The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
A CEA survey analyzes the relationship between native churches and foreign mission agencies. Youth ministry, church planting, and leadership training are the main areas where they work together.
In 2016 the Czech Evangelical Alliance launched an experiment in research utilizing surveys, inspired by a similar ongoing project conducted by the British Evangelical Alliance.
The initial results have been insightful and in general successful enough, so that plans are in motion to expand the project in the year ahead.
FOREIGN MISSIONARY AGENCIES IN THE COUNTRY
For the first survey experiment, an attempt was made to track down all the foreign mission agencies actively sending missionaries to the Czech Republic. Even though a few important active agencies were missed, overall the project was a success. 28 agencies were invited to participate in a short survey, out of which 23 responded. Direct contacts with a representative of each of all 28 agencies were made.
The survey has resulted in three important developments: First, a formal network of missions agencies is emerging, which will hold an official gathering in Olomouc, Czech Republic, in October 2016.
Second, a directory of these agencies is now available for churches or other interested parties, to contact local and regional representatives of these organizations in order to explore service and partnership opportunities.
Third, word is spreading as a result of these connections. Additional agencies have made contact, and over the summer non-western missions agencies have connected with the emerging network (most notably Korean missions).
YOUTH MINISTRY, CHURCH PLANTING, DISCIPLESHIP…
Some of the more interesting findings of the survey of missions agencies include: about half of the responding agencies are members of a Czech evangelical network, the majority being affiliated with the Czech Evangelical Alliance.
More than half, just over 60%, have been operating in the Czech Republic for more than 20 years. Most of these agencies (again just over 60%) have 5 or fewer long-term staff in place, and most of the agencies (about 80%) facilitate visits for one or more short-term teams annually.
Many agencies have a great variety of specialization, although a significant focus on youth ministry, church planting, and discipleship/leadership training was revealed. Almost all of the agencies agreed that it would be good to strengthen ties between Czech churches and the missions agencies, so that the agencies can provide better-prepared missionaries, who are able to help more effectively, in the unique Czech context.
HOW DO CHURCHES RELATE TO MISSION AGENCIES?
For the second survey experiment, contacts in Czech evangelical churches were invited to talk about their experiences with foreign missionary partnerships. 48 churches responded to the survey. While a higher response would have been encouraging, it is possible that many churches did not respond because they have never partnered or worked directly with foreign missionaries. There were also cases of multiple contacts within one church, and only a single response was required. Nevertheless, the results of the survey were still enlightening.
Some of the results of this survey include: Evidence all over the country (not just in Prague or the larger cities, that Czech evangelical churches actually come in a variety of shapes and sizes – the congregations range in size from very small (5-25) to large (over 100), and while some are brand new (1 to 5 years old), the majority (over 80%) are more than 10 years old.
Only 2 of the responding churches have no paid employees – most employ at least 1 full-time person.
Among those who have partnered with foreign missionaries, the majority (90%) have hosted a short-term team of foreigners at some point in the last 10 years. Long-term missionary partners come primarily from the United States, and the average stay for long-term missionaries from any foreign source is just over 4 years (this might have some implications which missions sending agencies need to consider).
While the various ways in which foreign missionaries served Czech churches matches reasonably well with the areas of focus indicated by the missions agencies, most of the Czech churches that responded to the survey found their missionary partners through a specific church or denomination, not a foreign missions agency. Foreign missionaries seem to be best at helping boost evangelism and discipleship activities (with short-term teams being most beneficial when helping with English Camps), offset by limitations due to cultural differences and the language barrier.
Czech churches, according to this survey, sense a need to do a better job at determining and clearly communicating why they desire the help of cross-cultural missionaries, and would like to better clarify the relationships between missions agencies and the local churches.
Despite the challenges, these Czech churches do not appear to see Czech language learning as a high priority (neither do they dismiss the importance of language learning, especially for long-term missionaries). Most of the churches who have worked with missionaries would be interested in developing a partnership again, although a significant minority (about 32%) would not.
The complete results of the surveys are available online in English and Czech at the Czech Evangelical Alliance website.
NEXT STEP: SURVEY INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS
Because of the successful conclusion of these two experimental surveys, the Czech Evangelical Alliance plans to expand the project and attempt to survey individual self-identifying evangelical Christians in the year ahead.
CEA General Secretary Jiri Unger expresses enthusiasm for the project: “The potential benefits of having measurable data on Czech evangelical Christian’s opinions, experiences, and perspectives will be benefit not only the ability of the Evangelical Alliance to better serve the needs of the Czech churches, but also contribute to a wider understanding of evangelical Christians in Czech society overall.”