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Mar 04
2002

5 Principles for Overseas Ministry Success

Posted by: Steve Marr

Tagged in: Untagged 

Many ministries that were founded and developed in the United States have been exported internationally, some with spectacular success, and others with miserable results. Five key factors will determine whether a ministry can be exported effectively.

 

Ministries that succeed overseas typically share one or more of the following components:

1. They are based on principles rather than methods.

2. They have successfully multiplied within the U.S. before moving overseas.

3. They have developed strategies for segmenting populations for maximum effectiveness.

4. They adapt their methods to conform with cultural norms and expectations.

5. They have established effective overseas partnerships.


Principle-Driven Ministry


Effective principles often transfer well internationally, whereas specific methods may not. For example, The Luis Palau Evangelistic Association operates in 12 countries, applying the crusade principle--namely, to gather as many unchurched people together as possible to hear the gospel--but they make the necessary adjustments to their methods in each country. An example of a method-based ministry is Evangelism Explosion, which focuses on asking specific questions. While exceedingly effective in the United States, their efforts wouldn't fly in many countries overseas.


Lorry Lutz, former president of Woman's AD 2000 (now Women of Global Action), believes that a simple approach is best. "American materials must be written using principles, and then we translate into different languages, removing American references and inserting local references whenever possible."



Successful Domestic Multiplication



Before looking to export a ministry overseas, you should ask the obvious questions: Is the ministry effective in the United States? If so, has the work been multiplied across the country? What unique aspects of the ministry are suited for export to other countries and cultures? Will the organization be able to commit the time, personnel, and resources necessary to expand internationally?


Successful international ministries evaluate the ministry they do more effectively than others in the U.S., and then determine which principles and tactics will translate successfully overseas. Several key factors will predict international success. First, is the ministry national in reach, or local? A ministry not accustomed to the logistics, management, and culture of a national ministry will likely have a much bigger jump trying to go international. Next, determine exactly which ministry efforts will export well, and listen well to the locals in each country.


Successful Segmentation


Many ministries in the United States have prospered due to an ability to segment a portion of the population and minister to that group successfully. Even large cross-cultural ministries normally divide their ministry efforts by groups. For example, Campus Crusade for Christ has outreach targets ranging from college campuses, to executives, to the United Nations. Each effort is independently focused. When ministries are exported, a common mistake is to assume that one size will fit all in another country, and that is a false premise.


David Yerry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association agrees that a ministry must segment each country, and a one-size-fits-all approach will not succeed. "In France, the older population is very protective of French culture and traditions and resist any perceived intrusion that may water down the culture, while the young people are much more globally connected and really like many American ideas and products." Yerry knows that if they target an appeal to those who hold tradition very dear, the young people won't come. But if they "internationalize" their approach, the over-35 crowd will be offended. A ministry must choose its focus groups carefully according to local demographics.


Adapting to local culture is a must. Lorry Lutz learned that "in many countries, we needed to approach the male pastor for 'permission' to develop a prayer and evangelism ministry with females. Without clearance and a green light from the male pastor, women would not come. In other cultures, it is acceptable to approach women directly. Prayer ministry is different. In many countries, Daily Bread is a prayer focus, whereas in the U.S. it is not. Often, the prayer movement overseas is stronger because of others' difficulties. 



"Further, when operating in different countries, you must give the local people complete freedom to tell you what will work, and what won't. You really need to give them permission to speak the truth in love to avoid major mistakes."



David Jones of the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association learned that although the crusade model could be effectively exported, changes needed to be made in each country. For example, "graphics must be different in each country. In Scotland we learned that the planned orange and earth-tone colors were unacceptable, and we changed to purple. Failure to make this change would have been a disaster. In Latin America, events don't need to start or end on time, while, in Europe and the U.S., timing must be precise or the crowd becomes restless. 



Katherine Granger of the Christian Embassy, ministering to United Nations ambassadors, staff, and their families, knows that a diverse approach must be used. "When we invite people to events, we need to consider their social and cultural background and ensure that they will be receptive to the event. We had an outreach lunch with General Gravers, commandant of West Point Academy, with a focus on inviting military attachés. Military officers [who were] very unfriendly to the U.S. military attended out of curiosity and heard the gospel presented." Within the confines of the U.N. system, morning and lunch events are not for couples, whereas dinner invitations must be for couples. 



Granger also knows that successful outreach efforts are based on seeking common ground. As a case in point, the Christian Embassy offers English classes to newcomers to the United Nations, because many staff members and their spouses need to learn English.


Establishing Effective Partnerships


He's Alive Radio Network, a network of six stations in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, has established a partnership in South Africa to bring Christian radio to the countryside. According to Duane Johnson, president, "We spend about 10 percent of our time and focus working with the South African radio station but see more people come to Christ than we do throughout our entire U.S. network."


The network began buying time on a local rock station before expanding to construct their own radio station. A key to their success was determining an effective ministry focus. "In South Africa," says Johnson, "there are many ethnic groups, and we felt led to work with the 'colored' population, a race mixture of both white and black African ancestors. The strategies to reach that population were quite different than those for the European or native African groups. We spent countless hours listening to local residents to understand the differences. We learned that 75 percent of the broadcast time needed to be in the native language and the balance in English. Teaching programs needed to be five minutes, very short and to the point."



Johnson also found that some local funding was necessary to obtain acceptance. He's Alive Radio Network raised considerable funds in the U.S. to finance the radio station and a church building effort in South Africa, but "we found that some local funds, even if only 5-10 percent of the total budget, must be raised locally. Otherwise, the effort would not have local ownership and commitment. Also, that weeds out those who will not commit to full participation."


Luis Palau will plan a crusade only when invited locally, and only when the community presents a united commitment to the crusade. Local participation, both financially and in raising volunteers, is mandatory. Sources of funding will differ, depending on the country. In South America, 75 percent of the budget comes from secular company sponsors. 



Finding key local leaders to lead and partner with ministry is a challenge. Duane Johnson spent 80 percent of his initial time searching for the right leader to become his ministry partner in South Africa. "The key is to find the right leadership people with the same vision." Lorry Lutz echoes this sentiment. "Local leaders must give effective leadership and we must invest many hours to develop the relationships with international leaders before effective ministry may begin. We in the U.S. have a tendency to want to move quickly into executing our ministry work, but in most cultures the relationship must come first."



U.S.-based ministries can be exported successfully overseas, and the most effective international ministries will be those that are principle-centered, proven domestically, carefully segmented, adaptive to cultural differences, and committed to establishing overseas relationships.

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach 

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