By Ryan Clark
This American Life plays in Atlanta on Sunday night, though, most of the time I listen to it as a podcast. Back in September, there was a show was about getting into college. The first act interviewed Rick Clark, dean of admissions at Georgia Tech (no relation). I was intrigued since I used to work in admissions and, before that, did college ministry with Georgia Tech students. About seven minutes into the show, at Ira Glass’s prompting about trends, Clark references the prevalence of the life changing mission trip experience in undergraduate admission essays – disparagingly. [i] So prevalent, Rick says, that talking about how a mission trip changed the life of a teen is considered way too predictable. He doesn’t disparage the life changing experience; just the complete lack of originality in choosing it as a topic for a college admission essay.
This is yet another illustration of how North Americans, especially younger ones, expect to engage with the world and how they hope for those experiences to shape them personally. What at one time was a novel experience is now cliché in certain circles.
College admissions staffs aren’t just imagining this trend. Bob Lupton, well known Christian community organizer and author of Toxic Charity, estimates that between $2.5 and $5 Billion is spent annually on mission trips. [ii]
If there really was ever a day when a Baptist church only took up one or two mission offerings and forwarded that money to only one mother organization and then waited for their mission magazine to come in the mail to inform congregants what their money was doing, that day is over. And the sun set on that model a generation ago.
Generational differences, cultural shifts and our digital communication revolution combine to make genuine consensus during a church missions committee meeting a monumental accomplishment.
At this year’s General Assembly, I will be leading a workshop introducing a draft of a new church resource, The Mission Engagement Portfolio. This portfolio provides a framework for evaluating a congregation’s mission impact both within the church and the communities in which the church serves. Many churches are experiencing both tightening church budgets as well as increased requests from groups and individuals seeking funding for missions. Likewise, there are many new organizations which help facilitate short-term missions along with sending missionaries to the field.
How do we make decisions about where to engage, which organizations to partner with and which missionaries to fund?
Not unlike an investment portfolio which provides a picture of your financial outlook, this engagement portfolio is a way to organize your congregation’s resources so that you can be prayerfully strategic. The Mission Engagement Portfolio introduces a process for thinking and planning more holistically about how your church engages outside its walls. In so doing, congregations celebrate what God is doing on mission as well as have clarity as how to plan and serve in the future.
If you are in the Atlanta area on Thursday, June 26th at 1:30 p.m., and find making decisions in your church about mission engagement difficult, I hope you will join us at the Hyatt Regency. You will also find a cacophony of other voices speaking on other important topics this year. You can check those out by clicking here.
[i] 504: How I Got Into College, SEP 6, 2013, (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/504/how-i-got-into-college?act=1)
[ii] Bob Lupton, Toxic Charity. Page 5.