A Field Selection
Model for use at Academic Institutions
Abilene Christian University
If field selection
were the topic for a presentation to missions committee I would give
them some general guidelines, communicate to them the resources that
are available, and listen to their own experience and dreams. If I were
sitting down with a missionary candidate who was seeking advice
concerning the selection of a field for a career in missions, I would
show him the information I have on some prime target peoples groups and
cities and advise him of other resource people. But when it comes to
colleagues who are in academic institutions who are neither primarily
interested in selecting a field in which to support a missionary nor to
serve there themselves, there is a quite a bit broader agenda that
needs to be covered. It is to that latter audience to who this paper is
written. This is a proposed model, not a tried and tested paradigm. It
is being followed as a whole, and parts of it have been tested over
three or more years.
Research must be a
major component of the mission enterprise at academic institutions.
Guess work is not tolerated in any of the other disciplines at our
institutions and such laziness demeans our role in the Kingdom. We need
to train and mature students. We also need to be the research centers.
It is not a matter of publish or perish, but being stewards of the
resources and opportunities the Lord has given us in our academic
The field selection
model being proposed concerns itself with opening new areas. It is an
assumption that new members will be added to existing teams and some
teams will need replacing. There is, however, a great need for
initiating of new church planting mission efforts among the ethnic
groups and cities of the world.
Much time could be
spent in attempting to discover how the Apostles went about selecting
where they would work. It is obvious that the spirit led them directly
into certain fields. Mission committees, mission candidates, and we
should be constant in prayer concerning the Lord's priorities. We
should be using our best research skills in targeting as well. Students
depend on us to guide them into areas which have a potential for a
growing work. Upon what do we give such recommendations? Upon what
should we give such recommendations?
Defining the Area
The first step is to
identify the target pool. Most of us are unable to comprehend, nor have
enough time to plunge into the task of looking at the entire world as
the pool or possible targets. Each has their own area of expertise and
service. Together we can make a composite picture of the state of the
church and the immediate and future needs. A continent is a good
segment of the world to be tackled. What are the main divisions of
people? In Africa we look at ethnic groups in the rural areas and urban
centers. These are two distinct pools.
These groups need to
be filtered through a list of macro criteria which would return a more
select pool in each group. The macro considerations might involve some
questions. What has been done in these groups? Where are the bases
covered, and where is there great need? How large do cities need to be
to be considered at this time? What are the most favorable religious
situations? Which ethnic groups and cities are in such situations. This
question will yield a large pool of target areas. In Africa, the
initial criteria for ethnic groups were (1) having a population of
200,000 or more and (2) being less than twenty percent followers of the
Christian religion. The initial criteria for cities were having a (1)
population of 500,000 or (2) being a capital. This pared down the
target pool to one hundred and sixty-five ethnic groups and just short
of one hundred cities. This pool was manageable enough to research
After the initial
macro criteria are applied to the pool a more detailed list of micro
criteria should be applied. The list of criteria should not be put
together quickly nor without the input of many who have expertise in
the particular part of the world understudy. The overall question is
what factors are the most germane to bringing about a rapid and healthy
church planting mission effort? These factors will come from a wide
range of considerations from cultural, religious, and governmental
realms. It is expected that the lists will not be identical from one
segment of the world to another. Some factors will, in fact, be common
to all parts of the world.
In the Spring
semester of 1991 a group of four faculty members with African mission
experience and three graduate students with the desire to serve in
Africa began meeting as the African Mission Fellowship Strategy Group.
The purpose of that group was to "be used by God to stimulate and
creatively mobilize God's resources for entering and planting thousands
of churches in the unchurched areas of Africa." This group labored for
six weeks to develop a list of
micro criteria for site selection in Africa. There are two distinct
lists, one for each target pool.
Great thought and
discussion goes into selecting the criteria and enormous research goes
into gathering data for criteria on each of the cities and ethnic
groups. Precise definitions for each criterion must be developed in
order to make certain that needed data are collected to satisfy a
particular criterion. Data concerning population and availability of
scriptures is relatively easy to discover. Criteria such as a city's
area of influence and the homogeneity of an ethnic group are much more
difficult to uncover. Some of the data will have been compiled in large
resources such as the Global Research Database and Ethnologue. Other
more obscure sources will be uncovered in libraries and by querying
on-line networks. Along the way we have found some resources which we
did not know existed and also found out that there has been no
complete, or in some cases even scanty, research done on a few of the
certain criteria. A computer database is the best place to store the
data once it is collected. Such storage allows for sorting and
searching the data with some facility. It will take many months or
possibly more than a year to come up with the first complete set of
data for the criteria list. Guess work and estimations will only
further skew data which will already have some questionable qualities
such as currency and accuracy.
New questions and
understandings will come to light during the collection stage. These
will necessitate expanding the research. Some criteria will only be
satisfied when an index of several groups of data are computed.
