As a child of the 80’s, I grew up enamored with baseball cards. It was an era where collecting was at an all-time high and cards were overproduced in massive quantities, drastically reducing their value. Like most kids, I never collected baseball cards to make money, I collected them because it was fun, it was the thrill of opening a pack to find your favorite players. I still recall my first pack I ever bought, a 1986 Sportflics. I still get nostalgic when I see the wood-grained borders of 1987 Topps cards! It was through this early childhood hobby that I developed a love for numbers. Years before the instant encyclopedia known as the internet came along, boys like me would study the back of a baseball card and get lost in a world where each number was a strikeout, a homerun, or a stolen base. It was then at the young age of 10 years old that I fell in love with numbers. Today, as a father of three and a lifelong baseball fan, I still love numbers. I don’t buy cards in bunches like I once did as a child, but I still hold on to the sense that each number and statistic actually represents someone’s personal story. Whether you’re dealing with statistics in sports, analyzing financial data for your corporation, or mobilizing mission teams around the world to serve, numbers paint pictures and help us understand the stories that hide behind them.
I have spent the past 11 years working for Lipscomb Missions and I can still lose myself in the spreadsheets and statistics of our mission teams. On those days I am reminded that our numbers tell a story with a more far-reaching impact than RBIs or ERAs. Our numbers tell stories about people discovering the love of Christ for the first time; stories about someone drinking clean water in their village. These numbers tell stories where a child receives hope for a better tomorrow or a family finds a better place to rest their head at night. So, as you take the next few minutes to look at the back of our baseball card, I hope you see the stories that I see, too.
Teams Mobilized: 51
By the time our final summer team comes home in mid-August, we will have sent a record 51 teams to serve in 2014. Our teams have been spread out over winter break, spring break and summer. Our teams have ranged in size from 4 to 43. Our teams have served on the ground from 7 to 31 days. Some of our teams have been discipline-specific in engineering, business, nursing and pharmacy, while others have been entirely comprised of athletes or veterans. Although it varies by trip, every team has a specific purpose for going to serve their host partner and an unlimited number of stories to share when they return home. Of our 51 teams who have stories to share, nearly 20 of them have been serving in location for over a decade, while many others are inching towards that mark. When we come alongside a host partner, we want them to know we will stand in the trenches with them for the long-haul.
People Mobilized: 795
By the time our final summer team comes home in mid-August, we will have mobilized 795 people in 2014, another record for Lipscomb Missions. This overall participation is an increase of 17% from 2013. Out of these nearly 800 people, only 60% of them are traditional undergraduate students. The remaining 40% come from faculty, staff, alumni, grad students and friends of Lipscomb. On average we will have 75 alumni come back year after year, simply to serve alongside their alma mater. We will have 100+ “friends of Lipscomb” – many of whom are local church members or area professionals in their field. None of these people are obligated or given special benefits to serve with us; they are just people whose stories include loving, mentoring and discipling our students as they serve alongside them.
Last fall, as the new freshman class was arriving on campus, the university included a few missions questions on a survey that they conduct annually. We were humbled that 48% of the freshmen said that the opportunity to serve with Lipscomb Missions impacted their decision to come here for college. We were overwhelmed that 76% of the freshmen said they plan to serve on a Lipscomb mission trip during their time on campus. The most encouraging data is that these freshmen did not just check a box on a survey, they actually did it. Out of the 469 students who served on our trips in 2014, we had a record 147 freshmen, which was 56 more than in 2013. As we prepare to welcome the incoming class of freshmen in just a few days, we are excited about many of them becoming part of this story!
Retention: 92% & Graduation Participation: 52%
In higher education, it’s all about retention and graduation rates. Keep them long enough to graduate, and they will become energized alumni and irreplaceable donors. But at Lipscomb, we want our students to walk away with so much more than a piece of paper and a career, we want them to leave our campus sharing a story of how God shaped them into a man or woman who lives out the Gospel of Christ. Although our primary function is to mobilize mission teams, our purpose is much greater. Through our collaboration with the Office of Institutional Research, we have found that 92% of Lipscomb Missions student participants return to the University the following year. This is a substantial bump from Lipscomb’s average, which usually hovers around 72%. Students who go on mission trips find community within their teams and friendships that motivate them to not only return to the classroom, but return to the mission field to serve. Of the May 2012 graduating class, 52% of the traditional four-year students went on a mission trip with us at some point during their college career. Whether it is a recruiting tool to get them here, or an effort to get them plugged in to keep them here, it is our hope that they not only come here, but they stay here and serve here.
Team Leaders: 150
It takes a great deal of volunteerism, organization and leadership to send 50+ teams and nearly 800 people a year. We often say that none of it would be possible without the dedication from our team leaders. In 2014 we have been blessed with over 150 team leaders – all of whom are volunteers; doing this simply because they desire to lead others into serving. From the faculty or staff member, who puts in a 50 hour work week, then comes back to campus late at night to facilitate team meetings, to the alumni who can’t get enough of serving with their alma mater and pays their own way – our team leaders are selfless. From the student leader who is taking a full-load and working two part-time jobs to pay their way through school, to the friend of Lipscomb who has no association with the University outside of their involvement with us – our team leaders are dedicated men and women who are passionate about their trips. They will often put in 100+ hours of preparation forming their team, training them on culture, equipping them to effectively fundraise the cost of their mission trip and preparing them for service.
Although I don’t have a stick of gum to offer you (like packs of baseball cards) and I doubt you will print off this article and stick it in the spokes of your bike, we hope that you have a better idea of our story through the numbers we’ve shared. Like in baseball, our records are also meant to be broken. However, we don’t set out each year with this as our priority; we realize that the impact our teams have is immeasurable and invaluable, both for our team members and host partner ministries.