Should I join a larger missions agency or a smaller one?

“Consider several factors.”

First, does the agency work in the country where God is leading you to serve? Next, is the agency big enough to give you proper support and leadership on the field and support in your home country?

You want an established group that has member-care guidelines in place and is financially responsible. Integrity counts in missions. You want to be affiliated with an agency with a good reputation.

Answer from Rob, who has served for ten years with Operation Mobilization in Spain, the United States, and on their ships Logos II and Doulos.

“Smaller may be better.”

There are so many excellent agencies that it can be hard to know where to start looking. Size is one way to get started at narrowing your choices. 

Three advantages of a large agency include the following:

  • They are usually older – more established and mature.
  • They will usually have more opportunities worldwide.
  • They often have regional setups that will connect you with other missionaries once on the field.

Three advantages of a smaller agency include the following:

  • They are usually more personal – you get to know the staff in a more personal way.
  • They can be more flexible in helping you pursue a specific ministry. A larger organization for the sake of efficiency may tend to have molds that you need to fit into.
  • You have more opportunities to impact the way the agency develops. The fact it is less established can allow for more rapid adaptation to new realities.

I have huge respect for many of the larger agencies – they do incredible work. There are many people who do and should serve in them. But as a veteran missionary from a smaller agency, and now on staff, I’ll give a plug for smaller agencies.

Throughout our years of exploring our role in missions, staff members helped us discover God’s plan rather than sending us forms to complete and simply deploying us to a predefined role. Our agency keeps a very personal connection with our missionaries, from the time they first contact us onward.

And we’re able to adapt to different situations, rather than having to work with a large number of missionaries only in general categories.

Your ministry goal may help determine whether a smaller or larger agency is best for you.

Answer from Jim, who has served for ten years in Kazakhstan and now the United States. He is with a smaller agency, The Mission Society.

“Larger may be better.”

Over nine years, I went on short-term mission trips with a small agency and learned much from the agency and its missionaries and leaders. However, when the time came for my family and me to go full-time, I had several concerns about the small agency.

I presented these to the head of the agency and he was very happy to address them. The answers, however, were not satisfactory. Then God directed me to consider two larger agencies that filled the needs and addressed my concerns. 

First, determine what it is that God is leading you to do. Is there an agency that lines up with that focus, regardless of the agency’s size? 

Second, interview the agency leaders. Write down your concerns; then ask them questions as if you were applying for a job. Suggest scenarios to see how the agencies would handle them. For example, in all my interviews with agencies, I asked about safety.

Since my family is going to serve full-time with me, my concern was for their safety. I asked, “If a country should have an uprising, do you have policies and procedures for the missionaries in that country? If so, what are they?” The follow-up was, “have you ever had to implement those policies and procedures?” Some smaller agencies do not have policies or procedures for safety.

Finally, you’ve done your homework and found out the facts. The most important step now is to ask God for wisdom. He will reveal what you need to know for your future. James 1:5 promises, “if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.”

Answer from Bill who recently changed agencies.

“Focus on the fit, not on the size.”

The most important thing to consider in a mission agency is its DNA – its purpose for existence and ethos. You wouldn’t work with a strictly medical mission agency if your goal was to do Bible translation. You want an agency that will be a good fit for your goals and personality.

The agency I work for is a narrowly focused agency in that we have a specific purpose – mobilizing and training missionaries who will reach the unreached by planting and multiplying the local church. Our aim is not starting seminaries or being a medical mission. Regardless of their qualifications, if the aim of those wanting to join us differs from ours, they would not be a good fit.

Answer from Mark who has served for three years with Heart of God Ministries.

“Smaller can be more relational.”

Supportive relations are critical for young adults who serve far away from family and friends, especially in their first ministry position. Julie described working with her missions organization: 

“I would definitely say it’s a smaller agency, but that is probably the thing I have liked most about it. I know sometimes it can’t offer everything that a big agency can, but I have really enjoyed that it feels like a family.” 

She described what this family atmosphere looked like:

“When I email the office, when I email the donations person, I know who it is; it’s always the same person; I know her. I like feeling like part of a family. For example, the president knows who I am; I think for me and for now, that’s really what I need.”

Recently, I talked with a group of young adults preparing to serve in a variety of ministry roles in several different countries. When I asked them what they were going to need to be successful, they overwhelmingly expressed a desire for authentic relationships and community. One young adult echoed the sentiments of the group when she explained, 

“I feel we are going to need community. For me, honestly it is just about the people around me and solid relationships. I need to know that they are there for me.”

Answer excerpted from the book Millennials in Ministry.

“Do your research!”

We recently needed to make a ministry location change due to some internal issues in the region where we served. While our sending organization is in many countries of the world, they focus on training locals and are not a big sending organization with a well-developed member care department or advocacy for issues concerning workers on the field.

So, unfortunately, we had to transition, and a lot of our transition issues were addressed haphazardly. So while an organization may be “large,” you really need to do research into the specifics and what matters to you.

Also do research into the established work of the area where you will be serving. If you can, get in touch with missionaries already on the field. One nice thing about a large organization is that it is usually not monolithic: what may be a problem or a good thing in one area may not apply or be relevant in another.

Finally, go into things with your eyes open. Remember that in a big organization you may be just a name but that in a small organization you may be so involved with others that if a conflict arises, you could be put into a very awkward position.

I would personally err on the side of caution, because when you are on the field the first few years, you will face things that may force you to rely more heavily on your organization than you expect.

Answer from Rebekah in Pennsylvania.


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