A Study of Mission Agencies

Today, I’ve uploaded a significant document which is the culmination of a number of months collecting and analysing data about mission agencies in the UK.

The study gives some historical background to the mission agency sector and then takes a detailed look at what agencies are actually doing today. The paper demonstrates that significant corrolations can be drawn between the date at which an agency was founded and it’s income and the likelihood that it sends missionaries and the extent to which it is involved in evangelistic activity.

The document runs to 24 pages and is too long to be published as a blog post, but you can download the whole document here. To give an idea as to the contents of the document, here are some of the conclusions:

The vast majority of mission agencies working today came into being post 1971. These agencies are smaller than their predecessors and more likely to be involved in one or two social-action projects in a single location. However, despite their proliferation, these agencies have a limited impact on the sector as a whole. It is the agencies from the early 1900s who dominate financially, with 44% of the income given to mission going to these 22 organisations. In terms of sending missionaries, it is the agencies formed before 1959 who are the most prominent.

Older agencies are likely to be large (measured by current financial income), to have a focus on proclamation and evangelism, to send both short and long-term missionaries and to have a worldwide focus to their ministry. By comparison, the newer agencies are smaller, tend not to send missionaries, are more likely to concentrate on social action than proclamation and to focus their efforts on a specific country and region.

However, despite this proliferation of smaller, more focussed agencies, the vast majority of the money given to the mission sector goes to agencies founded pre 1970. This pattern is an indication as to which agencies the British Christian public are interested in supporting.

A Glimpse into the Future

Epoch defining moments such as the publication of Carey’s enquiry or James Hudson-Taylor’s foundation of the CIM are impossible to predict. In God’s providence it is entirely possible that such an event will occur in the next ten years, shaking the mission sector completely. However, in the absence of an event of that magnitude, it is likely that mission agencies will continue to change by a slow process.

It is likely that many more small, entrepreneurial agencies focussing on one project in one location will come into being. However, these agencies will be supported by those who are close to them and will have a limited impact on the sector as a whole.

The movement away from evangelism and towards social-action will continue. Though a number of medium-large agencies will maintain an evangelistic focus; these are the agencies that are most likely to continue to send missionaries from the UK, while other agencies are unlikely to send missionaries.

Some issues not covered in this paper, but which will be relevant in the future:

  • The continuing stagnation or recession of the evangelical church in the UK means that some agencies will face significant financial and recruitment problems.

  • The growing church worldwide will have a growing desire to have an input into how foreigners do mission in their backyard.

  • This study has not touched on the growing phenomenon of churches supporting overseas projects and sending missionaries without the intervention of a mission agency. This is a broad movement (if it can be described as such) covering Anglican diocese in the UK partnering with diocese across the world, small church-based projects and new denominations which have a significant international church planting focus. It is difficult to assess the extent and impact of this movement in the absence of any central source of data. There is a need to study this issue in more depth, but it would need institutional buy-in by the organisations involved and is probably beyond the scope of an independent researcher.