When one thinks about missions, and ministry in general, it is not often that one would find themselves thinking of research as an essential ministry tool. However, INSERV is a ministry that specializes in just that.

“The origin of the term “mission”, as we still tend to use it today, presupposes the ambience of the West’s colonization of overseas territories and it’s subjugation of their inhabitants”.

[1]David Bosch

Bosch continues to discuss the close relationship between the expansion of the political powers and the mission of the church.  The question I asked myself is; what is really my definition of Mission?  Not whether I have a clear theological answer to give, but rather what is my underlying understanding that I express.  What has this to do with the topic?  I need to be careful not to be sidetracked right at the beginning of this paper.  I want to state that very often our statements do not always reveal the underlying motives that we have, perhaps not even admitted to ourselves.  Very often we are not even aware of underlying motives.[2]  This question is important for me before I try to move into the topic above.  In this topic I assume that the Church in Africa is a Mission Field and not a Missionary Sending Church.  I need to challenge myself about my own possible hidden motives and ask if I am prepared to redefine my definition of mission in the event of new information being discovered.

When one is attending conferences and speaks to people in the context of mission in Africa, the church in Africa is generally regarded as a Mission field.  There is also a strong understanding and agreement, that the church in Africa has grown and “a new level of confidence, dynamism, vision and maturity is evident in many parts of Africa”.[3]  Somebody had the saying that “If you are not a missionary, you are a mission field.”  I think that can be true for any church or individual anywhere.  I am agreeing with Johnstone and many others that a new dynamic is developing in and from the developing world that will change the face of missions and the church.  Bosch has also indicated that a new era is at hand in naming elements of an emerging missionary paradigm[4] and we are already 14 years after his book was printed.

What is the place then of research as a tool to be used in the development of the church into a Missionary force that is focused on reaching out with a clear strategy? 

I will be looking at the following in this article:

  • Our experience and development as an organisation in the area of research.
  • Some examples from within Africa where research was used and really assisted in better ministry.
  • Some general comments from the examples.
  • A continental initiative
  • A process and plan for Southern Africa



INSERV (Institute for Strategic Services) is an organization that did not start with the idea to do research.  INSERV developed through a process, starting with a group of young people involved in doing street evangelism in Pretoria.  An interest in missions developed from praying to giving and later to going.  The first short term outreach was done in 1988 to Malawi, at that stage the closest and more accessible country for white South Africans.  A life-changing experience for all who went on that outreach and a good percentage of those people are still involved in missions or are missionaries in various parts of the world. 

It was a new and fresh concept in South Africa and as one got involved more and more, others with the same thinking and actions were brought together.  A need to advertise and compile information and guidelines regarding short term outreaches in South Africa was expressed, and Reach Out, a guide to that effect was established. 

However, only 12 editions were printed until 2002 – INSERV could no longer afford the printing cost, and thus the printing of the guide was stopped.  We realized that some shifts within the area of short-term outreaches in South Africa took place towards more outreaches on the local church level than before.  We are still making information available on the Internet at www.inserv.org.za.  INSERV desires to serve the whole church in this regard and continues to investigate how best to gather and distribute information in order for people to get involved in missions.

Later medical-orientated outreaches were organized to Mozambique and outreaches were also conducted in Botswana.  The leadership was made aware of an un-reached group in Malawi, the Yao people.  An outreach was conducted, but during that time somebody also discovered a wealth of information in the library of a University regarding this group.  The realization came that although the church sometimes is ignorant of groups, other disciplines have already done work and research among these peoples.  A report was compiled on the Yao’s, and groups were approached with this information.  Interdev presented a Partnership workshop and at that time a partnership was established for the Yao people. INSERV played an important role in the development and initiation of that partnership. 

Shortly after that we withdrew from the functions of the partnership and started to do research amongst other un-reached groups, especially in Mozambique, but literature research was also done on Madagascar and Angola.  Research was done in order to gather information, make it available to interested parties and through that create awareness and give knowledge to facilitate effective outreach to the un-reached.

