Missions from Korea 2018: Mission Education

Steve Sang-Cheol Moon


The Korean missionary movement keeps growing, but its rate of growth has declined. Korean missionaries are working in 159 countries through 159 mission agencies. At the end of 2017 the total number of Korean missionaries was 21,220, a yearly increase of only 145. There are more concerns, however, about qualitative maturation than about quantitative growth in the Korean missions circle. To facilitate maturation, efforts are needed to apply and integrate educational expertise. Domestic ministerial needs point to the strategic integration of missiology and education, and also to that of formal, nonformal, and informal educational aspects in mission education.

The Korean missionary movement keeps growing, but to an unprecedented degree its pace has slowed down. Korean missionaries are working in 159 countries through 159 mission agencies. At the end of 2017, the total number of Korean missionaries was 21,220, a yearly increase of 145 people. Korean missiologists are more concerned, however, about qualitative maturation of the overall Korean missionary movement than about quantitative growth, seeing improvement in mission education in various contexts as an urgent issue.

The stagnation of missions growth

In 2017 the annual growth rate in the number of missionaries was 0.69 percent, the lowest since 1979, when the related research first started. The annual growth rate decreased significantly in the 2010s. It was 2.40 percent in 2011 but dropped to a level below 2 percent from 2013 on. The annual growth rate was 1.01 percent in 2015. It increased to 1.95 percent in 2016 but then significantly dropped again to 0.69 percent in 2017.

Of the 159 mission agencies, 53 reported an increase in their number of member missionaries, 34 reported a decrease, and 72 agencies reported no change. Only 3 mission agencies experienced an increase of 20 percent or higher, with 9 agencies reporting a decrease by 20 percent or more. Only 3 mission agencies registered an increase of fifty persons or more.

Korean mission leaders have recently been turning their attention more to qualitative maturation of the mission movement, recognizing that in the past they have tended to overvalue mere numerical growth. There have been concerns expressed and shared on the related topics in various forums and other arenas of discussion.

Mission education

The research team of the Korea Research Institute for Mission conducted a questionnaire survey in December 2017 to update our statistics of the numbers of missionaries, mission agencies, and their countries of service. Following the section that asked about the basic numbers, the survey form highlighted the issue of mission education, with detailed questions about prefield missionary training, continuing education for missionaries, mission education of the sending churches, mission education in the mission field, and related topics.

A total of 128 missionaries responded to the special questionnaire form, with 45 percent of them being mission executives or administrators, another 24 percent of them being field-based expatriate missionaries, and the remaining 31 percent being members of support agencies, including missionary trainers, researchers, and member-care workers. The majority (69 percent) of the respondents were members of indigenous mission agencies (46 percent belonging to indigenous interdenominational sending agencies, 14 percent to indigenous denominational sending agencies, and 9 percent to support agencies and others), whereas 31 percent were members of international mission agencies. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the respondents were male.

Missions and education

Nearly all respondents (96 percent) agree that knowledge about missions needs to be updated. A slightly smaller number (91 percent) thinks that the delivery method of mission knowledge should be updated. Concerning the most effective means of updating and sharing missiological knowledge, respondents’ opinions are evenly divided (each 31 percent) among “systematic educational programs of mission agencies,” “sharing the results of empirical research by mission research institutes,” and “sharing the knowledge through programs of continuing education.” The remaining 7 percent of respondents favor other means. The strong majority of missionaries thus prefers to grow in their missiological knowledge through the assistance of organizational training versus leaving it to individual effort.

The majority of missionaries who responded to the survey agree that the aspects of formal, nonformal, and informal education need to be better integrated in actual educational practices (72 percent). The majority of respondents think that missiology and education need to become more greatly integrated (67 percent). The majority of respondents also think that informal education needs to be reinforced more than it has been (66 percent), although a little over one quarter of respondents think nonformal education needs to be improved. A large majority (78 percent) of respondents recognize both the horizontal (or cross-cultural) and the vertical (or transgenerational) dimensions of mission, thinking that missionaries need to prepare for evangelizing future generations by integrating the theories and insights of missiology and education.

Urgent educational tasks

Over half (53 percent) of the respondents had no opinion regarding whether the formal educational aspect of the prefield training of missionaries should be strengthened. Rather, a large majority of them (74 percent) expressed the opinion that the nonformal educational aspect needs to be reinforced in prefield missionary training. In addition, some 76 percent of the responded missionaries thought that opportunities of personal fellowship and sharing are needed by way of informal education.

The need for educational consulting is highlighted to help local churches set policies and expand the expertise of their educational staff (82 percent). Many of them (27 percent) stress strong support of this view. Consulting ministries need to be encouraged to further the maturation of missions, especially to share the expertise of mission education.

A large majority of responding missionaries (78 percent) agree that nonformal education needs to be strengthened to encourage and incorporate practicum programs and experiential learning in various areas of field ministry such as discipleship training.

Regarding continuing education, the majority opinion does not agree on the need to run formal educational programs that lead to degree programs. Only 5 percent of the respondents are negative about the idea, and nearly half (47 percent) of the respondents have no strong opinion. This tendency seems to reflect a critical sentiment against the recent pursuit of higher degrees by some missionaries.

In contrast, a large majority of respondents (83 percent) think that it is urgent to strengthen training in spirituality to help missionaries to have a healthy inner well-being and become stronger in making sound ministerial decisions. Training in spirituality needs to highlight the intellectual or cognitive aspect, the practical or experiential dimension, and the depth of personal fellowship (86 percent). Overall, opinion seems balanced between the drive for formal education leading to a higher degree and an interest in nonformal educational programs for recovery and restoration in spirituality among Korean missionaries. The issue is not an either-or question.

