Technology and Its Impact on the Missionary

Using Technology in Pre-field Ministry

A Biblical View of Technology
Using Technology in Pre-field Ministry
Using Technology to Stay Connected on the Field

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Audio-Visual Presentation

One of the most important parts of a missionary's pre-field ministry is his audio-visual presentation. The Baptist International Missions Incorporated website, whom I am not affiliated with, explains clearly why this is such a vital part of the missionary getting to the field:

"If you are a missionary, there are four things a pastor and a church judges when you visit their church: your character, your message, your display, and your ministry presentation. Unless you are asked to preach, your slide/video presentation will be the most visible and the most highly judged opportunity you have to present yourself, your burden, and your ministry. The quality you put into your presentation is your representation to the pastor and the church of the effort and quality they can expect you put into your ministry."

I could not agree more with the statement. There is an old proverb which states, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Many times the pastor of the church may only give the missionary ten or fifteen minutes to communicate his burden to the church. By using pictures or video, the missionary is able to take that brief period of time and stretch it to communicate volumes of information to the audience. It would be wonderful if we could load everyone on a jumbo jet and take them to the given field of ministry. It would be wonderful to allow them to walk the streets, smell the smells, and see the people; but this simply is not practical. For many of the people sitting in the pews, this will be the closest they ever come to the missionary's place of ministry. For this reason it is imperative that the missionary have the highest quality pictures or video possible.

Slide presentations used to be the standard in audio-visual presentations and I have had the experience of putting together a couple of slide presentations, but wise is the missionary who figures out that this is a thing of the past. Video projectors have dropped in price significantly. In fact any missionary should be able to easily acquire a video projector that far exceeds their projection needs for less than one thousand dollars. Video projectors are far superior in their usefulness than their predecessor the slide projector. Combine the projection capabilities of the video projector with the photo and video editing power of a personal computer, and you have the necessary tools to create an effective presentation. The ability to easily edit photos and add text and graphics to individual slides, not to mention the capability of incorporating full motion video, make the video projector the best option for the missionary.

Aside from the video projector's usefulness on deputation, it can also greatly enhance the missionary's ministry once he arrives on the field. We used our video projector extensively during our first term for everything from movie nights to discipleship training. I don't believe it can be overstated; the video projector is a tremendous resource. Investing in a good video projector is money well spent for the missionary. That being said, there are some basic things to keep in mind when putting together a video presentation.

First, start with a script. The script is extremely important to the presentation, and much time should be spent in making sure it communicates the missionary's message effectively. The presentation should not be a travel documentary or an advertisement for your mission board. It should be a clear declaration of what you intend to do on the field and an appeal for the viewer to help you accomplish that task. This should be the vision and purpose when constructing the script.

A missionary may already have pictures when he begins this process but it is crucial that the presentation be "script driven" and not "picture driven." Starting with the pictures is like finding some good sermon illustrations and writing a sermon around them. Some people do it, but it is not the best way to do a presentation! In both cases the message is the most important part, and the "illustrations" should serve to enhance understanding and amplify the message that is being communicated.

In addition, that message needs to be communicated within the time constraints associated with the modern day church service. Gone are the days of a missionary clicking through a slide presentation for two hours. I have met missionaries that are trying to revive the movement, but I doubt they will succeed, and that is probably a good thing! Though the missionary has driven several hours for the meeting, it is important to understand that he may be a very small part of what is going on in that particular service. There is a song service, special announcements, special music, Sister Selma testifying, and an earthshaking message from the word of God that all have to be delivered within an hour. Whether you agree with this trend or not is not the issue, the truth is that many churches in America run a tight schedule. If a missionary hopes to enlist their support, then he must be respectful of the time limits imposed and utilize the brief time he is given to the fullest.