An important principle for INSERV is to be strategically involved in serving the church. 

Since 1996 we started to share lessons learned from the research process that we have been following.  Later we developed a Research Training programme and the response on that has been very encouraging and we are convinced, that much is still needed.  Inserv is under the impression that there is a need by local churches and organisations for a basic understanding of research principles and techniques and how those principles and techniques can be applied to develop more effective strategies and working methods.

INSERV’s Vision
INSERV’s Mission

Through this process and our involvement in Southern Africa, we are convinced that Research has a definite and strategic role to play in the development of the Whole Church to reach out to the Whole World with the Whole Gospel.


At Inserv we have learned and come to believe that 3 essential components are part of the research endeavour amongst the un-reached.  These aspects make research in the context of the Kingdom different from any other kind of research and we believe are essential for research in Africa.

  1. Spiritual aspects – Relationship with God
  2. Data collection – Gathering, compiling, sorting of information
  3. Purpose – Strategy.  If it is not done for a purpose it is good and interesting but with no lasting effect.  The strategy needs to result in transformation; not only the individual but the community and the context must be touched in a real sense.



INSERV developed into the role of research as a need was identified.  We are amazed to see how many people and organisations start to do research only after some time because they do not know how to proceed with ministry.  In spite of that, we also see that research is very often not seen as an essential and ongoing part of ministry.  A number of missionaries have told us that they should have done the course before they went out into their cross cultural ministry.  Pastors who only did a short introductory course told us that they strongly feel that research need to be part of the curriculum for training as a pastor. 

We also discovered that missions, as a subject or as part of the training for leaders, is not really existing in training colleges and we find ourselves, not only teaching research, but also missions within the church.  The application of research within missions and the church is therefore a new discovery for many people that we train or assist in consultation.

In spite of what is said above, we also see that God is busy raising people, making them aware of the place and need for research.  Those research endeavours are making a difference with exciting results within mission and ministry. 

Lets look at a few examples:


Patrick Johnstone mentions about the research done in Zimbabwe as a country that was inspired by the AD2000 movement.[5]  The information gathered was used to mobilize the church for Saturation Church planting efforts.  Dr Dean Carlson reports 

“With peace returning to the land, it became increasingly difficult to ignore the hundreds of villages and townships that remained virtually untouched by the Gospel.  In 1986, a core of leaders from several denominations began to unite around the vision of saturating the nation with churches.  Initially called Discipling Zimbabwe, this group launched a series of regional church planting envisioning consultations over the next two years to shed light on this great need.  This was a match in God’s hands used to light a fire that was to spread across the country.

          The task force made it a top priority to gain information on the specific areas and communities where new churches were most needed.  Over a period of three years, researchers walked through every district, collecting information on virtually every church in the nation and noting un-churched areas. 

          Like the spies returning from Canaan, they gave a report on the land yet to be possessed for the Kingdom of God.  The good news was that a total of 10,000 existing congregations throughout the country.  Yet, to put a vibrant church within easy access of every community the researchers calculated that another 10,000 congregations would need to be planted.  This total was based upon the goal of having one congregation for every 500 rural people and one for every 1000 urban people.  That would mean doubling the total number of congregations!” [6]   

By the year 2000 it was reported that the target was reached and the goal set in that regard was met. 

“Good information awakens leaders to the urgent need of communities without a church presence.  It focuses their attention on the priority of church multiplication and enables them to set informed goals.  Solid research reveals effective methodologies utilized in the Zimbabwean context to multiply both churches and leaders.” [7]


Hein van Wyk gives the following definition for a National Initiative:

“It is a nation-wide strategy and process designed to mobilise the Body of Christ in such a way that it is effectively functioning together as a body toward reaching a commonly-held goal that fulfils the biblical vision. The National Initiative encourages, nurtures and facilitates co-operative relationships among existing and developing denominations, congregations, networks, structures, ministries, organisations and other entities. The underlying conviction is that such relational networks will result in a shared vision and in coordinated efforts towards completing the task.”[8]

He travelled for a number of years with his family, meeting people, developing relationships, gathering information which was crucial in assisting in the process of establishing the Namibian Mission Centre from and through which the Disciple Namibia National Initiative was launched and managed as far as I understand it. 

