Introduction to Missiological Research Design

by Edgar J. Elliston

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 272 pages, 2011, $19.99.

Reviewed by James Nelson, vice president, Global Mapping International; senior research associate, Fruitful Practice Research.  

The cover diagram looks a little like Bohr’s model of the atom. While missiological research design is not nuclear science, it is complex. Edgar Elliston explains why, giving researchers concepts, examples, and a set of practical checklists to navigate their projects for the good of the mission community.

The scope of research design is complex because missiology’s theological foundation often interacts with a host of social science disciplines, each having its own terms, theories, and favored methods.    

The process of research design is also complex. Its five core elements—the central issue, prior research, methods, findings, and conclusions—are not a step-by-step process, but an interactive cycle of building and refining understanding. What one learns at any point is as likely to make one revisit a prior task as it is to launch one forward to another. Research will help to develop theory and to test it.

The text proceeds like the well-organized training from which it is drawn: concept, explanation, example, summary. Elliston’s field experience (along with that of other researchers) provides plenty of how-to and how-not-to illustrations. Readable as is, the material could also be developed into a popular non-fiction format, where stories are memorable lead-ins to a discussion of principles.

The book’s second section discusses how missiological research is informed by other disciplines—theology, education, communication, and history. These chapters give just enough of a taste of each field to help researchers steeped in one discipline understand why they should explore other perspectives on their topic.

Elliston’s lens is primarily academic, which makes the book especially useful for students and professors. Applied missiologists will also benefit; however, those intent on quickly getting new information to field workers are unlikely to adopt the author’s approach of refining the central research issue fifteen times or more. Still, they will appreciate the project checklists and may be persuaded to look at others’ research before jumping into their fieldwork.

Reporting design sections reflect a traditional model, in which findings and recommendations are published in a report. This benefits the profession; however, applied missiologists may not consider the research design process complete until it includes a means of transferring knowledge into resources for practitioners and trainers.

All researchers will benefit from the appendix of common research errors and the thorough treatment of research ethics.

Elliston addresses researchers’ responsibilities to several audiences: respondents, sponsors, the public, the profession, and the Church. Aspects of these last two values (open distribution of knowledge and serving the Church) can stand in tension when opponents of the Church use research against it. A topic for additional discussion is if and how access to strategic knowledge may be monitored.

Check these titles:
McKinney, Carol V. 2000. Globe Trotting in Sandals: A Field Guide to Cultural Research. Dallas: SIL International.

Nussbaum, Stan. 2011. Breakthrough! Prayerful Productive Field Research in Your Place of Ministry, 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, Colo.: GMI Research Services.

Sogaard, Viggo. 1996. Research in Church and Mission. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 252-253. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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