Cultural Research Ideas

Cultural Research Ideas

Part of our mission at CultureLink is to enhance your cross-cultural effectiveness while serving on the field. Cultural research is an important training exercise for your team. You can have the best ministry activities planned but without any cultural understanding or sensitivity, your activities lose their impact. In our curriculum training, we spend time explaining what it means to be cross-cultural and how to incorporate cultural research into your team training. If the idea of cultural research for your mission trip meetings seems intimidating, keep it simple and fun. Here are three ideas to gather information to present to your team or to experience together. You can also check out our Helpful Links page on our website for other resources!

  1. Get books from your library about the country you will be traveling to and have students read about the religious, social, and historical backgrounds. Student groups can then make a creative presentation to the team to act out the information in a fun way.
    cultural research
  2. Search online for local festivals or events that are focused on the people of your host country. Have students takes notes about the differences they observed and if any stereotypes they had changed after attending the event.
    cultural research
  3. Go to a restaurant that serves your country’s food or have it catered to your meeting. Nothing like exposing your team members to what they will be eating on the field before they even get there! This could reveal potential struggles for team members and how they team can prepare to accept this cultural difference in a Christ-like way.

Being prepared to understand and respect your host culture, is invaluable to your team and your host organization. As servants of Christ, we want to be bridge builders. We want to preserve and assist the ministry that is already ongoing in your host country. When the entire team has this mindset, it will help to encourage each other as the encounter cultural differences and have compassion as they serve.

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Sending A Scout Team

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What Should Scout Teams Look For?

In the case of scout teams, you want to get a look at just about every aspect of your new culture. This seems daunting but by breaking it down into a few broad categories, your task will become much more manageable.

In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 of his followers two by two before he visited each area to do his ministry. Their objective was to pray for God’s work; they intentionally left all of their supplies behind. Jesus used this strategy in order to identify where the Lord was working behind the scenes so their ministry was as effective as possible.

Here are some helpful questions to ask and ideas to look for:

  • What are the basic demographics of the community? Is it full of young families or mostly elderly people? Is there a university or college nearby? Do people stay in the community their whole life or do they eventually move away?
  • What is the general religious climate of the community? Locate the places of worship and what the general “schedule” is for practitioners. Is attending religious services a social expectation or is that only valued by a minority of the population? Do most members of the community adhere to one religious system? Do members of different faiths live harmoniously or in conflict with one another?
  • What historical and cultural events have shaped the culture’s worldview? In the United States, we take a linear view of history, while many parts of the world remember history, not by what occurred most recently, but what has the most impact on their lives and culture.
  • What drives the economy? Is it based on agricultural or industrial development? Is it fueled by tourism or technology? Where are the businesses located (do they commute) and who operates them (family owned or large corporations)?
  • What is the attitude towards outsiders, and Westerners in particular? Will they respond positively to the long-term engagement of future teams, or is there a distrust of new people? If a community does not particularly like outsiders and tourists, a small team of mature, culturally sensitive adults may be more effective than forty high school students on a short-term trip.
  • What brings community together? What holidays and festivals are celebrated and when? Do people gather after work or school for socializing? How do people connect through sports, music, or art? Scout teams should also take note of community gathering places: parks, cafés & coffee shops, restaurants & pubs, markets, etc.
  • What are the physical needs and spiritual strongholds? Poverty can express itself in several ways: unemployment, homelessness, lack of education, deficiency in healthcare, or scarcity of food & water. Do communities seem to be plagued by common addictions? What are the primary challenges to the family unit – separated/abandoned spouses, orphaned children, abuse, or criminal activity?
  • Who is God connecting you to relationally? Identify locals that are open to conversation, receptive to your presence, and are willing to connect you with other members of the community. How can you build on these initial relationships?

This list is just a starting point and is by no means comprehensive. The key is to gather more information than you think is necessary. It may not seem like all of the information you are gathering is important in the short-term, but it can be extremely valuable in the long run. The relationships initiated and information gathered by a scout team will greatly benefit the pre-field preparation and on-field ministry of future teams.

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8 Ways to Lead an Ineffective Mission Trip

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Editor’s Note: We’d like to introduce you to Ellen Adkins, a recent graduate of Kennesaw State University with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, who served as our intern during the Spring 2015 semester, and is currently attending Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for her graduate work. She has served in Ireland and the UK, including field site demographic research for the IMB. Ellen attended the “Help! We’re Going On A Short-Term Trip!” seminar in January 2014, when it became obvious she and CULTURELink shared a common passion: enhancing cross-cultural effectiveness through discipleship. Over the next few months, we will be sharing several of the articles she wrote for us during her internship.

8 Ways to Lead an Ineffective Mission Trip

  1. Don’t worry about team selection.

If they are willing and able, let them on the team. Don’t bother with things like background checks or personal references. Hypothetically, yes, you could have an application process, but that would resolve the majority of problems you will encounter on the field. (Refer to Session 1 in your manual.)