One of the goals of the Mission centre is

To see the establishment of a common held information base that can provide the Body of Christ with accurate, up to date information concerning both the harvest force and harvest field and of the task still to be done

Another goal is “To awaken the Church to actively pray for and participate in the fulfilling of this vision in this country in this generation.”

What is outstanding for me in this process in Namibia is the relationships that were developed.  The level of information sharing was incredible.  Although the information gathered is not generally available, because of trust and confidentiality, it contributed towards understanding the context clearly and to gain an understanding of what issues need to be addressed in order for the church to move forward in unity.  The clear understanding of the context revealed what God was busy doing in Namibia and a process could be facilitated that is synchronized with God’s plan.


A project called Transformation Research Project was launched in the greater Cape Town area in the past year.  This project is done as a joint effort between Transformation Africa and the Unit for Religion and Development Research from the University of Stellenbosch in association with the Church Planting Alliance and DAWN Africa.[9] 

With a number of challenges facing the Church like crime, HIV/Aids, poverty, unemployment, lack of accessible information on community level, competition between churches, business and social structures and no common vision and strategy, there was a need for understanding the problems in the Cape Town Metropolitan area.  This project was started to understand the context and to address these challenges.  By dividing the whole metropolitan area of Cape Town into smaller municipal areas, they started to implement a research process by researching/investigating these areas, one by one.  The different communities are involved in the process and the mere gathering of the information is already having an impact on the people involved, preparing them for informed ministry in their communities.

The purpose of this research project is to

  • Identify the major challenges facing the church in a specific area
  • Quantify these factors (What and where)
  • Establish the potential impact of the church on the community

The process in each area starts with visits to fraternals, planning sessions, launching of the project, GPS location of all the places of worship and influence, needs analysis.  Through all these processes different layers of information are created in a database to be used in reports.  With this information feedback and coordinated strategizing are done.  As already mentioned the community, making use of Participatory research processes, does this.  This project is done in close cooperation between the Church, Business and Government in every area and these partnerships on local levels, not only has the possibility to transform the community in all its spheres but is already impacting the societies because people started to uncover the truth about their communities. 

The expected research results

  • Clear and available research results
  • United and measured action toward priority needs
  • Sustainable people’s movement (Grassroots networks to meet basic felt needs)
  • Empowerment of all role players

This gathered information is put on very nice electronic maps, used in presentations and is really moving people in these specific areas into more coordinated effective outreach.  As indicated already this is moving not only the church but is moving the whole community into action where the church starts to live out its mission effectively.  Through this, the church is able to facilitate a real transformation process, moving from being a mission field towards a mission sending base, where it is not only missionaries involved in far away countries, but everybody getting involved and become a missionary.


Rev Alain Bouwa from Cameroon who is involved with Mission BINAM[10] shared his experience at the Transformations Africa conference in Johannesburg.  For five years they were working hard in reaching out to the Bamiléké people.  They did not have much lasting success within the group.  “We realized we are spending a lot of money and effort with no real effect.  We stopped our work and prayed for two years.  The Lord told us to do research and we started to discover why people are not changing.  What is keeping them from serving God completely and gain victory over their problems and spiritual bondages” [11].  Recently they started to address the issues they had unveiled and discovered through cultural research, with Biblical teachings.  Rev Bouwa testified that they were amazed at the reaction and the spiritual breakthroughs they encountered.  They were able to address the real fears and problems the people.  With this change of focus in the teachings the people were able to break free from the spiritual darkness they were living in.  Reports[12] are already available concerning this people group but a comprehensive research report is still being worked on. 


