by Elouise Corwin
Those involved in motivating young people for missionary service need on occasion to evaluate their methodology in terms of effectiveness and appropriateness.
Those involved in motivating young people for missionary service need on occasion to evaluate their methodology in terms of effectiveness and appropriateness. What sorts of experiences during college years nurture rational and emotional dispositions for missionary involvement? What can Christian colleges do to reinforce the Great Commission and develop missionary ardor within the student body?
The following survey was designed to answer those questions. One hundred and forty were selected from approximately 500 Biola graduates serving in mission fields today. Each was mailed a "scale between opposite" type of questionnaire, with spaces to check seven degrees from strong to weak. In addition, a "Does not apply" column was included. A pretest given to missionaries at two church missionary conferences revealed inadequacies that were corrected in the final questionnaire. Seventy-four replies were returned in time to be used in the study; twelve were too late to be computed. This study was limited to Biola College graduates.
Specifically, the questionnaire was designed to measure the relative influence of 24 social factors in the lives of Biola graduates who had chosen missionary careers. The focus on external factors meant that less tangible ones, such as inner motivations and spiritual promptings, would not come under scrutiny.
Before analyzing trends in all 24 factors motivating young people to missions, it will be helpful to isolate the major ones, irrespective of decade. It should be noted that "Strong” was given a value of 1; "Weak" a value of 7. Thus, the lower the figure for the Mean, the greater the strength given to that particular factor. Bearing this rather confusing situation in mind, it will be seen that only seven factors have a Mean of 2.999 or less, indicating a strong influence on the respondents. The greatest influences on respondents, in descending order are as follows: (1) short-term missionary program; (2) annual missionary conference at Biola; at missions chapels; (4) missionary preaching; (5) personal Bible study; (6) church missionary conference, and (7) concurrence with spouse’s decision.
The factor that drew the strongest response was short-term missionary program. While only 18 responses had such experience, of those, 50 percent gave it the highest rating. The cumulative percentage shows that 94 percent gave such experience a stronger rating than mid-point on the scale. It is interesting to note here that while 17 indicated they had done foreign travelling, 25.5 percent gave it the strongest rating; only 41 percent checked it above the scale mid-point. It seems that not just any travel, but exposure to missionary life motivated the respondents.
In Charles Troutman’s Latin American survey (EMQ, Summer, 1969) it was found that "visits to Latin America, prior to coming as a missionary, were a major part in the decision . . .; 31 percent of the missionaries reporting had been to some part of Latin America previously, and of these, 60 percent had come on a mission society or church-sponsored tour."
Next in importance was the annual missionary conference at Biola. This is an annual week-long, campus-wide event aiming to inform and challenge the student body on the issues of Christian world mission. Fully 70 percent of the 60 who responded to this question viewed it as having had a very strong or next-strongest influence in their lives, 70 percent rated it above the scale midpoint. The production of a missionary conference is expensive in terms of time and money, yet it would seem to be a worthwhile investment. One could speculate that the presence of a large number of missionaries fresh from the field, with current and specific information, or the many occasions for informal interchange may make the overall impact.
The third most strongly indicated factor was missions chapels. Every Friday members of the Student Missionary Union conduct a missions chapel, using speakers from various evangelical mission organizations. One respondent commented: "Friday missionary chapels and the conference were highlights at Biola.
Fourth in strength of impact is the local church’s emphasis on missions. Two church activities pinpointed were missionary preaching and missionary conferences. These were rated only fractionally below Biola’s missions chapels. Interestingly enough, Troutman found that "local church missionary conferences account for 76 percent of those reporting, and over half of these report that they were decisive in their decision."
Only one-third of the respondents (a total of 24) checked Question 11, "Concurrence with spouse’s decision." Of these, several indicated they were referring to the choice of country rather than the decision to go. Others indicated that their reply referred to on-going activities on the field. Consequently, results of this question have been deleted from over-all generalizations.
So much for the major influences. Next, listing all 24 factors in descending order of influence (based on the Means) reveals other interesting trends. The following deductions are arbitrary, but perhaps worth consideration.
Apart from a short-term experience, which is very action-related, the next four factors (mentioned above) are all personality-related. The possibility should be explored that strong personalities, speaking from pulpit or platform, generate concern. Books, even biographical ones, are passive. Perhaps because their impact is dependent, to a degree, on self-motivation, they did not rate high on the questionnaire. Even family encouragement, which some indicated they had received, did not prove significant. (One respondent, who rated such encouragement Weak, wrote, "My father was a great donor to missions, so we had to live frugally for him to give.")
Books, family, relatives, Sunday school, films, etc., may all have been somewhat general in their presentation of missions. This could be the explanation of their rather weak rating in contrast to the following: more explicit challenges in church or college, one’s own Bible study, childhood on the mission field, missions classes and personal friendship with a missionary. All the latter were rated in the upper half of stimulating factors. Troutman wrote that "by far the most influential person to make a definite impression on the missionary decision is the missionary himself. Far ahead of anyone else, he was used of God more frequently than any other group. He was followed at a distance by pastors and then parents." In the present questionnaire, the importance of interpersonal contact with missionaries was underscored by this comment: "Every Friday night we young people had a meeting- playing sports, etc. Missionaries played with us and we considered them human. If they could be missionaries so could I!"
