A Missionary Audit

ARE the times ripe for a fundamental reconstruction of the strategy and policies of Protestant Christianity in respect to foreign missions? My own study of the missionary situation from data available in the United States leaves me skeptical, not only of the basic strategy of the Protestant missionary forces, but also of the necessity for maintaining so many organizations. I question whether there is not unnecessary overlapping and duplication, whether the business and financial management is as good as might reasonably be expected in view of the millions now involved, and whether the mission boards in the United States responsible for the work can or do exercise effective control.

As a missionary problem the world situation presents a genuine challenge to Christians, if we assume that there has been sufficient success in establishing Christianity and perfecting it in practice in the United States to warrant the attempt to Christianize the 66 per cent of the world’s population who are not Christians at this time. Recent estimates indicate that, of a total world population of 1800 million, 625 million may be classed as Christians. Of the total number of Christians, the three main divisions are estimated to consist of 175 million Protestants, 300 million Roman Catholics, and 125 million adherents of Eastern Orthodox churches.

The 1175 million non-Christians were estimated to consist of 225 million Mohammedans, 215 million Hindus, 300 million Confucianists and Taoists, 140 million Buddhists, 20 million Shintoists, 160 million Animists, and 15 million Jews, with the remainder adherents of miscellaneous faiths.


The present phase in China’s attempt to establish a stable social system on a more democratic basis has given prominence to the work of foreign missionary societies in that country. The reports indicate that the Protestant Christian community in China numbers less than 800,000 persons, although the work of most of the missionary societies dates back many years, in some cases more than seventy-five. If, looking forward, we assume that these 800,000 have become adherents in the last twenty years, the estimate indicates that we shall need at least 2500 years and more than fifty billion dollars to Christianize but one fourth of the population of China.

The World Missionary Atlas, published in 1925 under the supervision of organizations representing Protestant denominations in the United States, presents the statistics of more than one hundred Protestant missionary societies maintaining work of some kind in China. The societies included report the number of their communicants to be 402,539, thus indicating that after more than seventy-five years of effort less than one per cent of the population of China have become communicants of Protestant Christian churches.

The same authority also indicates that, of 130 different missionary societies, 70 were projected by constituencies in the United States and Canada, 24 from the British Isles, 20 from Continental Europe, and 4 from Australia. In addition, 18 societies represented constituencies in China, one in Korea, and one an international group.

At least nineteen separate Protestant denominations of the United States alone were shown as carrying on missionary work in China, and in addition numerous interdenominational and nondenominational projects were reported. No attempt was made to study or estimate the nature and extent of the work of the Roman Catholic Church in the same field in connection with this review.

The information available naturally makes me wonder if this multiplicity of organizations, offering at least nineteen different kinds of Protestant Christianity, may not be confusing to the Chinese; if the variations between Protestant denominations have any important significance for the Chinese; and therefore if the time has not arrived for the leaders in the United States frankly to face the situation and effect a fundamental readjustment looking to more rapid progress and greater results.

More than 130 separate missionary societies in China means that 130 headquarters must be maintained in the United States and 130 general secretaries must be paid salaries, traveling and other expenses, and that at least 130 money-raising organizations must be maintained within the United States. There must be 130 or more treasury and accounting systems in the United States, and there must be travel to and from China as well as travel within China of the employed personnel of 130 societies. There must also be some form of treasury and accounting system in China for each organization.

With at least nineteen separate denominations and at least six times as many missionary societies, it seems inevitable that there will be unwarranted competition between Protestant agencies alone, not to mention the competition with the other and older religious faiths which now number their adherents in China in the hundreds of millions. At the same time this plethora of denominations and societies must necessitate an almost endless round of travel and conferences and conventions, with results not at all in proportion to the outlays in time, energy, and money.

The fact that there were 1149 resident stations of Protestant missionary societies in China, of which 43 per cent were under American societies, has given me further reason to question a policy which would seem to be diffusing effort over a large number of small projects rather than concentrating upon a small number of large projects. Are not the Protestant denominations in need of demonstrators and engineers to interpret and advise, rather than of executives to maintain and operate local projects?

There also appear to be grounds for questioning whether the societies should aim at reaching numbers of persons or should concentrate upon the relatively few leaders of wide influence. Possibly there may be justification for activity along both lines simultaneously, but with proper coordination.

Further, we need to be assured that reasonable progress is being made in nationalizing local projects by turning them over to the management of the Chinese. It would be interesting to know just how many separate pieces of local missionary work in China were completely turned over to local responsibility and management during the past five years by each important denomination.

One gets the impression, not only that a critical analysis of each missionary project in the light of 1927 conditions would be desirable, but also that such an analysis might indicate that at least one half of the total number of projects could be discontinued at no great loss to Protestant Christianity.


When the progress of the societies in China is considered, one finds that at the time the Atlas figures were taken, three or four years ago, 124 societies reported 5424 organized churches. Of these, 2315, or 43 per cent, were under American auspices. Only 6 per cent of the churches under American auspices were self-supporting.

