Journal of Applied Missiology, Volume 7, Number 1

Supporting Churches:
Evaluation of Their Performance by Missionaries

Ed Mathews
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas

Supporting churches are an important part of missions. How they perform their task determines to a significant degree the success of missionaries among the classes, clans, tribes, tongues, peoples, and nations of the world.

Few churches have had any training for their role as a supporting congregation. Books, articles, seminars, and workshops to prepare churches exist (though in limited quantity). For the most part, supporting churches learn their responsibilities by "trial and error" in the "school of hard knocks."

I. Problem

What have congregations among the churches of Christ learned about supporting missionaries? What should they learn to do better? What have they learned to do well? These are not idle questions. The purposes of heaven in finding and folding the lost are at stake. In order to discover some answers, missionaries were asked to reflect on the performance of their supporting churches. The present research report is a follow up effort regarding the preparation of sponsoring churches for supporting missionaries (See Journal of Applied Missiology 5:1, April 1994, pages 14-25).

The underlying question in this research project is: "What opinions do missionaries have regarding the performance of their supporting church?" The data generated by this inquiry are extremely helpful to churches that desire to serve more effectively in the mission of God.

A. Definition of Terms. The pivotal concept in the research question is "supporting church." The missionaries were asked to evaluate the performance of one congregation. Since many missionaries are supported by more than one congregation, the respondents were asked to think of "the church" as the congregation that is their sponsoring church or, if they did not have one, the congregation which supplies the largest portion of their monetary support. It is assumed that the sponsoring congregation, or the church which makes the largest financial investment, will most likely expend the greatest amount of effort in fulfilling its responsibility toward its missionary.

B. Statement of Hypothesis. There are several overriding assumptions in the project. It is believed that those churches which have

will transmit a greater sense of support to their missionaries. In other words, those churches which receive the highest performance rating from their supportees will be those churches which display the greatest amount of intentionality, the highest level of commitment to the multitude of responsibilities involved in being sponsoring/supporting churches.

II. Methodology

The project took its initial form in early 1994. After determining how supporting churches assessed themselves, it seemed appropriate to ask missionaries to assess their supporting congregations. A questionnaire was written and tested in the Fall of 1994.

A. Sampling Method. The missionary computer data bank at Abilene Christian University listed 1,019 missionaries, i.e., full time, long term, married or single, male and female workers on the field. Because of the nature of the study, a stratified, random sample was used. The strata, or groups, within the 1,019 population were identified according to the continent of service and gender of the missionary.

The sampling frame chosen from each continent reflected a similar percent which the number of workers in the continent was in relation to the total missionary force in the world (See Figure 1).

Comparison of Percent of Missionaries Serving in a Continent
to the Percent of the Sample Chosen from the Same Continent

Figure 1
ContinentNumber of Missionaries In the ContinentPercent of the Missionaries in the WorldNumber in the SamplePercent of the Total Sample
Latin America27326.8%3332.3%
Moreover, the 51 males and 51 females in the sample was an equal proportion from each gender among the 102 subjects chosen for the research project (See Figure 2).

Gender of the Sample Chosen from each Continent

Figure 2
Latin America171633
All the subjects chosen for the sampling frame had been on the field for three or more years.

A. Data Collection Technique.

1. The Instrument. The questionnaire was divided into three sections: background information, committee organization, and performance evaluation (See Appendix A). For the most part, the instrument contains closed-ended questions. This format was chosen for two reasons: it simplified the process of answering the questions as well as tabulating the results. The overriding concern was the ease of responding (though the length of the document was considered in light of overseas postage costs).

2. The Response. The questionnaire was sent to 102 missionaries by surface and electronic mail on April 12, 1995. Seventy-two instruments were returned. This is a 70.6% response rate. The percent of male and female respondents was almost identical:

The percent of return was evenly distributed among the continental areas of the world (See Figure 3). Therefore, the data in this report were not skewed by an inequitable distribution in the gender of respondents or the continental origin of the responses.

Comparison of the Percent of Questionnaires Returned from each Continent

Figure 3
ContinentNumber of Questionaires Sent Number of Questionaires Returned Percent of Returned For Each Continent
Latin America332266.7%

III. Results

The information in this study will be reported in the manner in which the instrument was developed: background information, committee organization, and performance evaluation respectively.

A. Background Information. The missionaries surveyed had been on the field an average of 4.9 years. They were supported by an average of 5.0 churches. Since the majority of the respondents - 62 out of 72 (86.1%) - are supported by more than one church, the respondents were asked how long their sponsoring (or largest monetary supporting) church had supported them. The average was 3.7 years. This indicates that most missionaries must find another sponsoring church every time they are home on furlough! Almost 60% of these churches have less than 499 people attending the Sunday morning worship assembly (See Figure 4).

