Strategic thinking on missions

On a recent trip to Colombia in discussions with missionaries I kept asking what was the most significant lesson that they wished new missionaries would have learned before coming to the field. One topic kept surfacing: how to do strategic planning.

Every ministry or field of ministry should have a strategy statement that expresses its long and short-range plans. Without this clarity of thinking everyone is in a fog of ideas about what to do next. The home board, field director, supporters and the missionary himself has no idea what to do or if what he is doing is in line with the goal of the mission or not.

A Strategic Statement

Here are some benefits of a clearly written strategy statement:

  1. It enables the board to evaluate the direction of the mission’s work periodically and determine the quality of work being done.
  2. It enables the board to make intelligent evaluations of requests and activity changes which various personnel are requesting to make.
  3. It enable the board to help in terms of recruiting of future personnel and financial support.
  4. It enables the board to answer responsibly to the supporters as to the progress of the work on any given field.
  5. It makes clear to potential candidates the type of work being attempted and where he could fit into the gran panorama of the ministry.
  6. It enables the missionary to know just how he fits into the broader picture of the field’s objectives as well.
  7. It enables the missionary to follow a pre-planned series of actions and activities over a number of years on the field. He is never without understanding of how his task should be done.
  8. It enables the entire field conference to work together as a team for a common objective; thus will aid in minimizing personality conflicts and dominance of stronger personalities, when all activities are reviewed for compliance within the strategy decided upon.
  9. It gives the entire missionary conference a sense of accomplishment, meaning and purpose.

Elements of a Strategic Statement

A strategic plan originates in a clear Mission Statement (What is our general/ specific purpose for existing), which is then refined by a Vision Statement by adding numbers, dates, and personnel to the Mission Statement (What our mission will look like in 1, 5, 10 years). The Strategic Statement is the practical strategy steps to realize the Vision Statement. It tells what is going to be accomplished and the methods to be employed.

Likewise a Strategic Statement must define the lines of authority and the relationships between the field conference and the home board. This declaration should be in the hands of all personnel home and abroad. It should include the following items.

  1. The definition of the field in terms of its geographical, cultural, affinity and linguistic identity. Today it is becoming common to identify the target audience by its ethnic identity or affinity group regardless of the geographical boundaries. The field as defined by affinity group might be located in a multitude of geopolitically defined countries, but remain the same people group to reach.
  2. A clearly defined statement of the objectives of the mission in the specific field or target area. Is the mission in the field as a holistic service agency primarily or as a disciple-making, church planting objective? These objectives form a circle of operations focusing all strategic activities while avoiding other activities that deviate or drain resources from the main objectives previously defined.
  3. A broad list of specific activities, which are designed to bring about the desired objectives. This list may be quite long and more than the present personnel are able to engage in. Another list may be appropriate to include activities to avoid. This will define for all the work of a missionary.
  4. Every individual should develop a series action points, phases or levels of development for every ministry. This may or may not include a time-table but preferable a “scope and sequence” of developmental events for a ministry that flow into one another. By this scale the board and each missionary will know at what stage he is engaging in the development of the objectives. For example: Phase one: Missionary orientation to the field, accountability supervisor or director, language and culture learning expectations and what he is expected to learn. Phase two: the missionary is to settle into an area, define the activities to get acquainted with the population and beginning to focus on ministry. Phase three: A clearly defined strategy for evangelistic activities, which may include visitation, literature distribution, open-air evangelism, market-day evangelism, etc. A fourth phase: the establishing of house church or church meeting in a rented facility. A fifth phase: the training of National Christians for the work of the ministry. Each phase should include learned lessons from past successes and failures and be written for future missionaries and National pastor/missionaries.
  5. A statement of authority lines. What is the relationship of the field council to the home board? What is the autonomy of the field council or field director? What types of decisions can be made on the field without consultation with the home board? How is the field leadership selected and when? Does everyone have a full voting privilege or are there distinctions? (New missionary, Short-Term missionary, etc.).
  6. A statement should be developed to define the relationship with national personnel. To whom are they accountable or is the missionary accountable to the national leadership? Who evaluates the work of the national? Can the national ever evaluate the work of the missionary and have his recommendations listened to? When does the national begin to take the leadership of a ministry? Are there phases of development for the national as well as the missionary?
  7. A schedule of the reports to be made to the field directors, and home board must be clearly defined. This should include whatever the report should include, the format of the report for consistency, to whom it should be sent along with the absolute deadline for such reports.

This line of thinking strategically should characterize the entire organization from the board, to the field , to the field director, to the missionary, then to the national leaders. This strategic planning should be incorporated into every fiber of the mission.

No strategy is ever written in “concrete” or forged into metal. It must constantly be revised, updated, adapted to changing situations and personnel. Decision-makers must be decided upon, with a sequence for making changes. For example, if a mission begins with an urban ministry in a major city, then someone wants to launch a new ministry to a rural or jungle ministry with an unreached people group: how is this approval and strategy change going to be made? It must be contemplated before the issue surfaces.

Additional information in the strategic statement:

  1. A map of the field showing all communities where ministries are identified, where future ministries are possible, and any significant geographical factors to consider.
  2. Define the commerce, economics, politics, culture and major religion of the field.
  3. Include a brief history of the region and how the mission came to the area.
  4. As the Strategy statement is developed to include a Program of Events possible, a list of personnel to accomplish these programs will likely be larger than the actual personnel on the field. The recruitment for the blanks in the list of required personnel become the task of the home board and furloughed missionaries.
  5. A job description should be developed for each type of personnel on the field, coming to the field and for whom the field is praying to join them. This latter groupings of needed personnel for the strategy and program is the key tool of the representatives and recruiters.
  6. A financial statement of how monies are invested, along with a list of needed projects, which might be used by interest supporters and donors.


Such a declaration as this should be compiled and produced in an attractive format for wide distribution especially for anyone interested in joining the field team or supporting the work.

Any missionary coming to the field will be interested in knowing:

  1. Language requirements and proficiency expectations for teaching, preaching and general witnessing.
  2. Living conditions, locations, and types of housing.
  3. Climate expectations throughout the year.
  4. Financial support principles for raising support and perpetuating support level.
  5. A schedule of activities from the time of his arrival on the field as a new missionary until he will be given responsibility for a new ministry start-up.

The objective of such a Strategic plan is to clarify and focus the gifts and talents God raises up on a field, to minimize the disillusionments and false expectations, and to preclude misunderstandings before the erupt. The more transparent and well-defined a ministry the more secure the team will work with each other without competition and unwarranted criticism.


Adapted from a MARC publication written by Gordon MacDonald, “Reflections on Mission Strategy.”



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