Correlations and contrasts will beg attention. A research group will
naturally follow some of these intriguing questions. For the most part,
during the first time through the data collection the research should
center only on satisfying the criteria lists. Giving advice along the
way to missions committees and missions candidates should not be
avoided. Mission students in particular will be interested in research,
even if it is a "research so far" analysis. Even specific advice can be
given, recognizing that the advice will be better than that which could
have been given prior to entering into the in-depth study. However, do
not be satisfied until all the data is collected.
Once the data
collection is complete, the analysis begins. In the case of our African
Mission Fellowship Strategy Group's criteria, it is rank listed from
most important to least important. A weighting system may be developed.
Calculations and sorts will be made in an attempt to narrow the pools
of target areas down to a more manageable collection. Thinning the
pools to twenty in each pool would ready the research group for the
The smaller pool of
target areas which has dropped through the grid of the macro criteria
should become the subject of on-site research. A research team should
be selected. For the past three summers I have selected students with
academic preparation in missions and previous experience in Africa.
Most of them have been graduate students. They are not viewed as
surveyors, who are deciding whether the area under study is where they
would like to settle. They are given orientation and motivation to be
able to collect and discover specific information about the target
areas. This is an excellent educational experience. The experience will
stretch their reasoning powers and cause them to be more analytical.
Only a few students have received academic credit for the experience.
Such is not encouraged. It is best viewed as a highly motivated
practice and amplification of what they have learned thus far in their
missions preparation. It will also set new horizons for their further
academic studies upon return to campus.
The research team
begins in-depth research prior to leaving the campus. This study and
orientation normally lasts the entire Spring semester. The research
team should consult the Mission Handbook to ascertain which mission
agencies or churches are working in the areas to be studied. Besides
gathering broader statistical data and understanding the work these
agencies are doing, they should be asked for the addresses of their
workers who can be interviewed during the visit. If reports of their
work are available they should be studied thoroughly. The government
documents section of a library should be searched for information on
the areas. Travel guides and publications by the target government
should be obtained. These resources will assist in setting itineraries
and logistics for the on-site research. We have a database of the
addresses of the major universities in Africa as well as the African
government agencies which collect census and other demographical
statistics. The addresses of these offices will be taken on the
research trip so they can be visited. Searches of libraries (your own
and through Telnet) for books and periodicals will surface readings
which will allow the research team to have a working knowledge of the
target ethnic groups or cities prior to arrival on-site.
The on-site research
team is given an orientation in the use of the instruments for
collecting information in the field. They should understand the
principles behind the instruments and the manner in which they are to
be administered and, latter, evaluated. At present we are using five
instruments for on-site research in Africa:
1. A schedule for
interviewing missionaries and national church leaders.
2. A logistics form
on which prices of food, rent, automobiles, etc. will be recorded along
with particulars concerning entry into the country, shipping, living
conditions, medical services, schooling (for children and language
3. A daily report
form for researchers to record their own impressions of what they are
hearing, feeling, and experiencing.
4. A scale to judge
the amount of change and potential for change based on communication
models developed by Carley H. Dodd, PhD.
5. A Worldview
Dissonance Scale developed by Richard Chowning. This is also an aid in
the prediction of receptivity to the gospel in an African context.
instruments are being administered, new questions will come to light
which will need to be answered. Answers should be sought to all
questions which seem to be germane to the criteria or logistic matters.
Upon arrival at the target area every major mission agency or
missionary should be interviewed. Government offices including those
concerning statistics, religious affairs, and development should be
visited. The American Embassy should also be visited for interviews
with a councilor and a USAID official. The team should travel to many
parts of the target area. Each evening they should discuss the day's
findings and plan the next day's schedule.
When the on-site
research team returns to the States a detailed report should be
written. The reports should include the documentary research conducted
prior to leaving the campus as well as the information gleaned on-site.
The on-site research team will no doubt leave without having answered
all of their questions. Such unanswered questions should be noted in
the written report. For ease of comparison and contrast all reports on
a segment of the world (i.e. Africa) should follow a similar structure.
Abstracts should be made of each report. The reports can then be
scrutinized by the resident strategy group (i.e. African Mission
Fellowship Strategy Group) in order to make judgments on which areas
should be presented to students and congregations as priority areas. It
is advised that a priority list not be ranked from one to five, but
rather a small group of five or six areas should be presented as
The final ranking is
best left to the missionary candidates and supporting congregations.
The selection process will heighten their motivation and give them some
greater confidence in their own abilities. It is assumed that each team
and individual will view a list of secondary criteria differently. The
secondary criteria include such factors as living conditions, security,
medical facilities, school and the like. These and other criteria will
determine which area will finally be selected for the planting of
Site selection should
be a continuous process for those in the academic arena--as teachers,
mentors, and consultants. If we expect to be looked to, we need to be
serious about how we give advice. What is it based on? All models seem
sterile and unbending. This one is no exception. It is hoped, however,
that this model does set some parameters for research as well as some
fodder for further discussion and refinement.