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More With Less?

ByAaron M. Kauffman Aaron Kauffman

Over the past ten years, Virginia Mennonite Missions has more than tripled the number of adult mission workers in assignments of a year or more, from 16 to over 50. And that’s not including the children of those workers (27 and counting!), or the USA church planters and short-term teams we’ve supported.

Meanwhile, our level of staffing to support those workers has remained nearly the same—the equivalent of about 9 or 10 full-time staff. More surprisingly, undesignated contributions—donations given to be used “where needed most”—have actually decreased by about 15%. How is it possible for VMMissions to do more with the same, or even a little less?

One way we’ve expanded our ministry is by partnering in the sending of mission workers with other agencies. A decade ago, my wife Laura and I were among the first to go out as “jointly appointed workers” with VMMissions and Mennonite Mission Network. We had the support and awareness of our home community through VMMissions, as well as access to an arena of ministry where Network had the long-standing relationship. It was a win-win situation, and continues to be for the 40% of our workers in this kind of partnered assignment.

We’ve also increased our capacity by restructuring our staff. In 2011 we moved from a structure in which most staff reported directly to the president and met together to make decisions, to one in which we have four teams, each with its own team leader. Currently, Lynn Suter heads up our International Ministries Team, Skip Tobin leads our USA Ministries Team, Jan Liskey oversees the Support Services Team, and Sherah-Leigh Gerber runs our Advancement Team. Together, those four team leaders meet with me on what we call our Leadership Council. This structure has empowered our staff to make decisions in a more efficient way.

A third crucial change has been in the way we support people in mission assignments. VMMissions used to receive general donations from churches and individuals, which we then divided out among the various ministries we supported. If the total “pot” of funds got stretched thin, we had to make difficult decisions about curtailing ministries. Around the turn of the millennium, we began to transition to a Mission Support Team (MST) model. MSTs are volunteer groups of friends, family and church members who gather around a particular missionary to provide personal and spiritual support, as well as to give leadership to the fundraising task. While some have lamented this change, it has increased our capacity to raise funds by 50%. What a blessing!

The phrase, “more with less,” has expressed the Mennonite values of good stewardship and sustainable living since at least the 1970s, when the cookbook by that name was first published. I am deeply grateful for the creative thinking and volunteer support that have allowed VMMissions to accomplish more with the same, or even a little less, in the past decade. May God continue to grant us wisdom for the years to come.