by Andrea Sears

Finally, what is certainly the longest of the survey report sections is finished: team factors. (You can explore other results from the missionary attrition survey here, here, and here.) These results confirmed that team conflict is a primary factor for attrition, but it is not the primary factor.

It is important to note that no single agency represented more than 7% of the total sample. 221 mission or sending agencies were represented. 68% of those had only one participant in the study, 27% had 2-9 participants in the study, and only 5% had more than 10 participants in the study. This shows that the survey results represent a broad sample of missionaries with a diverse representation of agencies, and that the sampling from any given agency did not disproportionately influence the results. 

This section of the report measured responses to the following statements:

  • My missionary term was up.
  • There was a conflict on the team.
  • There was a scandal on the team.
  • I struggled to understand my role on the team.
  • I did not have a team.
  • I struggled to balance my role(s) as a spouse/parent with ministry expectations.
  • As a woman, I felt marginalized or devalued, or that men were given more opportunities to lead/contribute.
  • I had insufficient local supervision/accountability.
  • I had too much local supervision/accountability.
  • I received too little missionary care.
  • I did not feel at liberty to pursue my passion and call within the team/agency that I was a part of.
  • I disconnected with the vision of the mission.
  • I had too little administrative support from my home base.
  • I felt that some of my team members/leaders lacked integrity.
  • It was time for me to retire.

Past studies have indicated that conflict with other missionaries has been a frequent or predominant reason for attrition. We wanted to dig into this issue and try to find some clues about the reasons that conflict occurs. We also analyzed the responses of younger missionaries as a subset to see if generational differences exist in expectations about how a team should work.

The strongest factors explored in this section are seen in the areas of team conflict, role confusion, the lack of missionary care, feeling restricted in the pursuit of one’s passion/call, and feeling that other team members lacked integrity. While team conflict does feature in the top factors, it is not THE strongest factor. It is merely on par with the other three top factors in this section. And while many people do leave the field because their term was officially up, there are typically other reasons in the background that explain why they aren’t doing another term, and those are revealed in the strength of their survey responses to certain factors.

We also collected open comments on the following questions:

  • If there was conflict on your team and you feel comfortable sharing, what do you think was the most frequent cause of the conflict?
  • If you are a woman and you felt marginalized or that men were given more opportunities than you, in what ways did you experience this?

Issues that people believed caused conflict on their team tended to fall into 5 general categories: personal sin and dysfunction, poor leadership, differing boundaries, poor communication, and disagreements about how resources should be obtained/used.

Women shared concerns about: 

  • being explicitly excluded from ministry roles, 
  • having to balance full responsibility for the family with a ministry role, 
  • local cultural limitations on women’s roles and ministry engagement, 
  • policies and practices that favor men (such as men not being willing to work with closely with women, or not allowing men to work less than full-time so that their wives can also have a ministry), 
  • being assigned to stereotypically “female” roles (like childcare, hospitality/event management, or administrative work), 
  • being excluded from communications and meeting invitations, 
  • their opinions and roles treated as “less than” in comparison to male counterparts, 
  • being scrutinized more than male counterparts, 
  • being excluded from leadership, and
  • being openly belittled or patronized by male leadership. 

Clearly, there are important lessons for us to learn about caring for missionaries in extremely vulnerable and high-pressured life situations, preventing and navigating conflict well, and better including the 2/3 of our missions workforce who are women.

To learn more and read the full 26-page report, check out this page.

More resources about team conflict:

Power or concerns: Contrasting perspectives on missionary conflict

Let’s Get Real About Missionary Team Chemistry

Humility: The Remedy for Mission Team Conflict

More resources about gender and missions:

The Gender Divide in Missions

Women in Missions: Facing the 21st Century

Why Are Women More Eager Missionaries?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and served as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

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