The first question to ask yourself regarding agencies is “Should I join an agency?”
We covered this topic in an article on our corporate site and you can read it here. The short answer is that not everyone needs an agency, but most people benefit from being a part of one. The advantages of emotional and spiritual support combined with accountability and synergy, not to mention the logistical support, usually outweigh the cost and limitations that agencies often require. If you decide to go with an agency, what should you consider in choosing one?
Joining an agency is like buying a pair of good shoes. You should feel a comfortable fit with them, one that will continue to be good over a long period of time.
First, you should consider a faith fit. If you are part of a denomination that has a missionary sending structure, start with them. They are going to reflect and operate within the same beliefs that you have. If your denominational background is more mixed or you are from a non-denominational or interdenominational church, you might find the best fit with an agency that is broader in its doctrinal statement. If there are certain doctrines that you hold strongly to and you feel you could not work well with people who hold an opposite view, make sure that the agency also feels that way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like this with agency representative or missionaries. Having peace in this area is critical to your effectiveness.
Second, you should feel the agency you are joining is a family you want to be part of. Agencies have personalities – some are more serious while some are more fun-loving, and some are adventurous while some are more safety conscious. You want to feel emotionally connected to the people you know in your agency. If you are single, you should look at how your prospective agency relates to singles; if you have a family, how does your prospective agency view marriage and children? Living and working cross-culturally is difficult. You want to do it with people who live life like you do and who understand who you are and where you are going. Talk to missionaries from your prospective agency and ask what their lives are like. There is no better way to get an honest feel for the “family” part of an organization.
Third, you should consider finances. Not all agencies are alike in the ways they handle money. Some agencies are employers (though you still need to raise money for your salary and ministry), while others are organizations that facilitate self-employed workers. There are advantages and disadvantages to both models, so it is important that you find out which system fits best for you. Also, almost every agency has an overhead charge. Some are a set amount, and some use a percentage of money raised. In nearly all cases, the money is used to cover organizational costs, most of which will benefit you as the worker. You should also consider how support requirements are created and what happens if you are under supported in different agencies. Since you will most likely be raising this money, it is important that you agree with how it is put together and how it is used.
Faith, family, and finances are just the start, but they are a good start. If you feel a good fit in these three areas, there is a great chance that agency will be a good fit for you all around.
Finally, pray a lot about this decisions and ask others to join you! Only move forward if you have God’s peace.