  1. Pre-trip training? Nah.

If you really want to make sure your team is ineffective on the field, don’t meet on a regular basis prior to departure. Meet for the very first time at the airport. Team building… preparation… bonding… these are all things that will dramatically increase the effectiveness of your team. (Refer to Session 5 in your manual.)

  1. Put the wants of your team above the needs of the local church.

Wait… aren’t we paying them to host us? The local church you are working with should be grateful that you came at all. If they say go left, go right. You probably know best anyways. If you are concerned about building bridges rather than burning them, then you should consider the needs of the local church before your own. (Refer to Session 3 in your manual.)

  1. Remember how lucky they are to have you.

Remember, you are from the USA. You are there to save them. We have everything that they need. They are lucky to have you. Establish your superiority from the start and reinforce it through out the trip. If you don’t, you may end up being humbled when you see the vastness of our God and his creation. (Refer to Session 3 in your manual.)

  1. Don’t bother with cultural research.

If you want your team to be ineffective, skip this step all together. Better yet, play into the “loud, ugly American” stereotypes. Doesn’t everyone know that they should be more like the United States? Proper research can help ease culture shock and break down cultural barriers. (Refer to Session 2 in your manual.)

  1. Be judgmental about differences.

This may seem like a simple concept, but it’s worth mentioning. Sometimes, judgment looks like a permanent grimace and turned up eyebrow. This is will alert locals that you think they are above them. If you encounter a practice that seems strange to you, don’t ask why the locals do this. By asking the simple question of ‘why?’, you will learn to differentiate between what is actually sinful and what is simply a cultural practice. (Refer to Session 3 in your manual.)

  1. Sweep conflict under the rug.

If you should have a disagreement with a missionary or teammate, allow it to fester. Rather than deal with the issue and make amends, grab a match and burn that bridge. There is nothing like clear and open communication to make a team more effective.(Refer to Session 5 in your manual.)

  1. Focus on what you don’t have.

It’s hot. There’s no air conditioning. The locals don’t show up anywhere on time. Keep your eyes focused on the small, petty discomforts and annoyances. This will keep your eyes away from what God is doing around you and off of what He is doing in your heart. (Refer to Session 3 in your manual.)

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Find Your Inner Anthropologist

find your inner anthropologist

Editor’s Note: We’d like to introduce you to Ellen Adkins, a recent graduate of Kennesaw State University with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, who served as our intern during the Spring 2015 semester, and is currently attending Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for her graduate work. She has served in Ireland and the UK, including field site demographic research for the IMB. Ellen attended the “Help! We’re Going On A Short-Term Trip!” seminar in January 2014, when it became obvious she and CULTURELink shared a common passion: enhancing cross-cultural effectiveness through discipleship. Over the next few months, we will be sharing several of the articles she wrote for us during her internship.

Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.
—Lao Tzu

When you think of an anthropologist, you may conjure up images of Indiana Jones running through ancient tombs in search of hidden treasure. Or perhaps you think of grey-haired academics tromping through the steaming jungles to study obscure cultures. In actuality, anthropology is simply the study of humans, past and present.

While anthropology is not traditionally a field that views missionaries kindly, there is much that we can learn from anthropologists. Anthropology can bring us to a better understanding of cross-cultural situations; it can help us relate to people from other cultures, and it may aid in the communication of the gospel to a global audience.

The following are anthropological principles to apply to your life as a missionary:

  1. Immerse yourself in the lives of others.

Jesus did just this. He moved from heaven and joined humankind. It’s not enough to merely observe a group of people from a distance. You must participate in their lives. Move into the neighborhood you are trying to reach. Eat their food. Celebrate with them. Actively participate in their culture.

  1. Learn the language.

Learning the language of your host culture is much more than just a necessary evil or a missiological fad. At the very birth of the Church, God performed a miracle in which each person heard the wonders of God in a language that penetrated his heart. Even more astonishing is that all of these people spoke a common trade language. The lesson? The gospel penetrates most when spoken in the language in which people dream, love, hope, and hurt. Even if most people in your host culture speak English, it’s still a good idea to learn, to some extent, their native language. You will be shocked at how something as simple as saying hello to a shopkeeper in his own language can break down barriers.

  1. Embrace cultural differences.

In the book of Revelation, we get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like. It is comprised of people of every nation, tribe, and language. This image is not one of cultural uniformity. Rather, it is a picture of vast diversity that is amazingly unified. Only God can accomplish this! The oddities and quirks of a culture that you may find frustrating may be the very thing that delights God and brings Him glory.

