Feb 27, 2023

Airplanes, the Internet and Global Missions

What the airplane did for missions a hundred years ago, the internet is doing today.

Airplanes, the Internet and Global Missions

From boats to airplanes to laptops. We're witnessing a shift in global missions.

My wife and I spent seven years serving as missionaries in Asia. During one of our trips, I was reading a biography of a missionary who served about 150 years before me. They traveled from Europe to Asia by boat, and at one point, they had to wait six months for the winds to change before they could continue. 

I literally laughed out loud.

Here I am, sitting in an airport waiting for a connecting flight, and I’m reading about someone whose layover was so long they had to not only find housing but got a temporary job before continuing. 

I paused and said a prayer of thanksgiving for airplanes. 

From boat to plane.

The introduction of the airplane has been a crucial part of missionary efforts during the past hundred years.

The mission field became more accessible to hundreds and eventually thousands of missionaries. Technology drove a shift that made today's short-term missions possible. 

An emerging shift.

The internet has been around for a while, and so have even distributed teams. But our shared pandemic experience has expanded what people consider possible regarding online connections and collaboration. 

Pre-pandemic, I knew very few people would consider seeing a counselor on zoom. They thought it wouldn’t be as effective. But now, a few years later, I know quite a few who say it’s what they prefer. They have access to broader resources, and scheduling is way easier. 

If I had told someone in 2019 that shift was coming in the next three years, they probably would have laughed at me.

Similarly, I’ve been on a distributed team for about eight years and have experienced the benefit of available talent and flexible schedules. Many friends or colleagues were skeptical that distributed teams were effective pre-pandemic, and that model has now become normalized across the workforce in the past year. 

From plane to laptop.

The mission field is now becoming more accessible to millions. What the airplane did for missions a hundred years ago, the internet is doing today.

This shift is opening the door for new kinds of Great Commission engagement. 

  • Are you an accountant? You could help someone doing business as missions improve their bookkeeping skills.
  • Do you enjoy writing? You could help a missionary on the field tell the story of their ministry.
  • Are you a builder or structural engineer? You could help a ministry discover what options to consider when building a new dormitory at an orphanage. 

There are so many possibilities. God has uniquely designed each of us and purposefully entrusted us with talents and experiences. These are ours to steward for his kingdom. 

Time to connect.

This shift is the backstory from which the Switchboard story originates. We began with the question, “How can we more effectively connect ourselves and our peers with faith-based organizations working to advance the Great Commission?”

What the airplane did for missions a hundred years ago, the internet is doing today.

This question led us to experiment and iterate on a process to identify people with needs and people with skills and then effectively match the two together. The matching process was initially a fully manual concierge-like service. We wanted to see what kind of connection was both valuable and scalable before we did the work to automate it.

After the initial pilot program, we saw connections clearly at the center of the story God was inviting us into. For those on the field, knowing someone who can help really is mission critical. When we can make these connections, we see Great Commission engagement.

Who are we connecting?

As we build a platform for Great Commission engagement, we find distinct audiences on each side.

On one side, we have believers with skills and experience who want to make a Great Commission difference but don’t see a clear opportunity. 

Much of this experience and expertise comes from personal vocations, so let’s break the audience down into three seasons of their vocational journey. 

  1. A recent grad who wants to use their major to make an impact.  They considered going into ministry but at least want to give back and be proud of what they do.
  2. A mid-career professional who wants a fulfilling career, doing work that means something and makes a difference. They want to give to the mission from their expertise, not only their checkbook.
  3. A recent retiree who wants to steward the rest of their life well and would love to act as a sage, sharing from their experience. They hope to leave a legacy and seek ways to be more involved in ministry beyond financial giving. 

When mobilized for Great Commission impact, we call this group Kingdom Consultants or KCs.

On the other side of the platform, we have field workers who need help but don’t know who to ask or don’t feel confident in what they’ll get. 

This broad and diverse audience is collectively referred to as Great Commission Organizations or GCOs. 

We’ve identified three GCO personas representing early adopters for Great Commission connections.

  1. A BAM worker who wants help to level up their mission. They know what help they need and could even potentially pay for it, but they're interested and curious about working with volunteers.
  2. A missiopreneur who is launching a new thing and wants help with their many needs. They have many tasks requiring skills they don’t possess but are needed for the mission to move forward.
  3. An early adopter in a larger ministry who wants quick help with essential strategies without going through all the hiring red tape of their organization.

The audiences on both sides of the Switchboard platform are broader than these user groups, but we believe that if we serve each of these groups well, then we will serve the whole well.

The challenge of scaling personal connection.

Connections are nothing new. God designed us for relationships, and as members of the body of Christ, we’re uniquely equipped to serve one another and others.

But when we served everyday believers in our churches and missionaries on the field, we found they faced common challenges.

  • Many believers want to be part of the Great Commission but don’t see a clear path other than writing a check or buying a plane ticket. 
  • Many missionaries need help but struggle with where to find it. 

These believers have experience and skills they would love to bring to the mission field but don’t know how or where. This dilemma isn’t solely a problem of distance. We see this challenge even in local churches where it can be hard to identify opportunities to apply our skills and experience to kingdom work. 

But distance is still a challenge. Most people serving in ministry on the field don’t have a personal network large enough to include people from all the areas where they need help.

So if one side of the relationship wants to help and the other side needs help, why are connections hard at scale? We found the core challenge was the language used to describe the problem or the expertise available. We needed a common language.

Connections need a common catalog and a simple starting point.

We found the best way to begin these connections is a conversation focused on a specific topic. 

We are building out a catalog of topics and subtopics for conversations. This catalog will continue to grow in both breadth of new topics and the depth of new subtopics. We’re taking an iterative approach as we observe what topics are more frequently requested and where there are gaps.

When we identify a new topic, we first find a core group of KCs who will help build a community and a catalog of subtopics. These KCs are the subject matter experts and insiders to their fellow KC communities. Our strategy is to empower the believer to not only make a Great Commission impact but to mobilize their communities as well.

A connection begins with a conversation.

When you sign up to be a KC, you’ll complete a profile outlining the topics you're interested in connecting with a GCO about.  All you’re committing to is a willingness to have a one-hour conversation to help a GCO. 

These short, focused conversations can be powerful.

It’s not uncommon for a GCO to know there is a problem but not know precisely what kind of help they need. These conversations clarify both the problem to be solved and the best next step toward finding a solution.

The KC on the call may be the best person to help with that solution, but they also may not be. We don’t make any assumptions or requirements; we just ask people to commit to one-hour conversations. 

We want to keep it simple. If the KC wants to further the conversation, they’re free to do that, but there’s no pressure. 

A KC can connect with as many GCOs as they want, making a Great Commission impact and moving the mission forward.

Launching connections this summer. 

In May, we plan to onboard a new round of beta testers to the platform in preparation for a full summer launch. If you want to join the platform this summer at launch or help early with beta testing, you can sign up now