January 19, 2013

Send 1 Missionary or 72 More Missionaries?

Let me explain...

The average American missionary family requires about $70,000 USD a year.
The average native missionary in the unreached world requires about $2,000 USD a year.

If instead of supporting the 1 American missionary, you decided to support native missionaries, you could support 35 missionaries.  That allows you to support 34 MORE MISSIONARIES FOR THE SAME COST.  But let's not stop there.

Now that the 1 American missionary has come home from the mission field, he will find a nice job in the US.  The median US household earns around $50,000 a year.  Let's say this missionary is so sold out to the cause of the Great Commission that he is willing to live off $24,000 a year and give the rest to missions.  The $26,000 will support 13 more missionaries.  We are now up to the possibility of supporting 47 MORE MISSIONARIES.  Still not done.

This former American missionary has decided not only to give his money, but also his time.  Let's say, he's decided to become a volunteer representative for a mission organization like Empart.  By representing at Christian events one weekend a month and speaking at a church once or twice a year, he could easily raise enough support for 15 more missionaries.  Now, we see the possibility of sending 62 more missionaries to the mission field.  One more step.

In addition to raising financial support, let's say that each year this former missionary also recruits others to join the effort.  He might recruit another volunteer, or intern or staff for Empart.  Using a low ball estimate, that recruit is good for an additional 10 missionaries per year that can be sent to the mission field.  When you add all this up, we are talking about the possibility of SUPPORTING 73 MISSIONARIES INSTEAD OF JUST 1 MISSIONARY.

By the way, those 73 missionaries already know the language of the people they are reaching.  They already know the culture.  They don't need visas or a front.  They don't have to return home on furlough.  They will live at the same economic level as the people they are reaching.

Obviously, God is not bound mathematics and statistics.  He is sovereign and does what He will.  Certainly, He calls some people to be a foreign missionary.  However, given the facts that up to half of all foreign missionaries don't return to the mission field after their first furlough, only 3% of their time is spent doing evangelism, and 90% of pioneer church planting is not done by foreign missionaries, do you really believe that God has called all our current American missionaries to a foreign mission field?  Is sending one American missionary more important than sending 73 native missionaries?  Is your goal to send out your own friends, because you know them, or is your goal to see the world be saved?  Please don't let tradition be a barrier to releasing the Gospel in all the earth.


  1. While the mathematics in your post makes sense, you seem to have left out a very important consideration - God's calling and direction! As a long-term missionary, if I were to leave the field and come back to the US to a "nice job" I would be defying the very God we are trying to share with the world! I agree that there is a need to look at how we are doing missions, but do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Someone needs to train national leaders (who can in turn train others - 2 Tim 2:2). You ask the question above - "Do you really believe that God has called all our current American missionaries to a foreign mission field?" My question for you is this - Who are you to judge the servant of another? What we need is not an either/or answer - we need a both/and answer. Let's find out why half of the missionaries being sent out are not going back for a second term and see what can be done to remedy it. Let's see how we can mobilize believers of ALL nations to go as missionaries to other nations. Please be careful about giving simplistic answers to complicated questions and judging things only on dollars spent. As long as God is calling missionaries from North America to go, we need to send them. As God calls out missionaries from other nations, we need to be faithful to send them and support them however we can. (and I know a lot of missionaries that are supported far less than $70k/year - and pay for their ministry expenses out of their support as well. Are you willing to tell your pastor that he should take a cut in pay and pay for the operating expenses of his church out of his salary as well?)

    1. Hi Matthew. Great comment. I'm sorry, I completely missed any notification about this comment, so even though it's 2 years later, here goes...

      I always try to clarify about the exceptions. That's why I wrote, "Obviously, God is not bound mathematics and statistics. He is sovereign and does what He will. Certainly, He calls some people to be a foreign missionary." I realize that God does call some to be foreign missionaries.

      I didn't see it as judging another's servant. I will not be able to know if a certain individual is called or not. All I can do is ask them if God called them, if they're sure, and how do they know. That's all I can do and leave it at that, and pray for them. However, I am seriously questioning our efforts on a bigger picture. If almost half don't return to the field after their first 2 years, it does make me think that maybe God didn't really call many of them. I think passion, admiration for other cultures, the joy of travel, adventure, nostalgia, and tradition, all play a part in some decision making processes. It might be that God places those things in some peoples' hearts purposefully to get them to go. But in other cases, those might just be the things that confuse people and get them to make poor, uneducated decisions. I think many missionaries have made the mistake of asking, 'How can I reach the nations?' instead of asking, 'How can the nations be reached, and how do I fit into that picture?' It's not my desire to judge any individuals, but it's irresponsible of us to not make the wisest decisions based on the information we have. I'm all for finding out why half of the missionaries are not returning for a second term and seeing if we can remedy it, but I gotta tell you, from sitting in on a mission conference seminar that discussed this exact subject, the stories are very disheartening. Meanwhile, I think about the tens of thousands of would-be native missionaries around the world who never received funding, while some Americans did receive funding--35 times as much. Is it fair? Are they not called as well? It seems that the needs on the mission field are nearly limitless, but we don't have the funding for every project/missionary. The number of people who want to be missionaries are many, but not all of them will receive funding. American dollars are highly inclined to go toward funding American missionaries. So, to turn your question around, who are you to judge the native missionaries, servants of God, and say they should not receive funding, because the funding needs to go to an American instead? It's not really judgement. It's just making a decision. We have x amount of missionaries who want to be sent, but only .5x amount of money, so who do we support? We can't support everyone who wants to be a missionary. This causes us to do some investigation and ask the hard questions like I have in the blog. The Great Commission is so important that we need to make sure we are investing our talents in the wisest manner possible.

    2. I'm not convinced of the both/and solution. In many cases, yes, but every country and every people group is different. It all depends on what foundation has already been laid (Rom 15:20), if there are enough faithful believers already, etc. I think in most countries there are enough passionate followers of Christ with enough of a solid understanding of the Bible, that the mission efforts in those countries can be almost entirely national. Again, that's not to say that God won't make exceptions. Not all countries are like this though, that's for sure. But for example, China, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Philippines, and Brazil are some of the countries to which many Western missionaries go. I am sure these countries already have the believers, the theology, and the willingness to finish reaching their own countries, yet many Americans still go there as missionaries.

      $70k always sounded high to me, but I read in a mission book that it was the average for a missionary family. I assumed it was a combination of their living expenses and ministry expenses, but I'm not sure. Yeah, I've known many that live off a lot less, too.

      I've never liked the 'from everywhere to everywhere' concept that people in the missions world speak of often. I wrote about that in another post: http://blog.aboutmissions.org/2011/12/visual-geographic-image-of-great.html

  2. God likes just weights and measures. If a tree is not producing fruit it is cut down. By the fruits you shall know them. I agree with the logic of the publication. American egocentrism prevents american people from being involved with the work of God and makes them blow ballons instead of being humble and industrious for the kingdom of God. Unfortunately, this disbalance will be solved at the judgement seat of Christ instead being solved now. I speak as someone in both positions. I have reached to the same conclusions from experience and from the Spirit of God. No need to complicate simple and clear facts.