Just as the pulse and respiration are signs of vitality in the human body, so missionary outreach is a primary sign of a denomination’s spiritual health. Judging from this, a number of the mainline churches are currently suffering from a deep malaise. At a time when the burgeoning world population calls for more and more missionaries, these churches are retreating and retrenching.

Here are comparative missionary statistics for six large denominations. The 1958 totals are taken from the Occasional Bulletin of the Missionary Research Library of New York, whose information was gathered by Frank W. Price and Clara E. Orr. The 1971 figures were secured from the denominations’ headquarters or official publications.

That all these denominations have cut back on their overseas missionary forces would be less significant if the decline reflected a trend among all missionary agencies. But it does not. In 1958 the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association (EFMA), missionary arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, had 4,688 missionaries under its banner, according to data from the Missionary Research Library. As of January, 1971, the number had increased to 7,479, exclusive of home staff personnel. This was an increase of about 60 per cent during a time when the six mainline denominations were cutting back by approximately one-third. The six largest missionary agencies in the EFMA grew by 26 per cent, so that the largest percentage of growth was among the smaller agencies.

Most of the larger nondenominational missions operate within the framework of the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (IFMA). Two of the six largest IFMA agencies showed a decline, but the six largest together showed an increase of 30 percent. For ...

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