“In reporting on the impact of the African National Initiatives Consultation in Nairobi early November, Dr Kabachia said “When the Kenya delegation were confronted by lists of un-reached peoples in Kenya, they determined that never again would a Kenyan delegation attend a global consultation to be embarrassed by such lists.”” 

That was the reaction by Dr Kabachia after the presentation of information at GCOWE 1997 during the assembly of the National Initiatives group[13]  Ross Campbell reports in December 1997 that since that meeting, 80 leaders moved forward decisively to give substance to their declaration. 

Although the resolution to penetrate all groups in Kenya was not realised before the year 2000, much progress was made in Kenya towards reaching the un-reached.  That was the result of a statistical report on the status of the church in Kenya.  The mindset of the church in Kenya changed with the presentation of information and they were moved to reach out to the un-reached in that country. 


  • Proper information gathered through research has the power to bring change in communities.  First mobilising those who will do the outreach, secondly those receiving because the real needs will be addressed.
  • There is a growing need for trustworthy information so that wise decisions could be made.
  • Different research approaches (Qualitative and Quantitative) are needed, depending on the context and the need in a specific area.
  • Research in this context need to keep the goal of transformation for the Kingdom in mind and therefore need to be practical in its outcome.
  • Training is needed to empower people to do research.  The process of research is part of preparation for the people who will do outreach.
  • Research is a process and not a mere program or event.
  • A research attitude will provide outreach efforts with crucial information to know how to continue effectively.
  • Research reveals the hidden aspects that we very often miss in normal ministry.
  • A living relationship with the Lord is the place from which all research needs to be done.
  • Research needs to be done in faith, expecting God to show the way forward.
  • Good relationships and cultural sensitivity are crucial to not only obtain information, but also to be allowed to introduce new approaches into given areas and contexts.
  • With good Partnerships organisations and churches are enabled to work together more effectively to address the issues facing Africa. 
  • The issues will be more than the mere identification of the un-reached peoples, but also issues to address the conflicts on the continent, HIV/Aids, corruption and other giants that keep Africa suppressed.



MOVEMENT FOR AFRICAN NATIONAL INITIATIVES or MANI, is an African movement, a network of networks and African National Initiatives, focused on catalysing African National Initiatives and mobilising the resources of the Body of Christ in Africa for the fulfilment of the Great Commission.[14]

MANI is coordinated by a team consisting of a Continental Coordinator and seven Regional Coordinators.  The Team seeks to facilitate the MANI vision at a continental level and works with National Coordinators, Regional and National Church and Missions leaders, Network Coordinators, and Task Force leaders.

This movement was established during a meeting for leaders from Africa in March 2001 when 320 African Christians and leaders from 36 African Countries met in Jerusalem.  During that meeting they celebrated the coming of Christ 2000+ years ago, renewed their pledge to continue to spread the gospel in Africa and beyond, and received a divine mandate to finish the relay race

Common aspects in a National Initiative in a country will be:

  • A visionary and proactive servant leader or leaders
  • A National coordinating Committee
  • Clearly defined measurable goals related to the completing of the Great Commission
  • Initial assessment of both the Harvest Force and Harvest Field
  • Consultations and National Congresses
  • Goal setting and ownership
  • Ongoing research and analysis
  • Widespread participation and cooperation
  • United prayer efforts.

The AD2000 movement played an important role in the development of the MANI movement.  When the AD2000 movement ended, Africa decided not to stop, but to continue with the momentum and the vision that was created.


From the few research examples mentioned above, it is clear that the need for research is not only identified but that research projects are conducted in order to know the real context.

The Joshua project has done a great work during the time of AD 2000.  The Joshua un-reached people groups list provides the church in Africa a baseline to work from and to develop the information available further from that database.  Joshua is working in close partnership with MANI in this regard, assisting with the development of a database to be used in Africa, training in security and sharing lessons learned from their experience over the years.

Although Mission Research in Africa is happening throughout the continent, research focussing on people groups and mission activity is not well co-ordinated.  Within the context of MANI efforts are now on the way to coordinate, centralise and network these efforts.  In some of the MANI regions, research groups exist and function well.  In other regions like Southern Africa, there is still a great need to develop relationships, national initiatives and through that, reliable mission information centres.