Comparison of group mean scores

In this section we consider some of the notable differences in the responses to the various questions. Assigning five points to the most positive answer (“Yes, very much so”), four points to the next most positive (“Yes), down to one point to the most negative answer (“No, not at all”) allows us calculate mean scores for various groupings of the respondents.[1] For example, field missionaries, as compared with mission agency executives, are more critical of the weak integration of formal, nonformal, and informal education in mission education in general (mean scores of 3.71 vs. 3.25), put more emphasis on the need to strengthen the formal educational aspect of prefield missionary training programs (3.17 vs. 3.25), and are stronger in asserting that nonformal educational training should be reinforced in prefield missionary training programs (4.03 vs. 3.75).

Furthermore, field missionaries are stronger than mission executives in highlighting nonformal education that includes more practicums and experiential learning in the field regarding ministries such as discipleship training (mean scores of 4.03 vs. 3.75), also, in spirituality training, favoring education that comprehensively integrates the aspects of intellectual learning, practical experience, and personal fellowship (4.42 vs. 4.13).

The members of indigenous agencies are more supportive than are the members of international agencies to the idea of recognizing the horizontal and vertical dimensions of missions (i.e., the cross-cultural and the transgenerational factors), and thus integrating missiological and educational theories and insights (4.24 vs. 3.88).

In comparison with women respondents, the men answering the survey more emphasized the need to update missiological knowledge (4.50 vs. 4.26) and the importance of innovative teaching methods (4.25 vs. 3.98).

Missionaries in their fifties, in comparison with those in their forties, are more critical of the lack of comprehensiveness of missions education (4.07 vs. 3.62) and are stronger in emphasizing the formal educational aspects of missionary continuing education (3.57 vs. 3.16). In short, senior missionaries are more critical and assertive than younger missionaries in their opinions about existing educational programs offered in the Korean missions circle.

Missionaries who have a Presbyterian background are more likely to request spirituality training programs that address missionaries’ inner well-being and that sharpen their ministerial judgment than are non-Presbyterian missionaries (4.22 vs. 3.92).

Respondents who selected the research results of mission institutes as the factor mainly responsible for updating missiological knowledge emphasized the need to integrate missiology and education more than other respondents did (3.95 vs. 3.44).


The Korean missionary movement has entered an unfamiliar phase of development. It faces new challenges and issues related to the realities of stagnation. To facilitate qualitative improvement, efforts are much needed to apply and integrate educational expertise. The ever-increasing domestic needs point to the strategic integration of missiology and education, as well as the horizontal (cross-cultural) and vertical (transgenerational) dimensions of the mission of God’s people. A large majority of Korean missionaries highly value integrating formal, nonformal, and informal education in actual ministries in the field and at home. They believe that mission leaders and missionaries need to take a well-balanced, comprehensive approach to all areas and programs of mission education.

The Korean Missionary Movement as of December 2017


total number 21,220

increase over Dec. 2016    145

annual growth rate (percentage)

2017 0.69

2016 1.95

2015 1.01

2014 1.90

2013 1.45

2012 2.19

2011 2.40

Mission agencies

total number 159

membership increased since Dec. 2016  53

membership decreased since Dec. 2016  34

membership with no change since Dec. 2016  72

membership with 20% or more increase   3

membership increased by 50 or more persons   3

number of countries of service 159

Mission and education (numbers show percentage)

Questions Yes, very

much so

Yes Neutral No No, not

at all

Should missiological knowledge be updated? 45 51  4
Should the delivery method of missiological knowledge be updated? 24 67  8  1
Should all types of missionary education (formal, nonformal, informal) be better integrated? 19 53 22  5  1
Should missiology and education become more greatly integrated? 10 57 27  5  1
Should missionaries prepare for future work by integrating the insights of both missiology and education? 32 46 16  6
Should formal prefield training be strengthened?  3 36 53  7  1
Should nonformal prefield training be strengthened?  9 65 24  2
Should informal education include more opportunities for personal fellowship and sharing? 17 59 23  1
Should educational consulting be more available to local churches? 27 55 15  3
Should nonformal education be strengthened to include practicums, discipleship training, etc.? 19 59 22
Should missionaries engage in continuing education that leads to a formal degree?  5 33 47 13  2
Should spirituality training be strengthened for greater inner well-being and ministerial decision-making? 32 51 16  1
Should spirituality training have a balance between the cognitive and the experiential? 31 55 14
Question By individual reading By systematic programs of mission agencies By empirical research of mission institutes By strengthening prefield missionary training By programs of continuing education
How best should missiological knowledge be updated and shared? 2 31 31 5 31
Question Formal Nonformal Informal
Which kind of missionary education especially needs to be strengthened? 6 28 66


  1. T-Test and ANOVA analyses were done using Lickert-type data. The following numerical comparisons highlight findings that were meaningful and valid.

This is the author-accepted manuscript. The fully-published article can be found here.

Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, Missions from Korea 2018: Mission Education. International Bulletin of Mission Research,  42 (2), pp. 171-177. Copyright © 2018 by the Author(s). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications, Ltd.

Steve Sang-Cheol Moon, a contributing editor, is executive director of the Korea Research Institute for Mission, Seoul, South Korea.

Date: 01 Jun 2018

Gathering: 2017 Seoul

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