With this in mind, it is best to create a presentation that is between eight to ten minutes long. If the pastor gives you ten to fifteen minutes, then you can introduce the video, show it, and still be well under the time limit. If the pastor gives you the opportunity to preach, then you could show your presentation, preach for twenty minutes, and be done in a half hour.

Unfortunately, the average person sitting in a church pew may have seen many boring missionary presentations. Therefore, it is necessary in the first few seconds of the presentation to wake them up and grab their attention. The presentation should begin with something that "hooks" the viewer. This could be accomplished through dynamic graphics or perhaps a thought-provoking question. The bottom line is that you need to give them a reason to watch!

Make sure the presentation moves along smoothly. Pictures need to stay up long enough to be understood, and video needs to remain on a given subject matter long enough to be processed. The American Research Group points this fact out in one of their laws for more effective advertising:

"People have limited mental processing capacities. Quick cuts to different scenes require people to devote more of their limited resources to following the cuts and less resources to processing each scene. It takes people between eight and ten seconds to process and produce a lasting emotional response to a scene. Camera movement or different camera angles of the same scene can engage people through their orienting responses while providing enough time for them to process the scene."

I violated this principle horribly on my first attempt at a video presentation. Together with a missionary friend going to the same field we put together our first video presentation. The technology was relatively new, at least for home video editing. My cohort and I were excited about all the different transitions that we could use between shots. By the end of our presentation we had pictures bouncing all over the screen and it was all really cool, but it was also very distracting! Thankfully, we recognized the problem and corrected it. Remember just because you can do a certain effect or transition with a given video editing software doesn't mean that you should do a certain effect or transition. I learned an important lesson from my first experience! The transition that I use more than anything else now in presentations is a simple fade, it looks professional and doesn't distract from the subject matter of the picture or video.

I have found that the best way to end a presentation is with a montage of "people pictures" set to music. Ministry is about people. Pictures of the people to whom you plan on carrying the gospel can be a very powerful way to appeal to the viewer to help you get to the mission field. If you are good at photography and have your own pictures of people, this is the place to use them another good source would be the internet. Many sites offer professional photos for little or no cost to the consumer.

Do not use songs like "People Need the Lord" or "Thank You." They are wonderful songs but have been overused for these purposes. Many church goers can name that tune in only three notes! The response is often, "Oh, I've already done this before," and they immediately tune out. Use music that is appropriate and sets your presentation apart from other presentations.

One final comment regarding the use of this technology in pre-field ministry, make sure the finished project is of high quality. Association of Baptist for World Evangelization points out on their website, "People evaluate video quality based upon what they see on TV and in other movies; thus, a poor video is worse than no video." This does not mean that you have to have CGI dinosaurs running across the screen, but it does mean that images need to be clear and the sound quality has to be good. If you are not creative or computer savvy, ask around. Someone who would enjoy the challenge may be closer than you think!

Prayer Cards and Packets

Another important part of pre-field ministry that has been changed drastically by the onset of new technologies is the missionary prayer card and ministry packet. Gone are the days of ink smudged mimeographs making the cut. Church members are used to seeing high quality images in print on a regular basis. Just a walk to the mailbox should provide you with all the evidence that you need to convince you that the quality of your printed materials needs to be set high. The missionary's prayer card and ministry packet needs to look sharp and stand out.

At the very minimum the missionary's picture should be in full color. This will mean that at least one side of the prayer card is printed in full color, but it would be even better for both sides to be printed in full color. The prayer card is of utmost importance. It precedes your arrival and will be at the church long after you depart. For that reason make sure that your silent representative looks as sharp as possible.

Missionary packets, the pastor's desk is littered with them, why is he going to look at yours? The packet needs to be attractive and inviting. When I was on deputation, my packet consisted of a VHS tape of our presentation, a tri-fold brochure about our ministry, two letters of recommendation, a prayer card, and a personal letter from me. Later, down the road I added a mini-CD that had an interactive powerpoint presentation about our ministry. Many would have side-stepped the expense of sending a video tape, but I found this was a great asset even if the pastor never watched it. Why? It made my packet different from the slew of others coming across the pastor's desk. More than once I was referred to as "the missionary that sent the video tape." The mini-CD had a similar effect. Pastors who were into computers, could pop the disc in and navigate the presentation much like a web page. However, even those pastors or mission committees that did not watch the tape or use the CD could see that I was serious about trying to communicate my burden and enlist their help.