Establishing such a central database will enable the continental management team of MANI to draw people group information together and give a better picture of the situation in Africa.  This is for us a very strategic move at this time of the history of the world and the current spiritual developments within Africa.  Part of this picture will be the things that the Church in Africa is doing on indigenous level to spread the Kingdom cross-culturally.

Ross Campbell, as facilitator of this process and involved in Africa in this regard for many years said the following “The places where this process is given away, not trying to be owned and controlled by facilitators, the movement grows.  Where the efforts are to control and own the process in an organisational way, the process is not growing.” 

In the end it is a facilitating role.  Whoever is involved in this process needs to develop relationships, giving authority and power away.  Empowering people to serve one another in reaching out to the un-reached in the world.  That is the challenging issue to establish information centres on country and regional level, really serving the Body as a whole and not merely using information to develop own agendas and ministries.  We are convinced, as we had discussions in Zambia and with leaders from Malawi that in Southern Africa there is a move from and within the African church to develop such resources to be able to network and effectively target un- reached areas with new and God given strategies.


The research will be done on different levels.

The continent is divided into regions, consisting of a number of countries in each region.  The plan is that research information will be handled on a National level, passed on to a Regional level and from there to the Continental level. 

On regional and national level the process will depend on available people, the development of the vision and the context of the nation.  Each country needs to develop the best way of gathering the needed information and to forward it to the Regional centre.

The kind of information gathered will also differ from one area to the next.  For the Continental level there is a need for information as it appears in the Joshua list.  Where are groups, who is reached and un- reached and general outreach activity regarding a specific group. 

On a Regional level more specific information is needed regarding activities.  More detailed information will be gathered in order to better facilitate networking and will also help leaders to strategise better within a nation and within a Region.

Inserv believes that even more detailed research need to be done on national level.  The better information is available about a group or an area, fewer mistakes will be made in the outreach efforts.  Again, people intending to do outreach, will find that getting involved in research before hand, will not only prepare themselves better for the outreach efforts, but will also provide preparation for others coming behind them.

The approach within all these levels can depend on what resources are available in a given context.  That can result in research on a high academic standard and approach, high technology and well trained researchers in specific areas.  We believe there is also a place for the person in the pew, understanding and knowing his surroundings to contribute and be part of the process.  The end goal is not to have all possible data in a central database.  We believe the end goal is to see “…the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14).  Research needs to assist in this process, moving people into prayer and outreach, as they understand the need and discover the places still untouched by the Gospel.


At a WENSA (World Evangelisation Network of South Africa) meeting[15] a Declaration of Intent was drawn up and signed by those attending.  Point number 4 of this Declaration read;

“We commit ourselves to serve the local church and mission agencies with ongoing research, sharing of information regarding trends in, and the status of evangelisation in South Africa and globally, and seeking to equip the Body of Christ in South Africa to become strategically involved in the process of doing mission”

Through a Research Network in South Africa of which Inserv is a part, Inserv will be involved in accomplishing this goal of WENSA.

Inserv was also requested by MANI to facilitate the research and information gathering process in Southern Africa.  This is a challenge for us as an indigenous, South African, faith based organisation.  We have the desire to see Africa develop its full potential in fulfilling the Great Commission.

In order to achieve this as part of the MANI process as well as fulfilling the intention of WENSA , the following plan has been developed for Southern Africa

The Goal;

Provide accurate and ongoing information to identify, affirm, motivate, mobilize and network Christian leaders towards the vision of reaching the least evangelised in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, St Helena, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe

 Under this goal 6 objectives are envisaged. 

