Mission agencies and societies are gearing up for what could be the greatest decade of church growth of the century. If the churches of the Restoration heritage are to keep pace, better networking in strategy and evaluation is a must. There are four basic components to any sound strategy: thinking, planning, acting, and evaluating (Dayton and Fraser 1990:37).
Missions personnel of all classifications (missionaries, missions instructors, and missions committees) thrive on the first component, thinking. They come up with some creative ideas of how to meet grandiose projections for church growth. Many are even able to make solid plans. The majority of missionaries are also hard workers. The gifts of thinking, planning and working are prevalent.
Evaluation on the other hand, is sorely missing from most missionaries' tool bags. The lack of this crucial component restricts the potential of any program. David Barrett analyzed 788 plans to evangelize the world (Barrett and Reapsome 1988). None of the plans have reached their goal and few were in action very long. The downfall of most was the absence of an evaluation process.
The impression that mission work is a volunteer endeavor and that accountability is inappropriate has caused many missionaries not to reach their full potential in productiveness for the Lord (Parshall 1990:247 and Cook 1990:251). Parshall estimates fifty percent of the missionaries on the field work under their potentials because of the deficiency of evaluation (Parshall 1990:246). Sponsoring congregations are beginning to desire and require more accountability through evaluations. It is more advantageous for churches in consultation with missionaries and missions teachers to set the evaluation processes. Better goals and measurement will result.
Accountability gives the added benefit of reducing stress and giving missionaries the perception that their task is important (Herr 1987:43). The annual church growth study and other evaluations allow others to have input concerning the goals for the next year. Missionaries do view themselves as shouldering the entire program. Supporters and other missionaries can offer advice based on what they see in the evaluations.
Dayton views accountability to God coming through evaluations (1983:71). How else would one conclude he has accomplished what God expects of him.
"This accountability is not just to God. It is accountability to God's people, the church, to God's world. To refuse to be accountable to the household of faith is to do violence to a basic premise of mission theology." (Olson 1978:164)Without some form of formal accountability, a missionary and his supporters seldom know to what degree good stewardship is being practiced. McGavran described the effect of lack of assessment as "missionary fog," a haziness about judging stewardship (McGavran 1970:67).
When assessment and accountability are missing, the potential for failure is also high. Evaluations come in at least four stages.
After the criteria list is drawn up for prioritizing possible targets, data concerning the target areas should be collected from reference works such as World Christian Encyclopedia, Operation World, Ethnologue, and the Unreached Peoples series. The latest Mission Handbook should be consulted to ascertain which denominations or agencies are working in the area. The headquarters of these groups are usually very willing to share church growth information either by phone interviews or fax messages. After this information is gathered and digested, an on-site research trip to prime candidate areas is in order. The purpose of the trip is to gain current church growth data; logistical information concerning church registration, finances, and housing; and receptivity assessment.
It is difficult for a prospective team of missionaries to collect and assimilate all of this data. Trained and experienced researchers should be used. From their experience they can add a credible subjective "feel" for the possibilities in addition to the facility of evaluative data collection.
Evaluation can help missionaries make sounder plans for the future by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of present strategies. In our work among the Kipsigis people we did not see any steady increase in church growth until we were visited by Dr. Ira Hill, an inventor and experimental scientist, who explained to us procedures for goal setting and assessment. We had been operating on the task level without clearly defined overall goals dictating those tasks. From 1977 until now, yearly church growth studies have been conducted to evaluate progress toward annual goals.
The evaluation is of performance and not people. "Whatever happened in terms of goal achievement needs to be evaluated in terms of means and methods" (Dayton and Fraser 1990:322). Fundamentally, church growth studies cover the growth of congregations and each segment of the congregations (such as sex, age set, literacy, and religious background). Donald McGavran's Understanding Church Growth sets forth basic church growth principles and definitions for most of the variables. Ebbie Smith's A Manual for Church Growth Surveys describes the procedures for church growth studies. The appendices offer checklists and material lists which are very helpful. Examples of church growth studies are Church Growth Among the Meru: Ministry of the Churches of Christ in Meru, Kenya -- 1987 and Church Growth Among the Kipsigis of Southwest Kenya Vol. 4. The real worth of church growth evaluations come from asking why goals were met or not met. What procedures and strategies should be continued or changed?
Yearly goals and tasks should be set based upon the results of the church growth. This produces a sharpened focus for planning and action. Further, it possesses an excellent environment for methodological innovations.
When a work is experiencing severe difficulties, some problem evaluation techniques used in the business world are useful. The Quick fix and Strategy Planning for Nonprofit Organizations are valuable sources for problem resolution.
Outside experts are often willing to help. Missions professors, former missionaries, and counselors should be used as consultants by sponsoring congregations as well as missions teams.
Some attempts have been made at a globalized outlook. Tex Williams' initiative in the sixties encouraging congregations to adopt countries for evangelization was an admirable attempt. An evaluation of global strategies at this point, however, would find little to evaluate. We are definitely at the initial evaluation stage. This is especially evident when researchers from our movement enter the offices of missions directors in denominations and agencies. These directors have a good understanding of what is being done globally by their mission. They talk in terms of five and ten-year plans for a continent and the world. They are far from having a finely tuned system. What Jim Reapsome, Director of Evangelical Missions Information Service, says about these missions agencies is indicative of the Churches of Christ.
"At a time when a ripple of networking has gently nudged the missions establishment, apparently we are still pretty much like a cluster of isolated lifeboats, each one struggling alone against a monstrous wave of mounting unbelief around the world" (Reapsome 1988:211).David Barrett and Todd M. Johnson in the newest addition to the AD 2000 series, Our Globe and How to Reach It, offer advice which we would do well to explore (1990). They emphasize the need to network in global strategy planning. The book contains a list of global plans and networks in and among denominations and missions agencies (1990:74-75). According to Barrett and Johnson's definitions, we have no plans or networking on global perspectives. We do have some understanding of the current situation as evidenced by the world statistics presented elsewhere in this journal. Prioritizing and planning would be the next logical step.
As I meet with elderships and missions committees, it has become obvious that our leadership is looking for advice and direction in missions. Continental and global plans need to be developed by groups of experienced missionaries and missions academicians. Barrett and Johnson offer steps toward planning and networking (1990:74,75,92-106). Databases such as the one developed by Mac Lynn at David Lipscomb University and the one at Abilene Christian University need to be sharing information and constantly updating. Based upon those statistics, researchers need to develop priority lists for continental and global strategies. These strategies should not only be presented in forms which encourage creative new research and planning but also be presented in forms which are easily understood and challenging for the leadership in local congregations.
1. There are two excellent computer based resources available: GRDB (Global Research Database) and Atlas for Missions both from Global Mapping Incorporated in Pasadena.
2. Other useful works for strategy building in the series are World-Class Cities and World Evangelization, Unreached Peoples: Clarifying the Task, and Seven Hundred Plans to Evangelize the World.