An additional way of communicating this same information with churches is through the internet. A website enables the missionary to provide large quantities of information about his specific field, personal background, and vision for ministry, without it being overwhelming. If the site is set up correctly, visitors to the website will be able to navigate to the information they are interested in very quickly, without having to rifle through superfluous data. A further advantage of setting up a website is the ability to easily provide up-to-date information to people interested in your ministry. Recent newsletters, as well as other pertinent information, can be posted at the click of a button. A well-designed webpage will go far beyond the standard ministry packet providing an interactive medium through which visitors to the site will be able to chart their own course to understanding your ministry.

Creating a website is not as difficult as many think. Popular programs like Microsoft FrontPage can be used to create a website on a computer and then upload the information to the internet. However, many web hosting services provide free web-based software so that all one needs to create a website is access to the internet. Many of these services will host your website for free; the only catch is that they will place banner ads on your site. Sometimes the content of these banner ads are not appropriate for ministry websites. For that reason it is probably best to pay the small monthly fee and have the banners removed, but using the free hosting is a good way to get started.

Contact Databases

Another technology which can greatly aid the missionary in his pre-field ministry is the data-managing capabilities of the personal computer. All of the missionary's contacts can be arranged in an orderly fashion into something which is known in computing terms as a "database." For many of my college years I worked as a collector. We would call past-due accountholders in an attempt to work out a solution. During my years of collecting, I gained much experience as to how databases worked especially as it related to making phone calls and keeping records. When I started making calls for deputation, I set up a system very similar to what I was accustomed to using in collections. My wife and I acquired a list of contacts from our mission board, and then she was nice enough to enter them into Microsoft Outlook for me. She would enter the contacts from the huge list based on what area we wanted to target. Then I would call the contacts that she had entered into the system. Our computer was connected to our phone line, and so at the press of a button the computer would call the record that I had pulled up in Microsoft Outlook. Whatever took place during the call was noted in the memo section of that particular record.

The key to raising support is phone calls. It may come as a shock to some, but not every church that a missionary calls will schedule him for a meeting. In fact, the missionary will have to make many calls in order to schedule one meeting. In addition, every church that schedules the missionary for a meeting will not take him on for support. When I was on deputation, my wife and I calculated our "take-on" rate to be about thirty percent. It may help to visualize the whole process as a funnel. An enormous amount of phone calls will be made resulting in a smaller number of meetings being scheduled. The many meetings that are scheduled will result in an even smaller number of churches committing to monthly support. Therefore, the more phones calls a missionary can make, the more support he will be able to raise. Using a contact database enables the missionary to accomplish this more effectively. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to make calls once I had everything organized in Microsoft Outlook. If a pastor asked for a packet, that would be put in the memo section of the record. Later, I could do a search for all the records that had the word "packet" in them. This helped me in following up on those pastors that requested packets. Using the database helped me handle the large volume of information required in communicating with so many churches.

