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 settings.
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 canditates, 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?
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 next stage.
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:
While these 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.
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 churches.
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Dayton & Fraser define peoples: "A human population with a common language, shared ethnicity, and significant pattern of social interaction," (Planning Strategies for World Evangelization, 1990, p. 102). people groups: "a significantly large sociological grouping of individuals who perceive themselves to have a common affinity for one another. From the viewpoint of evangelization this is the largest group within which the gospel can spread without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance," (Dayton & Fraser, p. 102).