Background to the Study Process

In 1921, decades of informal collaboration among Protestant missionary societies culminated in the founding of the International Missionary Council. The IMC broke new ground in cooperation for world mission. North Americans played key roles in the IMC, including as leaders, participants, and recipients of its programs and projects.

A century later, much has changed in the context for missional cooperation. What was largely a western religion in the framework of colonialism is now a multicultural worldwide faith.  Mission flows to and from all inhabited continents. State churches and clergy-led mainline denominational missions dominated the scene a century ago. By the 1960s, Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox began collaborating in new ways. Now Pentecostal and indigenous movements circle the globe. Today the increasing diversity of the Christian movement has led to almost unlimited ways of practicing missional vocations, including short-term mission trips, migratory mission movements, and multiple pathways of mission “from the margins.” Now the global context for mission is more diverse, more decentralized, more competitive, and more vibrant than ever before.

To commemorate the legacy of the International Missionary Council, its successor organization, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches, has commissioned a study process. This process is being guided by regional mission research centers led by scholars in mission studies. The purpose of the study process is to reflect upon 1) the legacy of the IMC, 2) the contemporary scene of missional collaboration, and/or 3) the future of cooperation in mission. Since 2010, important documents in mission theology have reflected a wide degree of convergence among theological and ecclesial stakeholders. With these documents as touchstones, the North American study process proposes to reflect on the IMC and its legacy by researching contemporary collaborative movements that, while not echoing the era of the IMC, follow its spirit of creative experimentation. In this study, we join Christians around the world who are similarly assessing important missional trends in their own regions.

The Center for Global Christianity and Mission, under the leadership of Director Dr. Dana L. Robert and Associate Director Dr. Daryl R. Ireland, is coordinating the study process for the North American Region. The study process is guided and shaped by an Executive Committee composed of over 20 senior professors of mission studies and mission leaders from across North America. The process consists of three major pieces, all designed to feed into reports to share with other regions of the world. First, we will construct a free, open data base of self-reported examples of missional collaboration. Second, we will hold online discussion groups of common questions about missional collaboration. And third, we will commission in-depth case studies of missional collaboration for possible publication and sharing at a conference. The fruits of the research will also become preparatory materials for the 11th Assembly World Council of Churches, 2022 Karlsruhe, the theme of which is “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity.”