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Tentmaker / B-A-M Survey Results and Needs Analysis

by Joshua Jones

The Following are the results of a brief tentmaker survey offered at www.missionaryresources.org for the purpose of researching tentmaker needs and services for sending agencies. The survey was completed by 24 tentmakers from a variety of backgrounds and ministries. Due to the small response, survey results may possibly be skewed, but appeared overall to fairly represent the mindset of the average tentmaker.

The purpose of this survey was to assist our sending agency in learning how best to serve tentmakers who are sent on to the field. For more information about this agency (Globe), visit www.gme.org.

Please note that many of the results listed below are copied in raw format and certain bullet points may only reflect that missionary’s unique situation.


Executive Summary of the Survey

The most important services provided by the agency were:

  • Spiritual Oversight
  • Legitimacy when interfacing with donors
  • Training
  • Missionary Care


The Least important services were:

  • Denominational affiliation
  • Mail forwarding
  • Expertise in a specific field


The majority of agencies either charged no fee or from 6-10% for their services.

Five missionaries stated their agency assisted in obtaining a visa while 15 felt their agency had no impact. One missionary reported their agency as a hindrance.

The pitfalls of tentmaking were best summarized by this person’s comment:

Long work hours/having to constantly balance language study, direct ministry, and primarily income generating activities…is difficult, but do-able. However many so called tentmakers fail in this area. If the tentmaking is too much (especially if it allows little direct ministry during the tentmaking), there becomes a point at which there is little point in going to the field or at least that it should not be called missions merely because it occurs in another country… Know how far you are or are not willing to be restricted in your witness in the tentmaking setting… There is a point at which one is so required to cover their lantern that there's no point in being there… Others may find contractual restrictions on outside activities, or pragmatic schedule conflicts, etc. that hamper ministry. Lack of connection and especially not knowing how to really get started in ministry the first few years often derails independent tentmakers.

Other major pitfalls were time management, split focus, and maintaining legitimacy with donors (especially working in one’s own country).

Greatest areas of need with agencies included better banking/financial management systems, better access to health care plans, more home representation of projects, and more training and networking opportunities.

Ideas for better serving tentmakers ran the gamut, but highlights include helping tentmakers establish boundaries between work and ministry, creating a separate division for tentmakers (don’t lump them in with traditional missionaries), and increased networking and communication.


SURVEY RESULTS IN DETAIL

1. As a missionary/tent-maker (if you already work with an agency or if you were to join one) please rate the following services according to their importance to you. (1 being least and 10 being most important)

Avg Rating

1

Spiritual oversight

7.83

2

Legitimacy when interfacing with donors

7.83

3

Training

7.08

4

Missionary care / Access to counseling
(marriage, ministry, etc)

7

5

Tax exempt donation handling / ECFA Membership

6.96

6

Missionary "family" atmosphere

6.83

7

Newsletter services

5.58

8

Expertise in a specific field
(I.e. Wycliffe and Bible translation)

5.26

9

Mail forwarding

5.13

10

Denominational affiliation

3.42

2. Since you joined your covering agency, what ways have you most benefited from their support?

  • Family atmosphere. Great support during crisis situation back home. High visibility in area.
  • Financial clearinghouse flexibility
  • Team support and family atmosphere 
  • Just 501c3 Umbrella
  • We are not part of an agency. The various mission agencies we have approached are focused on their own projects, or in another area.
  • Visa processing, fellowship with other missionaries, help when first arrived, tax receipting, legitimacy among broader missions, pastoral community in the country, serving others in the mission, informal networking and associated advice sharing, annual conference (though sometimes it is more harm than good, on net, it is usually more good than harm), web site direct access to info on contributions in near real time.
  • Director is just a phone call away and available at short notice. They handle all support that comes in so I do not have to think about tax, etc.
  • Advice in certain situations
  • Prayer, sound advice, fellowship, and people to work with.
  • Secure communication, financial handling, experience
  • Finance administration, Regional Conferences, Legitimacy among world church to recruit others
  • Training events
  • Honestly, not very much at all. There is too much instability. Nothing is sure. Daily variances on nearly everything.
  • The director tries to keep up with trends and stay young in outlook emphasis and membership. This helped us keep up with the trends [our agency] also keeps overhead low and is more supportive than supervisory which suits us.      
  • Open dialog about what God may be doing, and receiving updates/input from other missionaries working in other fields.
  • Newsletter service, donor recognition, new contacts through agency.