As to the age at which the decision to become a missionary was made (Question 25), an interesting phenomenon appeared: some respondents indicated a two-stage process in their decision making. The comments explained that the preliminary decision was made at a relatively young age. Then later experiences, principally at Biola, served to confirm the call. Predictably, however, the largest number of decisions was made in the 16-20 age group, with 21-25 and 11-15 following. More decisions were made in childhood (5-10) than from 26-30. Not one respondent circled 31-35 and only one circled 36-40.
COMPARISONS BY DECADE
The present survey was sent to, and responses returned from, people who graduated in years ranging from the 1920s to the 1970s. The decades were indicated on each questionnaire and these were included on the computer cards. The results of cross-tabulation by decade are of considerable interest.
Figure 2, listing some of the factors according to decade and indicating the percentage of respondents who considered those factors significant, points up the changes that have occurred. One change can partly be explained by the overseas opportunities possible today, even for those of average income. Involvement with need seems to make a more lasting impression than reading or hearing about it. As one respondent wrote, "Practical Missionary Training for a week in Mexico helped me see the needs first hand." For motivational impact today, sitting in Sunday school or chapel does not seem able to compete with personal participation. Even the influence of the Student Missionary Union has diminished.
A word of caution is in order regarding these percentages; the actual number of respondents in certain decades is quite small. Therefore, the percentages found may not be a true reflection of all Biola missionaries from that decade. Since there was only one respondent from the 1920s, the results of this response are not included in Figure 2. The deletion of percentages that depend on the answer of one respondent (and hence yielded an unreliable 100 percent should be noted. This was necessary in the study by decades, but not, of course, in the overall study, where adjusted percentages are used. In Figure 2, results from only one respondent are indicated by a dash; no respondents is indicated by a 0. The percentages listed in Figure 2 reflect the percentage of people in each decade who indicated a strongest or next strongest influence for each particular item. For example, in Section A, in the decade of the 30s; 100 percent of those who responded to "Relatives who were missionaries" rated this factor as having had a strongest or next strongest influence, i.e., they checked the #1 or #2 position on the scale. Only 75 percent of those in the 40s gave it a similar strong rating.
Section A on Figure 2 indicates the lessening degree of influence (from the 30s to the 70s) of some of the factors studied. It will be noted that these are the factors that seemed to change most, in lessening strength of influence, over the years. They all show a marked differential between the 30s and the 70s. Section B also indicates a lessening degree of influence, but the progression is not as clear-cut nor is the differential as large. Both church missions conferences and the annual missionary conference at Biola are found in this section. Section C shows the only factor that remained more or less constant in influence over the five decades: personal bible study. Section D shows the three factors that had an increasing degree of influence from the 30s to the 70s. (The same system for reporting percentages prevails in all four sections.)
Some factors not included in Figure 2 are worth noting. Only six of the seventy-four respondents grew up on the mission field (Question 9). There was one each in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 70s, and all gave this factor the highest rating. The remaining two, who graduated in the 60s, gave it the lowest rating. Although 26 responded to the question about "Friendship with a child of missionaries,” that fact was not given a significant rating except by the 1970 graduates, 50 percent of whom rated it stronger than mid-point on the scale.
Several tentative statements could be made about this study:
1. There is a possibility that more students of the 30s to 40s entered Biola to prepare for missionary service. Those of the 70s may have been seeking God’s will without clear direction prior to college. For them the short-term experience during college years may have made a strong impact. In addition, those of the earlier decades may look back on Bible school life with more nostalgia than realism. This could be one explanation for the generally higher ratings given to most factors by those recalling the 30s.
2. Students of the 60s and 70s who had short term opportunities were motivated by such exposure. It was the single most outstanding motivational factor for those of the 70s. During the 80s, attempts by educators to motivate students via passive experiences, such as sitting in church or chapel, seem misguided. The impact of such vehicles has clearly diminished since the 30s.
4. Missionary conferences make some attempt to involve participants. This may explain why their gradually declining impact rate between the 30s and 70s is not as sharp as the rate for non-involvement types of experiences.
5. If exposure to a foreign culture is as significant as these percentages imply, it is strange that Question 13, "Friendship with a foreign student," received so little response. It may be that this opportunity to learn about another culture has not been adequately utilized. Cases could be cited from other schools where contact with a foreign student radically altered the direction and strategy of potential missionary recruits. Rather than large, impersonal prayer groups on the basis of continent or country, smaller prayer cells comprised of a foreign student and one or two Americans might be better.
This study would suggest that Christian colleges, churches and mission boards can do several things to encourage young people to invest their lives in missions. First of all, differences between contemporary students and those of thirty to forty years ago should be recognized. Appeal must be made to the tremendous ability, sophistication and energy of today’s student. Rather than depending on passive approaches, mission executives must look for innovative ways to involve students in missions. If overseas experiences cannot be funded, perhaps summer work in an ethnic pocket of the inner city would be possible.
Since stronger missionary presentations seem more effective than passive ones, specific, forthright communication of need should be encouraged. Churches desire to give maximum exposure of their missionaries to the congregation, such as up-to-date reports from the field, visual aids or pulpit preaching. However, if the missionary goal of the church is to motivate and send forth young people to the field, they should create situations where close, personal exchanges between missionaries and young people can take place. Perhaps the format of conferences could be changed to include fewer messages and more interaction, even in such things as sports, hikes, picnics, etc.
If the results of this survey are valid, mission field executives will be even more encouraged in their development of creative short-term programs. Christian colleges will continue to motivate, recruit and fit the student to the short-term program that best utilizes his gifts. Home churches will enthusiastically accept their role of praying for and sending spiritually prepared young people on those training ventures.
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