There are two precursory comments that should be made.
First, the predictions that follow are the result of interviews with the directors of several different mission boards, pastors, and missionaries as part of research for my D.Min project. These are some of the conclusions that I have drawn from the research thus far. And while not every mission board director, pastor, or missionary may agree with every point, the majority of who I talked to agree with all of them.
Second, as a result of the previous point, it should be understood that these predictions are not directed at any particular missions organization, but are general trends that I believe are starting to take place.
We live in a world that is ever-changing. Social media has revolutionized communication and this digital age in which we live demands that we evaluate and adjust how we do what we do. We must always be looking into the future to determine how best to accomplish our purpose. This also applies to missions.
So what is the future of Independent Baptist missions? Here are 10 predictions based solely on my observation and opinion.
1- The big and bulky mission board home offices will begin to disappear.
There are several factors that are already leading to this. First, churches simply do not want to support the home office; and fewer and fewer will do so. Second, churches do not want so support directors. Boards are going to be forced to downsize their staff. As they do, the spacious home offices will not be needed. Third, many will begin to see that the finances needed to run a large home office is simply poor stewardship. Fourth, larger churches will take care of their own missionaries – making the need for a missions board unnecessary for them.
These realities will lead to the large, multi-acre facilities’ disappearance. In their place will arise small, mobile, financially lean boards. Yes, they will have an office where a number of employees work, but most likely this will be leased office space.
2- Missionaries will receive the majority of their support from individuals.
There are two reasons for this. First, individuals want a personal connection with their missionaries that they don’t often get through their church. Second, the number of Independent Baptist churches seem to be decreasing. While the local sending church should always be the authority in the life of a missionary, the majority of missionaries will no longer receive the majority of their support from churches.
3- Mission boards with extra-biblical policies and procedures for every aspect of the missionary’s life and ministry will struggle and see significant loss.
In the past, people were willing to put up with this because it was accepted as normal. It is not anymore. Missionaries will leave such boards seeking boards that truly are local church focused in action, not simply in words. I know of twelve families who are planning to leave one large mission board within the next year because of this issue.
Such boards will adjust or see significant loss – it’s that simple.
4- More missionaries will be bi-vocational.
As it becomes more difficult to raise support and as it becomes more of a challenge to get into certain countries, especially in the 10/40 window, the amount of money missionaries attempt to raise will decrease. Missionaries will instead embrace the idea of working a job in the field in which they minister. Not only is this going to become more of a reality in overseas missions, I also believe it is the future of church planting in the United States.
More missionaries will have careers in teaching, engineering, computer technology, construction, and business. This will be their door into the country, the foundation of their work on the field, the means of their financial stability, and the strategy for planting churches.
5- Traditional missions conferences will be no more.
It’s simply not practical any more. This shift is already taking place. Churches are opting for missions months, or several missions weekends throughout the year. This will become more common place. Sure, there will be churches that still have large, dynamic, week-long missions conferences. I am not suggesting that this is bad or wrong, just that these will be the exception; not the rule.
6- Communication between missionaries and supporting individuals and churches will be completely digital.
This should already be the case, but we are simply behind the times. Paper prayer letters will disappear…they need to disappear. It is a waste of resources. Rather, mission boards need to facilitate an all-digital platform for missionary communication. I know of several tech-savvy people who are working on this already. Some of the below predictions will also lead to missionary updates being done through videos and live video communication. This will become the norm.
7- Churches will embrace the idea of partnering with several missionary families.
Due to rising gas prices and a struggling economy, the idea of supporting 100 missionaries at $50 a month and asking them to spend 2-3 years bouncing across the country will finally be stopped. Churches will see the wisdom of partnering with several families at a much higher financial level. This will fix so much of what is broken in the deputation process. The sooner this happens, the better.
8- More Independent Baptist missionaries will receive support from Southern Baptist Churches.
SBC churches are seeing the value in the personal relationship that accompanies supporting independent missionaries and are looking for independent missionaries to support. The “I will only get support from an Independent Baptist Church” mindset will be no more; and that is a good thing. As the Independent Baptist movement continues to splinter and decline, seeking support from outside Independent Baptist circles will become more necessary.
I can only pray that missionaries who take the financial support of an SBC church will not be hypocritical by turning around and criticizing the SBC.
9- The recruiting of missionaries by mission boards will no longer happen at Christian colleges.
The primary method of recruitment will be through the local church and online through avenues of social media. With more missionaries pursuing bi-vocational ministries much of their missions training will come from their local church; not Christian colleges. Besides, as the number of Independent Baptist churches decline, Christian colleges will struggle. It will become increasingly futile to recruit at such colleges.
10- Missions conferences, months, and Sundays will have pastors and missionaries as speakers; not missions board directors, field directors, or board representatives.
In general, churches are no longer interested in having a missions director or field representative speak at their services where missions is emphasized. Sure, there are still pockets of churches that do this, but it is because it is what they have always done. This will also contribute to mission boards downsizing. Instead, churches will opt to let the missionaries have more time to share. After all, they are beginning a significant partnership with them. Churches might opt to have a pastor of another church preach. Pastors are more keenly aware and in touch with what local churches face in relation to missions. They are better equipped to address those issues.
Some will argue with these points, but many of these transitions are already happening. Change is not always bad; in fact many times it is necessary for survival. The moment we resist change, we embrace death. Others will recognize the reality of the transitions that are currently taking place in missions and will wisely adapt; allowing their ministry influence to continue into the future.
What transitions do you see taking place in missions?