Contributions for the work of all the Protestant churches in China from sources in China during one year were estimated to have been $741,080. Of this amount 48 per cent was reported by the churches under American auspices. Against this we have figures to show that, of the 35,067 communicant s added during the year, 69 per cent were added to the churches under American auspices.

In considering facts such as these we should have in mind that there is a divergence of opinion as to just what properly may be considered results in foreign mission work. It is difficult to estimate whether results secured are in proportion to the outlay in time and expense, and one of the reasons for this is the tendency of so many to side-step the problem of measuring results. It is so easy to be impatient of the necessity for rendering an accounting. In missionary circles this impatience betrays itself in the statement that statistics do not measure the spiritual values and that spiritual values are really the most important part of the work. Now although this view, that statistics do not measure spiritual values, may have been acceptable in former years, there is a sense in which it does not carry conviction to the understanding and confidence of a large and scattered supporting constituency to-day.

Many supporters of missionary work have told me that vague generalities about the spiritual results of missionary effort can no longer be accepted as an adequate accounting for the stewardship of seventy American societies which spend millions of dollars each year in China. And it seems to me that in view of present-day conditions the thousands of supporters of missionary work are entitled to some light from disinterested sources on the question whether the progress toward a more Christian China is at all in proportion to the increase in missionary endeavor in that country during the past twentyfive years, and whether great improvements and economies can be effected with no diminution in effectiveness. The material now available gives little definite, accurate, and adequate information.

In taking up the personnel aspect of the missionary problem, we find that 138 Protestant missionary societies reported a foreign staff of 7663 at work in China. Seventy American societies were reported to have a total staff of 4492, of whom 919 were ordained men, 706 unordained men, 1423 wives, and 1444 unmarried men and widows. In addition to the foreign staff, 124 Protestant societies also had a native staff of 27,133, while 59 American societies had a total native staff of 16,431. Of the total missionary staff in China composed of foreigners, 59 per cent were under the supervision of American societies. Sixty-one per cent of the native staff were related to the work of these same American societies. Thus it appears that in point of numbers the American societies are further advanced than the societies from other countries in arranging a large participation in the work by the Chinese.

Of the many questions which are being raised with respect to the personnel problem, the most important have relation to the quality of personnel; to the extent to which theological principles having no important bearing on problems of organizations are confused with organization principles; to whether missionaries are paid reasonable compensation, whether the training given missionaries is adequate, whether the qualifications and accomplishments of missionaries are given due consideration, and whether the abler persons are advanced to the more important and responsible projects.

Certainly, when comparison is made with the past twenty-five years, we see that different training and supervision will be necessary for missionary work in China in the future. Whether the older missionaries will be able to retire to the necessary advisory relationship and to work effectively, after having spent so many years in positions of control and direction, is a serious question. Nationalization of religious work involves fundamental alterations in policy, and of these the primary one is the inevitable relinquishment of control and the retreat to a position which involves only counsel. When China is making an endeavor to bring about greater unity, and on a more democratic basis, missionary societies no less than foreign governments and foreign business corporations are confronted by serious problems.

Because of insufficient data the financial aspects of the missionary problem cannot be adequately treated. While it appears that approximately fifty-five million dollars a year is now being sent from the United States to foreign countries to cover a part of the cost of missionary work being done as the result of the initiative of American agencies, more than ten million of this is estimated as going for Protestant work in China. Against this we have the figures in the Missionary Atlas which indicate that the amount contributed in China for church work under the auspices of 59 American societies during one year was $357,896, or approximately 3.5 per cent of the payments from American sources.

The support of church work in China from local sources is not as large as might reasonably be expected in view of more than seventy-five years’ work and a total outlay on the part of United States contributors during that time estimated to exceed three hundred million dollars. One naturally wonders also whether the amounts from American sources go to support individual projects or are applied to the promotional and advisory services necessary for the general management and supervision of projects which are otherwise entirely supported and managed by the Chinese.

Then there is the very difficult question as to whether the amounts expended for educational, medical, and evangelical work are in the proper relative proportions. This is a basic question because of the possible effect of the answer upon contributors who give as a rule without an adequate understanding of conditions in China or of the programme of the society to which their contributions are made. A great many give in order to support work which they visualize as comparable with that of the local churches in the United States of which they are members. Others give because of confidence in an individual missionary who seldom has a background of knowledge of the work and programme of the society sufficient to provide the necessary substantiation for the sweeping assurance given as to the value and importance of missionary work.

Such information as I have been able to obtain has not convinced me that there is an adequate record of the amounts received in the field from local sources, and I have been led to believe that the control of expenditures in the field and the means of transferring funds between the United States and points in China might be studied to advantage. Certainly there are grounds for doubt as to the necessity of many separate accounting and disbursing agents in China.

In addition to its reference to churches and their communicants, the Atlas also refers to general education, higher education, medical education, medical work, and philanthropic activities.

