by Craig Hanscome
Is it possible to predict missionary drop-outs and save ourselves considerable loss?
People are called to missions. They dedicate themselves to missions and spend four-to-seven years in educational preparation. Many serve in churches in the homeland for experience and further training. They are then commissioned and sent.
After all of this, many of these dedicated people drop out of missionary service. Why? Is there any way to screen out those likely to fail and prevent the accompanying psychological trauma? Or, is it possible to predict missionary drop-outs and save ourselves considerable loss?
This article attempts to summarize a statistical analysis of this situation in one evangelical mission board. My study was done from May, 1976, to May, 1978. It sought to evaluate some of the background factors that the Christian and Missionary Alliance uses in screening missionary candidates. Data were compiled from the personnel files of the Christian and Missionary Alliance covering missionaries sent to the field between the years 1962 and 1972. They were chosen because they would have been on the field for at least one full term of service, or had dropped out in the meantime. Anonymity in this delicate area was, of course, fully protected.
The factors used included: what field the missionary was sent to; level of education and of Bible education; number of children couples had when they were sent; age; grade point average; psychological and medical evaluations; length of home service; length of time since conversion to Jesus Christ and others.
In social science statistics a relationship that has less than one chance in twenty (.05) of being the result of chance or random distribution of cases, is called significant, i.e., not likely to be the result of chance. This is the level used in this study.
What were the results? First, the field of missionary service produced a marked difference in the drop-out rate. This has long been suspected. This relationship can be seen from Table 1, Status With the Division of Overseas Ministries (DOM) by the Field Sent To (Status with the DOM is whether or not they are on the field).
In this study, 27.6 percent of the cases were casualties. (The C&MA drop-out rate was not that high, but the study took all of the drop-outs and then took 173 who were still on the field.} Looking at the column percentages for casualties, the field areas differed from 48 percent casualties in South East Asia to 17.1 percent in the Island World.
The gamma of .4 indicates that there is a moderately strong relationship between the missionary drop-out rate and the field sent to. When the influence of the missionary’s education is taken into account, the relationship between field and drop-out rate remains. The individual with an AB or BS degree, though, is more strongly affected by the field sent to than the individual with graduate study. Graduate education appears to even out casualty differentials.
The Christian and Missionary Alliance has required graduate education for missionaries for many years. This policy has been vindicated by the results of the analysis of educational level. Looking at Table 2, Status With the DOM by Collapsed Education (There was an initial test with education in four categories. This was reduced to two categories to clarify the relationships.), it can be seen that there is a substantial difference between the drop-out rate of those without graduate work (33.3 percent) and the drop-out rate of those with graduate work (14.7 percent). The two other factors that were found to correlate with drop-out (field and number of children) were used as controls on educational level. (They were taken into account.) Neither one could explain education’s effect. In other words, education is associated with the difference in the drop-out rate.
One surprising result was in the area of number of children. It has long been thought that the fewer children missionaries have when sent overseas the better. This is wrong! As can be seen from Table 3, Status With the DOM by Collapsed Number of Children When Sent to the Field, the opposite is true. Those with 0-1 child had a drop-out rate of 31.5 percent, while those with two or more children had a drop-out rate of 16.1 percent.
When both education and children are used together, the following percentages of drop-out were found:
No graduate work and 0-1 child, 37.7 percent. No graduate work and two or more children, 18.2 percent. Graduate work and 0-1 child, 15.7 percent. Graduate work and two or more children, 13.0 percent.
Either graduate study, or having two or more children, seems to drastically reduce drop-out; having both results in the lowest dropout rate. Adding the two factors together does not multiply their effect. They seem to have separate effects, It is possible that both graduate education and having two or more children overlap in the area of maturity, but this is only speculation at this point.
The most easily applied conclusion is that missionaries need graduate education. This should be a requirement for any mission board. Even a single year seems to make the difference.
The effect of the field cannot be removed. It can be compensated for by sending more missionaries to fields with high drop-out rates, or by sending missionaries with higher qualifications to these difficult areas.
It would not be possible to require missionaries to have two children, but the fact that children are not a hindrance should encourage couples who might otherwise hold off having children, or dictate consideration of change in mission policy.
Of equal value to those selecting missionaries and those preparing are those areas that have no effect on drop-out. Grade point average, age when sent overseas, length of home service and length of time since conversion to Christ all had little, if any, influence on drop-out. Each of the above was tried in different combinations of categories and three different types of statistical analysis were done, and yet no real effect was evident. These four variables were added together and even then they explained only 8 percent of missionary drop-out. Grade point average in particular only explained 1 percent of missionary drop-out.
(The original computer printouts, data cards and the thesis from which this article was condensed are stored at the Alliance School of Theology and Missions. Nyack College. Nyack, N. Y. 10960. The author can be contacted through The Christian and Missionary Alliance, Box C. Nyack, N. Y. 10960.)
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