The Sad Facts About Missionary Attrition

Mar 25, 2015 | Suffering, The Way I See Things, Thriving

This year more than 7000 missionaries will quit. Nearly half of those will have managed only one term on the field. But that’s not the worst part.

At least twenty missionaries will pull the plug today. Every fifteen minutes one decides to throw in the towel. But that’s not the worst part.

Many of those who quit are lost not only to the cause of missions, but to their faith as well. Disillusioned beyond belief, wounded beyond recognition, they turn their back on everything that reminds them of their pain. But that’s still not the worst part.

The worst part is that 70% of those losses are preventable!

I am not OK with that!

Some of those people are friends of mine. All of them are friends of Jesus. The cause of Christ suffers, the body of Christ suffers, and unreached people continue to suffer whenever Satan succeeds in eliminating a global harvester.

More missionaries are suffering than you may realize. They may be your partners, your close friends, members of your church, people you support. You can do something about that. More than you may realize.

Paracletos is here to help you stem the tide. I will personally do everything I can to see to it that you are equipped, encouraged, energized and engaged as a missionary advocate. That is my calling, my passion, my purpose in life. It is what God designed me to do—and he has a role for you to play, too. Together we can eliminate unnecessary missionary attrition.

So what are you waiting for? Let’s do this!


  1. Jessica

    Truth! I’ve lived through it and realize now that there is some serious Spiritual Warfare involved, plus all of us sinners trying to work together.  We really felt that lack of support that your family seems to be about.  I wonder if things would have ended up differently if we had chosen an org with a bigger focus on member care.  We will never know.  But we do know that God has provided for us where we are now, living a “normal” life that we never expected to live.  And when asked “will you ever live overseas again?” my answer is a resounding “no”.  Only the Lord can change my heart on that, but for now, the passion I had previously is gone and even though my head knows that God’s heart is for the world, my heart is much more cautious in taking risks.  The experience changed who I am and how I operate. I am now learning to live as the new “me.” Thanks for your work, it is important!

  2. Matthew Wright

    You are expressing my heart too brother!  Thanks!

  3. Faith

    David, where are you getting your numbers?  Not that I disagree, but I would like to know how you’ve arrived at this. Thanks!


  4. Dave

    Jessica, thank you for stepping out initially. Thank you for serving in spite of the pain. Thank you for your honesty now. I am glad that you and God are still on speaking terms 🙂 May your experiences serve to make your fellowship with him even sweeter than you’ve ever known.

  5. Dave

    Thanks Matthew! Together we can make a real difference.

  6. Dave

    Faith, the numbers are from “Too Valuable to Lose.”

  7. Jim Van Meter

    Here are some of the results from the worldwide missionary retention study concluded in 2003 by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance as the follow up study to Too Valuable to Lose. These only represent the findings for the USA.  These results are applied in the book Worth Keeping.  All the results can be found on WEA website.

    3. SOME USA findings from the 65 participating agencies representing 15,000 LONG TERM missionaries who were sent out for more than 3 years, not short term missionaries: 

    a. During the period 1980-2000, there was an increasing percentage of people leaving mission agencies for avoidable, preventable reasons, in the judgment of mission leaders.  However, high retention agencies were countering that trend!

    b. The annual retention rate for USA agencies during that period was :

    i. 94.5% per year for the AVERAGE agency (or 5.5% annual attrition for all reasons)

    ii. 97% for the high retention agency (3% annual attrition)

    iii. 91% for the low retention agency (9% annual attrition)

    c. 50% of the attrition of the AVERAGE agency was for PREVENTABLE reasons (personal, family, work, team, agency related reasons, or dismissal by the agency).  The other 50% was for unpreventable reasons (e.g. retirement).

    d. Longevity of service of those who left during 2001-2002:

    i. 11 years for the average agency

    ii. 16 years for the high retention agency

    iii. 7 years for the low retention agency

    Todd Johnson from Gordon Conwell Seminary reports (according to Siri!!) that the US sent out 127,000 missionaries in his publication of 2010, but that figure doesn’t say if these were long-term or short term or both.  The above findings were for long-term missionaries. 

    7000 is a reasonable figure for all departures if the total is 127,000.  I question the 70% for preventable reasons!  However, I totally agree with your passion that the number returning for preventable reasons needs to be greatly reduced.  That ship needs to be turned around.  The book Worth Keeping is worth having, because it helps agencies assess their practices which correlate with retention.

    Jim Van Meter D. Min.

    US Coordinator for ReMAP II (Retention: MIssion Agency Practices)

    Missionary with Paraclete Mission Group

  8. Dave

    Jim, thanks so much for weighing in! I am honored. I have the book Worth Keeping and appreciate it greatly. My figures came from Too Valuable to Lose, where on page 91 there is a table summarizing the “overall weighted reasons for leaving the agency.” For older sending countries (and I obviously write primarily for U.S. readers) the percentage listed under “preventable” is 29. I rounded up to be generous. I realize there can be a wide variance of opinion on what us truly preventable, but this was the best figure I could find. Did I misinterpret it?

  9. Jim Van Meter

    I can see how you would come up with 70% from the data on page 91.  So I am puzzled with the vast difference between the average of 50% over the 20 year period from 1980-2000 from the ReMAP II retention findings.  I will check with our statistician in Germany to see if he has an explanation.  However this lands—50% or 70% or something in between, the point you make still stands that there way too many people coming home for “preventable” reasons.

  10. Dave

    Jim, I would be deeply grateful if you can track down those numbers. I want to use the most current, most accurate statistics I can find. Yet even at the low end – 50% – that is still far too many wounded souls. I appreciate your input.

  11. Ruth FORTIN

    There are a lot of reasons why missionaries leave the field, some of them unavoidable like ill health. Friends of ours are contemplating a return to the US since Americans don’t consider that France is a mission field and their support has gone done now that they are in the age 60 range. France is definitely a mission field with empty Catholic churches and Islam now the second religion of the country. I have been translating some of the messages given by Dr David Platt, a pastor in the US. If missionaries want to be encouraged to remain on the field, they should read some of his sermons.

  12. Dave

    You are so right, Ruth. There are many unavoidable reasons why missionaries leave. We must trust those to the Lord of the harvest. Lack of finances? That is certainly something we can and should do something about. Lack of recognizing the viability of a given field? Also something we can address.

  13. Dave

    Thanks for those links, Randy.