Why does OMF do Mission Research?

OMF International traces its history to 25 June 1865 when James Hudson Taylor, after hearing a particularly stirring sermon, removed himself from the church meeting to wrestle with the sad reality that more than a thousand English Christians could gather to enjoy a sermon while millions of Chinese were dying without a knowledge of Jesus.

As he sought the Lord on Brighton Beach, Taylor realized that God was calling him to start the China Inland Mission. He prayed that day for “24 willing, skilful laborers” who would go in pairs to each of the eleven provinces of China with no Protestant missionaries and to Mongolia.


​​​​​​​The book that preceded the prayer

While that prayer is legendary, few realize that in the preceding months Taylor had been researching a book that he would publish as China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims. In this book, he challenged readers to consider the geographical size and population of the great Asian empire in comparison to its exceedingly small Christian witness. And after demonstrating that “MUCH, very much more must be accomplished before our Saviour’s command to preach the gospel,”[1] is fulfilled, he brought his statistics home by asking his readers, “are you quite sure it is not your duty to carry the gospel to these perishing ones?”[2]

The impact of this book on its readers was phenomenal. Many responded to its integration of statistics and earnest pleading by joining the CIM and other mission agencies. More were challenged to pray for the unreached and the missionaries. This publication of mission research became one of the nineteenth century’s most influential books on mission to China.

OMF mission research today

Following in Taylor’s footsteps, OMF’s Mission Research Department engages in and facilitates research to benefit the Mission and the larger Christian world. OMF mission research has five important functions:

  1.  Reflect upon historical and contemporary mission research and trends to ensure that OMF’s vision and practice are in line with biblical principles. We inform OMF leadership and members of ideas and practices that could benefit our work and alert them of others that, while trendy, may not be ultimately helpful.
  2.  Respond to specific research questions raised by OMF’s directors and missionaries. Only research that responds to real concerns will be relevant to missionaries on the ground.
  3.  Network with others to ensure that sound missiological ideas and relevant practices become widely known and to connect people to help match needs to others with potential solutions. A major context for networking is the OMF research consultation held every three years.
  4.  Publish quality research for the sake of field workers, teachers and students of mission, and people engaged in mission through local congregations or other agencies. Our journal, Mission Round Table, is published three times per year. Articles are written by academic theologians and reflective mission practitioners to help those serving to better understand their task, provide them with skills needed to fulfill it, and guide mission leaders as they formulate policy and direct resources.
  5.  Oversee the OMF Library and OMF Archives located in Singapore. The library of approximately 4000 books, theses, and journals helps us keep up with world missions and provide materials for ongoing scholarship. Our archives preserves our historical documents, photos, and artifacts as a source for research.
  6.  Visit workers in various countries to learn about the kinds of ministries and needs for other workers. We also listen to stories of work done and issues of concern faced that can be published in Mission Round Table for reflection by the wider mission community.

Since the publication of that influentual book, ever increasing numbers of people have no opportunity to hear the gospel. Mission research remains a critical means to motivate people to join the work of mission and give direction to prayer for mission. As we join Christ in building his church, OMF mission research will continue to research and announce the spiritual need and claims of East Asia’s people so that others will join the task. Are you sure that it’s not your duty?

Walter McConnell
Head of Mission Research
OMF International


Crossing the Atlantic: how mission research helped expand CIM

Discover how the impact of “China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims” crossed the Atlantic and led to the sending out of the first North American CIM missionaries in 1888.

Read “The First North American China Inland Mission Party”


[1] J. Hudson Taylor, China’s Spiritual Need and Claims, 5th ed. (Hutchings and Crowsley, 1884), 17.

[2] Taylor, China’s Spiritual Need, 36.


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