3. Are there services that were offered that no longer seem important to you?

  • Website shortcomings
  • Monthly newsletters
  • Donation handling (job pays enough)


4. What fees or percentages does your agency charge for their services?

No fee

35.00%

1-3%

5.00%

4-5%

5.00%

6-10%

30.00%

11-15%

15.00%

Other / Flat Fee

10.00%

Additional explanations:

  • Flat fee based on family size, approx. 2%         
  • We handle our own funds
  • They charge $215.00/month. This is beyond our housing fee.


6. Did your agency affiliation assist or hinder you in becoming eligible for a visa in your country of service?

Helped

23.80%

5

Did not impact us

71.40%

15

Hindered our process

4.80%

1


7. What are some of the pitfalls of tent making in missions? (i.e. Conflicts of interest, etc.)

  • We have experienced no problems
  • Being "exposed" by other missionaries or nationals multiple (conflicting) authorities - employers, sending agency tentmakers working part-time compromise others' integrity.
  • Time priorities.
  • I work here so I can minister there.
  • It can take up time producing a product - But we see that as part of the mission, which can touch the lives of those around us. I have exhibited and sold my artwork in the UK - Trying to get a good pitch at a Christian conference is increasingly costly as the prices for a stand can wipe out ones profit! You spend time producing a product, write and print newsletters...sometimes you have a profitable time...but then there are others when you leave having lost money. It's not easy.
  • The church in the USA does not understand this paradigm of ministry.
  • Long work hours/having to constantly balance language study, direct ministry, and primarily income generating activities (though the later involves ministry too) is difficult, but do-able. However many so called tentmakers fail in this area. If the tentmaking is too much (especially if it allows little direct ministry during the tentmaking), there becomes a point at which there is little point in going to the field or at least that it should not be called missions merely because it occurs in another country. The need to know your 'line' so as to not compromise your ministry to obtain or keep the tentmaking is important and sometimes neglected by some. Know how far you are or are not willing to be restricted in your witness in the tentmaking setting, for example. There is a point at which one is so required to cover their lantern that there's no point in being there. In closed countries, carelessness by a few can get a whole country blacklisted or unduly 'watched'. What is advertised and reality often differ. Those who get full time secular jobs over seas an hope to have enough time outside of that an through those contacts to do outreach may find the real hours required are much longer than advertised (or even than in the contract). Others may find contractual restrictions on outside activities, or pragmatic schedule conflicts, etc. that hamper ministry. Lack of connection and especially not knowing how to really get started in ministry the first few years often derails independent tentmakers. Some mentoring initially is helpful, or being on a team with those more experienced. Or at least some kind of access to external knowledgeable advice for new folks seems important.
  • Raising support even though we make a living. Our support goes to projects.
  • If in your own country, the topic of being a "legitimate" or "bona fide" missionary crops up regularly. Support is then very hard to find.
  • Sending church may not pay much attention to you because they don't send you financial support, so there is a possibility to be seen as not a true missionary and not in need.
  • Time management. Trying to do three jobs at once. Tentmaker, evangelism, missionary with agency. My agency also helps us find jobs and helps open up tentmaking platform businesses.
  • Balancing between looking legitimate and having time for ministry work.
  • Doing what you are not good at or don't like just to get in. Good Business - Bad Mission i.e. Being a Car Dealer in China - you can sell a lot of cars but everyone thinks you are a smuggler, etc…
  • Being thought of as a less of a missionary by traditional missionaries and those receiving support.
  • They don't like tent maker missionaries with this organization. Said openly.
  • Your work can take a lot of time, which you could have invested in relational direct ministry work.
  • Perhaps the biggest pitfall is that tent-making missions is still largely misunderstood or, more likely, viewed as a lesser call to "full-time" missions.
  • Takes your focus off of primary ministry.