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Once you have correctly used modern technologies to help you create a dynamic video presentation, assemble a sharp ministry packet, launch your website, and schedule those all-so-important meetings, there is yet another item that can revolutionize the "on the road" part of your ministry. Three little letters that can greatly reduce the stress associated with finding your way to a location in unfamiliar territory are GPS. It stands for Global Positioning System, and utilizes signals from satellites to pinpoint your location and help you navigate to your destination.
There are several different types of GPS receivers currently on the market for this purpose, and new products are continually emerging. Because of this, it will be necessary to do some research to determine what model will best serve the missionary's needs, but without question this is a technology that is well worth the investment. When I did deputation, I started out printing driving directions off the internet. Towards the end of my deputation, I had a GPS that connected to a map program on my laptop. By affixing the laptop to my dashboard, I had a moving map atlas that kept me on track as I journeyed to my destination. This helped immensely, but what I am using now on furlough is much more useful. My wireless provider offers a GPS function that is integrated with my cell phone. Once the desired destination is keyed into the program, the cell phone gives you audible turn-by-turn instructions as you progress toward your location. I have used this device extensively and am fully satisfied with the functionality it provides. It even has a search feature which allows you to find the nearest Wal-Mart or McDonalds from your current position. This is an amazing technology that can greatly benefit the missionary by reducing the stress of constantly being in an unfamiliar environment.


After you have found the church and presented your work, you will need to stay in contact with them for the rest of the deputation process and continuing once you arrive on the field. This task of keeping churches informed as to the progress of the missionary's ministry is usually achieved by regular updates in the form of a missionary newsletter.

As discussed earlier, the missionary's printed materials needs to be of high quality. The newsletter should be printed in full color and should have pictures that go with the content of the letter. The pictures do not always have to be pictures of the actual ministry. Pictures which portray a concept, or idea, can be utilized to make the letter look more interesting and invite the church member passing by it on the bulletin board to stop and read. For instance, a missionary reporting on his deputation travels could use a picture of a highway to accompany his text about his travels. This would certainly add interest and make the letter more interesting than just a page full text.

Speaking of text, don't put too much of it. If you're a novelist save your talent for another time, the newsletter should read more like a short newspaper article, and less like "War and Peace." The pastor or missions secretary should be able to extract the main information included in your newsletter within a matter of seconds. One way to accomplish this is through the use of headings. Like newspaper headlines, a heading for each of the articles in your newsletter can get a lot of information across in a little bit of time. The headings of your articles should allow the reader in a glance to know exactly what the newsletter is about, and then if they want to read the main body of the articles for more information they can. In addition, for the pastor or lay person who carries your newsletter to the pulpit on Wednesday night for the missionary update, the headings are like little cue cards helping him to present what is going on in your ministry to the church.

With our newsletter philosophy out of the way, let's talk about printing. When I first started sending out newsletters it was an involved process. The first challenge was to get my database of church addresses to cooperate with the program that would print the information on the envelope. The next hurdle was getting my inkjet printer to print the delivery address without "eating" the envelopes. My printer was constantly jamming; it truly seemed that plain white envelopes were its food of choice! In addition, it always seemed to run out of ink in the middle of the printing job. I guess it was using the ink to wash down all the white envelopes it was ingesting. The end result was that I absolutely dreaded when it came time to send out another newsletter. However, all of this changed when I discovered a wonderful service offered online by the United States Postal Service. It's called NetPost Mailing Online. It's a printing service that allows you to upload a document through the internet to be printed and sent to whomever you want. First, you upload your newsletter, then your addresses from your contact database, and then pay with your credit card. The cost is less than a dollar per letter. This includes printing (one side full color), envelopes, postage. . .everything! The printer that they use is a higher quality printer than my inkjet, and so the newsletter that they send out is better quality than what I even have the capability of producing at home. What use to take a couple of days and much headache now takes a couple of hours and looks better than it did before.

Another, benefit of using this system is that if you have internet access on your field of service then you can continue to use online mailing even after you move to the field. Since the letter is printed and mailed in the U.S. you won't have to pay international postage to send your letters. I have used this service for four years, which includes my first term in Trinidad, and could not be happier with it.


(8) "Planning a Missionary Presentation" Available from Internet; accessed 8 January 2007.

(9) "Ten Rules for more Effective Adversting" American Research Group, Inc; Available from Internet; accessed 8 January 2007.

(10) "Video Presentation" Available from Internet; accessed 8 January 2007.