The Mission Has An Image Problem

The state of missions in 1970: too few workers, limited resources, separation between church and mission field, competing sending organizations, a remarkable lack of information about missions.

The state of missions today: too few workers, limited resources, separation between church and mission field, competing sending organizations, overwhelming amounts of unremarkable information about missions.

Except for the move from “not enough information” to “too much information,” the state of missions in the church has not changed in a generation. Despite sending hundreds of thousands of short-term volunteers on mission trips every year (according to Barna, 9% of the American population has been on a mission trip), the church is no more engaged in the mission than it was forty years ago.

I’ve written before about marketing missions, and how believers’ understanding of missions is, to an extent, shaped by how missions is communicated to them. When the “experts” have a narrow understanding of the nature of the mission, that’s what gets communicated.

  • Regular believers aren’t spoken of/to as missionaries.
  • Certain fields are neglected while others are saturated.
  • Missions becomes about numbers, statistics, and difficulty rather than people, opportunity, and calling.
  • Missions is marketed as an “Xtreme adventure” rather than a normal part of Christian life.
  • Mechanics, salesmen, therapists, and entrepreneurs are left thinking that their skills have no missionary value.
  • Missions is misunderstood to be a vocation rather than an orientation.

The problem won’t likely be resolved by a cool website or the launch of yet another “network.” What it needs are vocal missionaries. Practitioners who won’t shut up about what God is doing in their lives; how cultural barriers are being overcome and the gospel is transforming lives.

In a difficult economy, “non-essentials” like communications and public relations are some of the first things a missions organization might cut. I say if there ever was a time when missions agencies needed to focus on communications and PR, now is the time.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.