While those in the United States who are interested in foreign missionary work have perhaps given more attention to these activities than to other aspects of the missionary problem, I believe that a thoroughgoing review of the entire situation ought to yield something in terms of progress on this side also.

One cannot escape a feeling of confusion upon examining the statements of purpose of many of the missionary societies. In most cases these statements are either so broad as to be meaningless or so narrow that they obviously lag far behind the programmes reflected by the reports of the society.

Sometimes the aim of the missionary organizations as stated is the creation of Christian communities. But such an aim has very broad implications and may now include far more than was intended during the early years when these large organizations were growing up. Naturally the purely religious work cannot be carried on under present-day conditions in the same proportions as formerly. Missionaries are called upon to perform tasks very different from those which were necessary during the early history of the work, and often more difficult. Whether they are going about it the right way, and whether the departures from traditional methods are sufficiently understood and approved by supporters of the work, are questions which need to be answered for the sake of stability and progress.

Supporters usually have little knowledge of the implications of the great differences between conditions in China and the missionary societies on the one hand and their own city and church on the other. In the average city in the United States a church programme is largely limited to so-called church work. In China the task often calls for a broad cultural reorganization plan, with political, economic, and social problems requiring attention before there is a foundation for a religiouswork programme. It is necessarily a far cry from so-called religious work, for which so many United States supporters think they are giving money for use in China, to the political, economic, social, and religious engineering and management tasks which usually must precede anything effective in the nature of religious work.


To consider the situation in China alone is, of course, to ignore the other half of the problem, which is Christianity at home. The conditions confronting religious denominations and their problems in this country have a direct bearing upon the situation in China.

Whether there is sufficient unity of purpose within Protestant Christian circles in the United States to provide the necessary foundation for a working programme in China seems a fair question. While theological differences have no logical relation to questions of organization and management, they have an important effect upon the purpose of a missionary organization, and this purpose in turn is reflected in the kind of work done and the policies applied in China. To the outsider the foreign missionary programmes of most religious denominations appear out of proportion to the size, effectiveness, resources, and present standing of the denominations in the United States.

The tendency to improve the control and supervision of financial affairs in social and religious work in the United States appears to have special significance from the standpoint of foreign missionary work. Missionaries are impatient in the face of so-called ‘bookkeeping requirements.’ This seems to result from little or no understanding of the fact that this movement for an accounting is one part of a process of which the aim is to maintain the understanding and approval of a large constituency in a more economical way. It is a movement that affects all forms of social and religious effort. Certainly if some progress can be made in improving the financial and business management the difficulties in raising money for missionary work should not be so great.

The decreasing power of expansion and influence in so many local churches in the United States presents what some believe to be the most important problem of the Protestant denominations to-day, and we cannot ignore its possible effects upon foreign missionary work. The most immediate effect is already apparent, in that it is one of several causes for the decline in amounts available for foreign missionary work, notwithstanding the great efforts of the societies to secure increased support. It is obvious that the Church must maintain itself at home as well as in foreign fields. If Protestantism is not holding its ground at home it cannot expect to enlarge programmes in foreign fields, and it should frankly face that fact and alter its policies accordingly.

The insecurity of foreign mission work so far as conditions at the socalled home base are concerned is further accentuated by a condition respecting the managing boards in the United States. With but few exceptions these seem to be little more than financing committees. All interested are entitled to the greater security which should emerge through more effective methods of supervision of work at points so far remote from the headquarters of the organization. The problem is a difficult one at best, but certainly it is reasonable to expect greater progress in working out ways and means by which the home boards may exercise the minimum control necessary to direct the effort in the field and secure results at remote points more economically. The tendency to commit substantial amounts to the management of persons of good repute and the best of intentions without demanding from them an adequate accounting for results, progress, and businesslike procedure is rapidly being checked in other lines of endeavor. Foreign mission work would have less trouble in securing and maintaining financial support if it effected the improvements along these lines for which there appear to be many opportunities.

In submitting this brief review, I would, in conclusion, sound a note of warning. The relaxation of giving for missionary work in China is not here advocated. My aim is to stress the need for a comprehensive review of the whole situation on a basis that will not overvalue established projects and measures, but will assure a better economy. Many of the leaders in foreign missionary work are earnestly striving for something better; but, while some progress has been made recently, it is utterly inadequate. It is too much to expect that the employed personnel, who are more in control than any other single group, will go as far as is necessary. There are too many employees whose incomes might be affected by changes. Aside from that fact, many hundreds of church members and ministers must agree upon the necessary reforms of basic nature before even employed personnel can go very far toward any objectives that may be set.

In thinking to the future, it is to be hoped that the missionary organizations of Protestant Christianity may effect a unification of their programmes in China, and that the Protestant denominations may come to present a united front to those in China whom they are asking to accept their beliefs. More basic still, it is to be hoped that Protestants in the United Slates will approve and encourage this kind of joint effort in China.