A trend in mission economics seems to be underway in North America. Investment in missions is shifting from traditional Western missionaries to indigenous missionaries. In this post, I argue for an even more important shift to take place, namely to investment in key leaders of indigenous, large-scale church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations.
1 = 100
For most of the 20th century, missions was primarily the sending of Western missionaries to cross-cultural situations all over the world. However, in the 21st century, there seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with the traditional missionary model. Some think that Western missionaries are too expensive (sometimes as much as $100,000 per year), take too long to prepare (Bible college + seminary + mission orientation + language school), struggle to overcome cultural issues, and are sometimes not held very accountable for their efforts and results. Many North American churches have concluded that it is better “mission economics” to support indigenous church planting missionaries. Their cost of living is minimal, they are already deployed, they already know the language, they are already familiar with the culture, and they are perceived to be more effective (in terms of unbelievers converted, believers discipled, leaders developed, and churches planted). In terms of mission economics, the ratio seems to be about 1:100 for North American churches who want to shift their investment from traditional Western missionaries to indigenous missionaries.
However, there are often unseen, yet serious problems implicit in the shift to support of indigenous missionaries. For instance, getting support for living expenses from North American churches often creates a relationship of dependency for the indigenous missionaries. Further, dependency on outside funding often prevents these indigenous missionaries from training their indigenous churches and networks to be benefactors that support the indigenous mission. Some members of indigenous mission organizations choose to leave the structure, support, and accountability of their agencies once they become financially independent (often through funds that most North Americans would consider to be minimal). And while often quite sincere in their mission endeavors, many indigenous missionaries are poorly equipped for ministry in terms of character, ministry skills, and biblical knowledge.
1 = 10,000
A few North American churches are making an even more radical shift. They are investing in the key leaders of indigenous, large-scale church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations. Rather than providing support for ordinary living expenses, support is directed strategically toward important immediate needs that are beyond the economic and cultural capacity of the ministry to deliver. For instance, an investment in the training of a “competency cohort” (the key leaders of an indigenous church planting movement, church network, or ministry organization) means that you are building much greater capacity for those key leaders to carry out their ministry. Each member of a “competency cohort” who is enrolled in an Antioch School degree program using BILD resources is also learning by training their own cohorts of subsidiary leaders (who are also doing basic training of other cohorts of leaders to train others). Investment in 100 key leaders (at nearly the same cost as a single traditional Western missionary or 100 indigenous missionaries) results in 10,000 leaders being trained for ministry.
1 = 1,000,000
Once 100 key leaders have been trained through “competency cohorts” (along with nearly 10,000 subsidiary leaders), there is now the capacity in these indigenous church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations to implement training systems that function entirely within their cultures and at their economic levels. If each of these trained leaders trains an additional 10 leaders (whose training also includes learning by training others to train others), there are now 1,000,000 emerging leaders being trained. This exponential growth cannot occur unless key leaders are equipped to provide the direction, support, and correction needed during implementation.
At BILD, it is common to hear from someone in North America who knows someone somewhere in the world for whom the BILD resources would be beneficial. Some of these contacts have turned into significant partnerships in church-based theological education. Most are indigenous missionaries or ministry leaders who are primarily operating independently. In other words, they are in the “1 = 100” category, not the “1 = 10,000” category that leads to the “1 = 1,000,000” category.
It is rather uncommon for us to hear from someone in North America who simply wants to invest in the partnerships that BILD thinks are most strategic. It is also uncommon for someone in North America to put us in contact with the key leader of an indigenous, large-scale church planting movement, church network, or ministry organization that could operate in in the “1 = 1,000,000” category. However, some of the most effective Western missionaries are those who have aligned themselves with these indigenous, large-scale church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations in order to provide specialized support, such as for leadership development programs within these networks and organizations.
My plea is for you to consider partner strategically with us as a matter of mission economics. Regardless of whether you choose to continue to support traditional Western missionaries and/or indigenous missionaries, I hope you get a better glimpse of how far funding can go when it is invested in key leaders of indigenous, large-scale church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations. The same level of investment needed for a single traditional Western missionary can result in the training of entire large-scale networks.
If you want to come alongside BILD as it works at the “1 = 10,000” level (which becomes “1 = 1,000,000”), please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“One great opportunity to start your partnership with BILD at the “1 = 10,000” level is to attend our annual BILD International Conference being held Nov. 4-9, 2013 at our headquarters in Ames, Iowa. You will be able to receive further training in the BILD resources, be exposed to some of the cutting edge things that BILD is doing around the world, and be introduced to some of the key leaders of indigenous, large-scale church planting movements, church networks, and ministry organizations.”