between knowledge and performance. TEAM missionaries know the basics of the gospel message; they value evangelization; but they are doing less of it than they feel they should be doing.
WHAT WE DID WITH THE FINDINGS
At a 1993 consultation, all field leaders and regional directors were given a written report of the survey, along with statistics both for the mission as a whole and for their specific countries. Later, the entire missionary family was given a summary of the findings, and individuals with sufficient interest were invited to secure the full report from their field office.
The report, minus a literature review, followed the standard five-part format for describing a research project: (1) statement of the question; (2) review of precedent literature; (3) explanation of method; (4) report of findings; (5) implications and conclusion. Recommendations for action addressed all three domains—cognitive, affective, and behavioral—but avoided motivation by inducing guilt. Nor were instruction classes in evangelism advocated. As business consultant Robert Mager (Analyzing Performance Problems, David S. Lake Publishers, 1984) has said,
“Sometimes the solution is to provide information; if someone doesn’t know how to perform, instruction is likely to help. But when that person does know how and still doesn’t perform, you can teach or exhort until your socks fall off and not solve the problem.”
The findings provided field leaders with some diagnostic questions to ask of missionaries who experience difficulty evangelizing. Asking “How are you doing in language fluency?” or “How much contact do you have with non-Christians?” may reveal that the person’s problem is notwith evangelization per se but with other factors that affect her or his ability to evangelize.
Since we discovered a gap between knowledge and performance, recommendations emphasized strategies for changing attitudes and actions, strategies drawn primarily from LeRoy Ford, Design for Teaching and Training (Broadman, 1978) and Emory Griffin, The Mind Changers (Tyndale House, 1976). Proposals included the following:
- expose people to leaders and peers who set the right example;
- make generous use of affirmation and encouragement;
- stimulate the sharing of insights in a climate of freedom;
- ask for incremental changes rather than all-at-once improvement.
Field leaders were also urged to reexamine the work assignments of evangelists and church planters to relieve them of committee appointments, project supervision, and administrative tasks.
The recommendations listed above were communicated to the field leaders in a plenary session, followed by discussion. Then, each field leader was given time to write specific, doable steps for implementation upon return to the field. One leader, for example, decided to highlight examples of missionaries’ witnessing opportunities in his field’s newsletter. Another initiated more frequent discussion of evangelism, both at the field council level and among missionaries. On this field missionaries began to discuss questions such as, What really does it mean to be “saved”? Must one pray a prayer at conversion? Is our A + B = C method of witnessing (using numerical steps or laws) the most effective way to communicate the gospel in your setting? Why do people avoid us later when we force them to make a decision? At the same time, missionaries who relied on friendship evangelism were urged to be more intentional in telling the good news, without reducing their friendship activities.
One year later, at a 1994 consultation of field leaders, the survey was again placed on the agenda and the findings briefly reviewed. Leaders were then given opportunity in small groups to account to peers for their implementation of, or failure to implement, the previous year’s plan. In plenary sessions, results and ideas were made public. Then leaders were given another opportunity to write an action plan for influencing the evangelization being done by their missionaries.
When asked in 1890 by the newly formed board of the China Alliance Mission (later to become The Evangelical Alliance Mission), “What are your requirements for candidates?”, Fredrik Franson replied, “I regard as basic that the candidate be born-again, that he has won a soul to Christ, that he has some practical talent such as the ability to play a musical instrument, and that he is willing to suffer for Christ.”
It is a common understanding that mission today is more complex than in Franson’s day. Missionaries are required to have more qualifications, but they certainly should not have fewer. Beginning with pre-field lifestyle and continuing throughout the career, every missionary is called to bring people to Christ. The purpose of this survey was to help all of us fulfill this calling more effectively.
Response by Ron Blue
Evangelistic Effectiveness: What’s Research Got to Do with It?
“Know thyself” is good advice. Effective planning starts with accurate information.
David Brou-cek’s helpful article outlines the process TEAM followed in a self-study designed to take a close look at attitudes, awareness, and actions related to evangelism. This stimulating and enlightening case study can serve as a model. Anything that will improve missions evangelistic outreach is admirable.
The results of the TEAM study are revealing but not overly surprising. For example, Broucek expresses concern over their response rate. Actually 60 percent is not bad, especially for an anonymous study that does not permit individual follow up. Concern over those who did not respond is commendable, but no apology is needed. Even dedicated missionaries can be negligent.
Furthermore, it is no surprise that TEAM missionaries admit they know more about evangelism than they employ in their daily activities, they pray more for people than present the gospel to people, and that they value evangelism more than they practice evangelism. The survey simply verifies anticipated reality and quantifies assumptions.
Perhaps the greatest value of the survey is the subtle “wake up call.” Every respondent and all those who read the report are undoubtedly challenged to make evangelism a higher priority in daily practice. People are not won to the Lord with good intentions or excellent training. They come to Christ when someone shares the gospel with them.
Research is only a first step. Information must prompt action. A challenge to action may be found in Leighton Ford’s observation that it takes “1,000 Christians an average of 365 days to win one person to Christ.” Actually, 999 Christians may be failing to evangelize an average of 364 days. Experience shows it takes only one Christian to share the gospel on the “appointed day of salvation” to win one person to Christ. What does it take to move the other 999? Broucek indicates that TEAM field leaders wrote action plans one year after the survey had been taken. These might be of greater help than the survey results.
The matter need not be complicated. “Each one win one” is a very workable plan. The question in evangelism, as in surveys, is how to get “each one” to participate. The response rate may be the key after all.
RON BLUE is president of CAM International, Dallas, Texas.
Response by Lyle Dorsett
We Need to Get at the Inner Core
David Broucek’s article is quite interesting and informative. It provides some quantifiable data on the gap between a mission agency’s goal to bring people to Christ, on the one hand, and the actual practice of witnessing to non-Christians on the other. My guess is that the knowledge and behavior of TEAM missionaries is rather similar to those of other Western-supported and staffed mission agencies.
While I find the self-study questions illuminating, it seems to me that the "affective" component (feeling and values) is rather superficial. What we don’t find in this self-study are questions that get at the inner core of why career missionaries who have a good head knowledge of the gospel fail to be active in winning the lost to Christ. My point, in brief, is that some missionaries no longer feel an urgency for lost souls. Although this is sad, it is not surprising. These people are coming out of North American churches and Christian colleges where such urgency has been steadily in decline. North American Christians have been increasingly infected by annihilationism (the doctrine that the unsaved will be destroyed rather than banished to hell for eternity) and universalism (all people will finally be saved by a loving God).
Today there is widespread doubt about eternal punishment for those who die without salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, we live in a Christian culture that sends fewer per capita of its sons and daughters to the foreign mission field than the last generation. Our culture brazenly proclaims the North American marketplace to be one of the greatest unreached people groups.
Have these insideous changes affected our career missionaries to sme degree? If TEAM does another self-study, it would be interesting to probe the heart-held presuppositions about heaven and hell.
Lyle Dorsett was professor of educational ministries and evangelism at Wheaton College. He and his wife, Mary, are co-founders of Christ for Children International, an agency that works with impoverished children in Mexico.
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