  1. Identify a starting place.

God is at work in people’s lives long before we ever arrive on the scene. Do not believe that you are bringing God to a place He has never been before. Our goal is not to bring God to the people; rather, it is to open our eyes to see where God is already at work. As you form relationships with those who are not yet believers, look for ways in which Jesus is already working in their lives—then identify it as such. Find aspects of their everyday lives and culture that enable you to make them aware of the living God’s love for them and His activity in their lives.

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Three Things to Remember When Crossing Cultures

it's not you, it's me

Editor’s Note: We’d like to introduce you to Ellen Adkins, a recent graduate of Kennesaw State University with a degree in Cultural Anthropology, who served as our intern during the Spring 2015 semester, and is currently attending Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY for her graduate work. She has served in Ireland and the UK, including field site demographic research for the IMB. Ellen attended the “Help! We’re Going On A Short-Term Trip!” seminar in January 2014, when it became obvious she and CULTURELink shared a common passion: enhancing cross-cultural effectiveness through discipleship. Over the next few months, we will be sharing several of the articles she wrote for us during her internship.

Three Things to Remember When Crossing Cultures

Crossing cultures is full of highs and lows. Everyone handles the challenges of crossing cultures differently. The emotions people experience are what we call “culture shock.” There are different phases of culture shock. Some shut down entirely; many romanticize the new culture, while others desperately cling to what they know as “normal.” One of the biggest temptations people experience when serving in a cross-cultural setting is the temptation to think that your own culture is the measure of what is “normal” or “right” and that anything that deviates from it is “wrong.”

It’s easy to embrace this mindset. When you cross cultures, you are stretched far outside your comfort zone. Customs and social norms may be radically different than what you are used to. Churches in your host culture will most likely be different than church in a western, American context. These are all difficult things to wrestle with as you enter into a cross-cultural setting. Using your own culture as the standard of “normal” can reinforce cultural barriers and damage your relationship with locals.

As you embark on a short-term mission trip, here are three things to remember in order to help identify your role in the new culture.

1. You are the foreigner.
If ever there’s a time to apply the cliché, “It’s not you, it’s me,” it’s when you cross cultures. The moment you step off of the airplane, you are the foreigner. It is not they who eat, talk, drive, or live differently. You are different. You are a guest in their culture, and that should not be taken lightly. As a guest, be conscious of how you speak. Show appreciation. In general, just behave!

2. Approach as a learner.
As a student, study and learn from your host culture. Ask questions! If there are customs or traditions that seem peculiar to you, ask a national or missionary about it. You may realize that the reason you find a certain behavior or practice off-putting is simply because you do not know the reasoning behind it.

3. Serve with humility.
When Jesus sent out His followers, He said, “As my Father is sending me, so I am sending you.” Jesus is our example for cross-cultural engagement. He spent time with prostitutes and lepers, washed the feet of His disciples, and died on a cross in between two thieves. Look at how Paul addresses the church in Philippians 2. As you go into the world, may you take on the mindset of Christ and be willing to crucify yourself. Learn to see people of different nations, tribes, and tongues the same way that Christ sees them.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:3–11

For more on this topic, see the article entitled “Building Bridges” from Session 3 in your Team Member Manual.

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Your Hobby is Their Career

Your Hobby is Their Career

Let’s do some math together.
The hypothetical timeline of a Christian worker in an unreached or under-reached area of the world.

  • 4 years of Bible college.
  • 3 years of seminary.
  • 2 years of raising support.
  • 1 year of learning the language.
  • 2 years of meeting in cafes and parks, building relationships, until the first convert.
  • 2 years of discipling a half-dozen Christians in their homes.
  • 2 years of building up a house church to a group of 25-30 people.
  • 6 months to pray for and identify a potential national pastor.
  • 18 months to train and disciple the national pastor.
  • 2 years of serving alongside the national pastor as they begin planting other churches, when it’s time for the Christian worker to move to a new area to start a new church-planting movement.

The total…20 YEARS!!!

culturelink missions life work photo

Local pastors and missionaries need short-term teams they can trust. They need servants who are willing to submit to the long-term vision, not their own short-term agendas.

Much goes into preparing for a team’s arrival, but infinitely more has gone into their day-to-day ministry before they ever agreed to host a team. And their ministry will, Lord-willing, continue long after a team leaves.

Short-term teams, leaders, and their sending churches/organizations must tread carefully and humbly. You are walking into someone else’s life-work.

Your hobby is their career.

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Celebrating 1000

At our Blacksburg, VA class this past weekend, we marked the training of our 1000th short-term mission team leader since CULTURELink was founded in July of 2010. Say hello to Christen and Nathan from New Covenant Church in Hampton, VA, our 1000th and 1001st students!

1000 Alumni

We are humbled that 1022 servants have now completed our CULTURELink seminar, Help! We’re Going on a Short-Term Trip! From the reports these alumni have brought back to CULTURELink, scores of cross-culturally trained and spiritually discipled teams have been deployed to at least 112 nations around the world!