Percent of Sponsoring/Supporting Churches
Reflected in Various Categories

[AT WORK] This page still under Construction.

Figure 4

Of the 72 churches involved, 60 (83.3%) had a mission committee, while 12 (16.7%) did not.

B. Committee Organization. In order for a congregation to effectively support a missionary - spiritually, psychologically, and financially - one would assume the church had a mission committee. The vast majority did. But one would also assume that these committees were organized, prepared to do the task with which they were entrusted. Of the 60 committees, 38 of them (63.3%) had a meeting once a month, 10 of them (16.7%) got together "as needed" (which usually meant once or twice every six months). Because considerable time elapsed between meetings, it might be assumed a written committee policy and regular meeting notes would help the committee do a better job. However, only 14 of them (23.3%) had a written policy and only 15 of them (25.0%) took notes during their meetings.

C. Performance Evaluation. Given the above profile of the churches' preparation for and involvement in missions, how is their performance evaluated by the missionaries they support? The following discussion measures the organizational, financial, and relational activities of the sponsoring/supporting churches.

1. Organizational Performance. Four variables were compared with each other. Two of the variables received a significant number of "yes" responses and two received a significant number of "no" responses. These variables were then compared with the missionary evaluation of the church's organizational performance. The data reflect a "neutral" attitude among the missionaries regarding the mission organization in their sponsoring/supporting church - 3.1 to 5.0 scale - which is neither a decidedly positive or negative reaction (See Figure 5).

Comparison of Missionary Evaluation of the Church
and Mission Organization in the Church

5  Positive


3    3.1


1  Negative
  1. Written agreement exists between the church and missionary (Question 10).
  2. Church provides a liaison or contact person for the missionary (Question 15).
  3. Church mails out missionary newsletter (Question 16).
  4. Mission committee tries to improve its effectiveness (Question 22).

Figure 5

The comments of the respondents reflect their neutrality: "My contact person is a lousy communicator;" "The mission committee desperately needs a written policy;" "My liaison is doing a super job in every way;" and "We have a wonderful congregation behind us; they have faithfully mailed our newsletter for the past 22 years." Hence, the organizational performance of the churches received a mixture of positive and negative evaluations from the missionaries. Perhaps, the comment of one respondent fittingly epitomizes the collective opinion of all respondents: "The church wants to see the Great Commission fulfilled, but is not organized to help it get done." In other words, no church intents to do a lousy job in missions, but only 15 out of 72 (20.8%) receive mission journals, read mission books, seek advice from mission consultants, or attend workshops for supporting churches.

2. Financial Performance. Three financial variables were compared with one another. All three of these received a strong "no" response. These variables were also compared with the missionary evaluation of the church's financial performance. The data indicate that the missionaries had a solidly "positive" attitude - 4.2 on a 5.0 scale - toward the financial performance of their sponsoring/supporting churches (See Figure 6).

Comparison of Missionary Evaluation of the Church
and Financial Support from the Church

5  Positive

4    4.2



1  Negative
  1. Church has made provision for missionary retirement (Question 11).
  2. Missionary has salary guarantee during times crisis (Question 12).
  3. Church bases support on the value of the dollar in the host country (Question 14).

Figure 6

These reactions seem contradictory. The churches received low evaluation scores on their financial performance while the missionaries have a very positive attitude toward their financial support. This may be indicative of their attitude toward money. By worldly standards, they have a low level of financial security, yet they are most grateful for the monetary assistance they receive. Their comments give convincing witness to their attitude: "The church is always on time with the monthly check;" "We appreciate their faithfulness in financial dealings with us;" "They take care of our needs generously and consistently;" and "We are very happy with the support we receive from our sponsoring congregation." Only 1 out of 72 respondents (1.4%) voiced a wish for a raise in salary. The negative financial performance of sponsoring/supporting churches apparently stems from their insensitivity toward the financial needs of their missionaries regarding retirement, salary guarantees during crises, and the declining value of the dollar. The latter is a case in point. Only 11 out of 72 missionaries (15.3%) have their support adjusted to compensate for their loss in buying power. And 7 out of these 11 adjustments (63.6%) occur on the average of every three years. No missionary surveyed received monthly adjustments, though without being asked, 28 out of 72 (38.8%) of the respondents mentioned how the dollar was getting "clobbered," had "lost 30% in value in the last year," was "weakening against the local currency," or similar statements. Obviously these folks are not missionaries because of the lucrative monetary remuneration they receive.

3. Relational Performance. Five relational variables were compared with each other. Four out of the five of them were given a strong "no" response. These variables were also compared with the missionary evaluation of the church's relational performance. The data shows a correspondingly "negative" attitude - 1.8 on a 5.0 scale - among the missionaries regarding their relational ties with their sponsoring/supporting churches (See Figure 7).