8. How can an agency better serve you directly in your tent-making work?

  • Better banking system between field and home
  • Clear lines of communication and authority FLEXIBILITY minimal requirements networking to other tentmakers/similar strategy workers allow tentmaker to determine if/when furloughs are needed in consultation w/member care or supervisor.
  • Moral support and prayers to become effective with the position given in the company of tentmakers.
  • Provide the best in health care outside the US.
  • Marketing and promoting our work and products - To have a mission agency represent ones particular project goes along way to legitimizing the work - You not seen as a lone ranger.
  • Be more educated on international commerce.
  • More help in recruiting team members Help in support raising so can reduce tentmaking Availability of member care OUTSIDE the agency Training with more real/helpful content during conference. Lower fees for those with mix of tentmaking and support relative to the fees for those with full support. Seems like the full tentmakers get a break, but the partial tentmakers/partial support who probably are living closest to poverty line have to pay almost as much as fully supported folks and way more than full tentmakers even though the full tentmakers may have a good salary. A minimum service option for lower fee would be good--basically just visa support, donor processing, and paycheck deposit, plus the right to attend annual conference.
  • Seek out financial support rather than expect missionary to do it all.
  • The agency I am with doesn't accept donations, because their philosophy is that the tentmaker should be 100% supported on the field. I agree with that philosophy but from time to time may receive a donation, but the agency doesn't accept the donation and the donor has to go through other channels.
  • Support in many ways with little requirements.
  • Training on how to be better prepared
  • I don't think the agency is as important as a network of other tentmakers who help mentor one another. The agency isn't a company, and will probably never be, it is best to develop natural networks of equipping groups or other business associations.
  • More autonomy. Access to training programs focusing on tentmaking missions exclusively.
  • Allow it, understand it, and support it.
  • [Our agency] is a trendsetter, but in general, missionary agencies are slow to see the importance of tent making as a norm. Really tent-making is the best way to reach a people group if those we are reaching are in the "working world"   
  • My agency relationship has been very positive.
  • Connection with possible grants or business investors, maybe establish a for-profit agency that I could "work for" to provide a secular covering for entering into closed countries


9. Do you have any other comments or advice for our agency as we begin to develop a program to assist tentmakers in ministry?

  • Seek to facilitate tentmaker's vision, offer access to services but limit requirements Tentmaker has a full schedule between business, cross-cultural adjustment, and relationship building. Limit required agency events and meetings, and situations that may expose tentmaker agency affiliation.
  • Mutual commitments for both the agency and the tentmaker in advancing the kingdom.
  • Open doors in order to get support.
  • We are not part of an agency. The various mission agencies we have approached are either busy with their own projects, or focused in other areas of mission. The concept of tentmaking for some agencies can conflict with being involved with their missions. I make Christian Cards and pictures, also puppets - and are very popular.... but I have difficulty marketing them in the UK since we are in Brazil.
  • Mix of tentmaking and support may often be more viable than all one or the other. Need to distinguish Christian living overseas and true tentmaker--does the person have the time, freedom, energy, and priorities to focus on missions, or are they just dabbling on the side in their very limited 'spare time'. A summary sheet that helps new people in a given country with basic things they need to know the first year could save a lot of learning the hard way, reinventing wheel, etc. There are situations where it is and is not appropriate use of Kingdom resources for donations to go to tentmakers. That is an issue to think through carefully as there can be abuse. There needs to be accountability to do at least sufficient 'real ministry' proportional to the amount of donations received. If someone is going to teach English in country X and raises support to supplement an inadequate salary and is doing little or no real outreach either during or outside of the tentmaking time, then it is supplementing propagation of English, not the gospel. There is no cut and dry rule to make--situational discernment is needed. But the issue is important. Where possible and mutually desirable, tying tentmakers in with other outreaches such as FT missionaries, national churches, etc. at local level can make tentmakers much more effective than floundering on their own without the time, resources, or experience to initiate and maintain an independent ministry along with their tentmaking.    
  • Don't forget the rest of the family of the tentmaker missionary - they feel neglected at times because the missionary has so much to do.
  • Once on the field there are so many areas to explore for business opportunities, but I need specific training in certain areas. An agency could provide that training. Accounting, setting up a business, how to import/export, tax declarations in the US, etc.           
  • Provide lots of tools and motivational stuff on a regular basis. Visit the tentmakers, but don't require paperwork, reports or other things that distract from ministry.
  • Just remember that they are the ones in the field and may have better insight in some areas.
  • Each tentmaker case can be completely different.
  • If they are already on the field, get them networked with actual tentmakers who understand all the aspects of doing biz on the field while trying to share the good news. It would be a lot better for agencies to support business networks than for each agency to try to support travel agencies, software companies, Language Centers, etc. It is also important that Missions Pastors don't try to get too involved in running businesses. Let the businessmen do that, if Missions Pastors fill up the BAM conferences, then it really isn't business as mission, but mission as business.
  • Make a tentmaking division within your agency, do not lump us together with traditional missions models. Encourage tentmakers to seek jobs that pay well enough that no support is needed. This is important for integrity.
  • Please whole-heartedly endorse tent making as a valid and viable way to respond to the call to "go." As we objectively look at many of the unreached nations, particularly those hostile to the gospel like the Islamic nations, tent-making missions may be the main door to open for workers to go in. It also opens up many more potential numbers, as the pool of funds to support full-time missionaries seems to always be in short supply.