CultureLink Total Impact Map - small

Join us in celebrating God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His mission through CULTURELink: making disciples of those who will make disciples of all nations. Since 2010, we have witnessed God’s faithfulness as CULTURELink was launched, new curriculum was published, and more doors are opened to equip the body of Christ to reach the world for Him. Also, thank Him for the new international doors He is opening to our ministry in Kenya, Romania, Albania, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Greece.

As we celebrate the milestone of investing in 1000 trained leaders, the staff and Board of Directors invite you to invest in the next 1000 leaders and upcoming opportunities around the globe. As we urge in the seminar, ask God if CULTURELink is a ministry through which He wants to credit your account through your gifts (Philippians 4:17). CULTURELink is a healthy, accountable ministry; your investment will help us train more servants, develop more resources, and reach the world for Jesus Christ.

Please consider celebrating this milestone with us by giving a one-time gift or joining forces with CULTURELink for the long haul as a monthly partner.

To invest, go to or mail a check to:

PO Box 6623
Marietta, GA 30065

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February Report & March Update

Dear CULTURELink Family,

When I was growing up, my grandmother would often say, “Too much, too much, too
much.” This was her response on Christmas mornings. This is how she would react on her
birthdays. I remember taking her with my college friends and me to a show at The Fox
Theatre, followed by dinner at The Varsity. When I dropped her off at home at the end of
the evening, she said, “Too much, too much, too much.”

Behind those comments actually lay a heart of gratitude: gratitude for family, gratitude for
generosity, gratitude for the gift of time, and gratitude for God’s amazing blessings.

As I write this update, all I can say is, “Too much, too much, too much.”

February ended strongly. We completed more seminars. I could send you many comments
about how individual churches and ministries have been impacted through your support,
but it really wouldn’t translate accurately. Suffice it to say, God’s blessing on February was

March has come in with a vengeance. I am speaking 17 times this month—TOO MUCH.
One speaking engagement that has already taken place was a 16-hour seminar at First
Baptist Church of Woodstock. I’m also grateful to have the opportunity to disciple 400
college students that will be spending their spring breaks serving people in the inner city
through the outreach ministry of the Atlanta Dream Center. This month I will be at the
Dream Center two days a week teaching on cross-cultural servanthood, having a Biblical
worldview, and gaining a vision for a global life.

This week we completed training the second group of college students. This experience
has been so rewarding—and you have been a part of it. In addition, Karen is leading a Bible
study each Monday in March for the women on the Dream Center staff. Afterward, she
cooks lunch for about a hundred students that have come to serve. TOO MUCH!

All this to say: we are grateful that there is too much ministry … too much in the way of
opportunities … too much blessing from God … too much gratitude in our hearts for your
partnership … too much, too much, too much.

Thank you for continuing to invest in the lives of individuals, churches, and the nations.
Your special gifts and ongoing support is TOO MUCH!


Larry Ragan

Tax deductable gifts may be made to:

By Mail:

PO Box 6623
Marietta, GA 30065

Or online, here.

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And we’re off… (January 2012 Update)

Dear CULTURELink Partners,

As January began, we hit the ground running. In just two weekends, we trained 115 leaders and retrained 12 CULTURELink alumni. February brings another class, and two more are scheduled in March and May. That makes a total of five this spring!

In addition to the seminars and other speaking engagements already on the calendar, January brought us another unique opportunity. In the 2012 Atlanta class, a representative from an inner-city ministry called The Atlanta Dream Center attended our CULTURELink seminar. This person is responsible for receiving over 70 teams from across the United States —1200 people each year—for short-term mission trips to Atlanta. These teams will be conducting prostitute rescue, feeding programs, children’s ministry, and many other activities.

This young man left our seminar in Atlanta saying, “While I cannot guarantee that every team will come to Atlanta prepared and discipled, I can make sure that while they are here they are trained, discipled, and equipped.”

With his desire as a catalyst, I have begun working with The Atlanta Dream Center staff on a weekly basis to prepare them to properly receive short-term missionaries. In March, we will field test a “receiving” discipleship program. During March alone, I will have the privilege to speak eight different times to 300 college students that will come to Atlanta to serve with the Dream Center. We have also planned special devotional, debriefing, and life application sessions for these short-term missionaries. Please pray for The Atlanta Dream Center staff and me as we prepare to take this ministry deeper and hope for long-term life change in each student that comes to Atlanta in March.

Thank you, as always, for being a part of CULTURELink.

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Video Testimony – Adili Kea

Adili Kea works with The Atlanta Dream Center (Atlanta, GA) receiving short-term mission teams to work in the inner city. Before moving to Atlanta, Adili was a national missionary in his home country of Kenya. He shares how CultureLink’s cross-cultural training would benefit ministry in both settings.

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