Comparison of Missionary Evaluation of the Church
and Relational Ties with the Church

5  Positive



1  Negative
  1. Church communicates with the missionary every month (Question 17).
  2. Missionary has been visited on the field by the church between each furlough (Question 18).
  3. Church encourages the missionary to take a vacation each year (Question 19).
  4. Church prays in public worship for the missionary each week (Question 20).
  5. Missionary has been informed in writing by the church that it desires a long term relationship (Question 21).

Figure 7

Out of 275 comments made to questions 23 and 24 by the respondents, 174 of them (63.2%) were in the relational area. And, among the 174 comments, 115 of them (66.0%) were "negative" or "very negative." For instance, the missionaries said: "We feel abandoned. We have not heard from the church in 14 months. We have a phone, a fax, and e-mail. Just a few words now and then would help us know they are interested in us. In the absence of their care, we stay here because the local people need Jesus;" "We wish the elders were interested enough in the work to come and see us. We have not had anyone from our supporting church to visit us in 16 years," and "Except for one elderly woman who writes us a letter and sends us the church bulletin each week, we have no communication with our sponsoring church. We believe they care. It would help tremendously if they showed it in some way."

These distressingly negative comments seem to be a direct outgrowth of weak relational ties between sponsoring/supporting churches and their missionaries. A closer analysis of the data reveals this weakness. The amount of contact originated by the churches with their missionaries is shockingly low. The respondents were asked, "Does the church stay in touch with you? Yes or No. If Yes,' how often?" They felt the church was rather insensitive (See Figure 8).

Amount of Contact Originated by the Churches with their Missionaries

Figure 8
Once a Year23.4%
Four Times a Year31.2%
Twelve Times a Year28.6%
More Than Twelve5.7%
The negativism growing out of this lack of frequent communication is compounded further by a lack of personal visits. The respondents were asked, "Has the church sent someone to visit you on the field? Yes or No. If Yes, how often?" Only 30 out of 72 churches (41.6%) had visited their missionaries on the field. Moreover, the average frequency of the visits was every 5 years. Since, as it was reported earlier (on page 3), the respondents were on the field an average of 4.9 years, it is obvious why a significant proportion of the missionaries had not been visited, and why they were negative about their relational ties with the sponsoring/supporting churches.


IV. Conclusions and Implications

Mission work is a joint effort. The Lord empowers the church to send, He empowers the missionary to go. This partnership works best when all parties fulfill their responsibilities. The church and the missionary must both hold the rope if the lost are going to be rescued.

This research report reflects the opinions of missionaries toward the performance of their sponsoring/supporting churches. Whether right or wrong, they felt there was room for the churches to improve in all three areas studied: organizational, financial, and relational performance in missions.

1. The missionaries were most positive in their evaluation of the financial performance of their sponsoring/supporting churches. They repeatedly expressed gratitude for the monetary support they received. Nevertheless, close to half of the missionaries were in countries where economic upheaval was devastating the buying power of the dollar. Churches should pay their missionaries each month according to the market value of the dollar in the host country. They should also provide retirement for those who have committed their lives to spreading the message of salvation.

2. The missionaries were as a whole neutral regarding the sponsoring/supporting churches' organizational preparation for mission. Though most of the churches had mission committees, very few of them had a current, written mission policy, few took notes during their committee meetings, half of the committees met less than once a month, and most did not read material or attend seminars to improve their effectiveness. These deficiencies must and can be remedied. The level of the churches' commitment to mission will likely be reflected in the thoroughness of their organizational preparation.

3. The missionaries were most concerned about the lack of relational ties the sponsoring/supporting churches had with them. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Families with sons and daughters in the military overseas make it a point to stay in touch. The men and women in the missionary trenches are in hand-to-hand combat with the forces of evil. They need communication from home every bit as much as our military personnel. It is shocking how little contact the majority of sponsoring/supporting churches have with their missionaries on the field. Rarely do they visit. Occasionally they use e-mail. Sometimes they write or call. Though the churches live in the twentieth century of fantastic communication potential, they operate, for the most part, with their missionaries overseas as if it was the nineteenth century (in terms of communication practices).

The corrections suggested herein require little or no money. The improvement of sponsoring/supporting church performance is a matter of heart the sensitivity of the churches to do unto the missionaries what they would like the missionaries to do unto them.

Missionaries are generally a conscientious group of folks. They want kind, consistent, and wise backing from their sponsoring/supporting churches. Churches are generally a committed body of people. They want to faithfully discharge their mission stewardship. This report has emphasized those areas where missionaries think churches can improve their performance as sponsoring/supporting churches. It is hoped this effort is helpful. May none of us be content with mediocrity. May all of us work together for the advance of the kingdom, for the glory of our God.

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Direct questions and comments to Ed Mathews,

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