  1. Verifying and updating the existing data in the Joshua un- reached people group list.
  2. Identifying other un-reached groups within these countries according to geographical, social and linguistic categories
  3. Identify and determine the status of development and involvement of indigenous missions in the targeted countries
  4. Gather models of indigenous missionary endeavours that can be used to mobilize , motivate and learned from
  5. Dissemination of updated information in order to assist churches and organizations to mobilize and strategize in reaching the un -reached.
  6. Establish an ongoing research, analysis and information function to provide the Body of Christ with accurate, up-to-date information of Harvest force and Harvest field information


A new and fresh understanding of mission is developing in Africa regarding taking responsibility for the needed role of fulfilling the Great Commission.  The realization is that in order to accomplish this task, updated and relevant information is needed that can affirm, motivate and mobilize the Church is Africa.  Much research is done and information is available.  These efforts need to be coordinated to be of better value to countries, regions and the Continent.  With the MANI process we believe this can and will contribute towards moving the African church forward into effective outreach, not only to the un-reached areas, groups or classes in Africa, but also to places of need in the rest of the World.

As we proceed with small steps, gathering information, training and strategising for identified needs, we continue to remember the process on National, Regional, Continental and even Global level.


Dr Reuben Ezemadu quoted Dr Andrew Walls and commented:

Dr Walls:

               “The Christian advance in the world is “serial” and that in the providence of God, “it is the Christians of Africa, and Asia and Latin America and the Pacific that are next in the series…”

Dr Ezemadu Comment:

                “It means that the Christians of the southern continents are now the representative Christians, the people by whom the quality of the 21st and 22nd century Christianity will be judged, the people who will set the norms, the standard. And the quality of the 21st century Christianity will depend on them.”


…ISAIAH 60:1

By Willie Botha, (Inserv, South Africa).  Presented at the Fourth International Lausanne Researchers Conference held in Cyprus (10 – 14 April 2019).

[1] Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission. Pg 302

[2] Verkuyl in Bosch, 1991, Transforming Mission  (Reflecting on missionary motives and identify impure motives viz Imperialistic, Cultural, Romantic, Ecclesiastical colonialism.) pg 5

[3] Johnstone, Patrick and Mandryk, Jason. 2001. Operation World.21st Century Edition  pg 24

[4] Bosch, D.J. 1991. Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in Theology of Mission. Pg 368 – 510

[5] Patrick Johnstone. 2001. Operation World, 21 st Century Edition, pg 22, 26.

[6] Dr Dean Carlson  Zimbabwe National Evangelism Task  Gaining Ground in the Discipling of Zimbabwe

The Target 2010 Movement

[7] Dr Dean Carlson:  target 2000 & Beyond: the impact of SATURATION CHURCH PLANTING on the discipling of ZIMBABWE.  a dissertation submitted to the faculty of the School of Intercultural Studies fuller theological seminary

[8] Hein van Wyk, Disciple Namibia 2000 National Initiative, Progress Report March 2002,

[9] Information from presentation by Karl Teichert presented to a group of researchers at Transformations Africa consultation, February 2005.

[10] Mission BINAM association is a non-profit Cameroonian indigenous evangelical missionary agency whose objective is to envision, to mobilise, to equip and to foster the missionary implication of individuals organisations and churches in Bamiléké villages of Western Cameroon. Their highest priority is to serve local churches in un-reached villages.

[11] Transformations Africa Consultation held in Johannesburg, South Africa, Febr 2005. 150 church leaders met to prepare for the continental day of prayer for Africa on the 15th of May.  A group of people involved in research at that meeting met to share and network.

[12] http://www.missionbinam.org/e_newsletter/e_newsletter_fevrier_2005.htm

[13] Ross Campbell: Report from Kenya – Finish the task 2000 Dec 1997  http://www.ad2000.org/re71208.htm.

[14] From document drawn up by Ross Campbell, African National Initiatives: Toward completing the Great Commission in every Nation.  Explains the Vision, Mission and Goals of National Initiatives and MANI

[15] WENSA is a network of networks in South Africa.  The meeting was a Mission leaders consultation held in November 2005 in Pretoria, discussing the way forward for missions in South Africa and much emphasis were put on the Black and White church working together in fulfilling the Great Commission.