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‘Cause for rejoicing’: SBC missionaries see 500,000 baptisms

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptist missionaries witnessed double-digit increases in eight of their 13 categories of work in 2003, including for the first time more than 500,000 baptisms, trustees of the International Mission Board were told Feb. 3 in Richmond, Va.

While more than 5,000 people groups still have little or no access to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas partners also opened work among 192 new people groups during 2003, said Avery Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas operations.

Those new works included the engagement of 146 unreached people groups with a total population of more than 359 million.

God’s spirit is moving dramatically and people are responding to the Gospel in an unprecedented manner, Willis said.

Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas partners baptized 510,357 believers in 2003, a net increase of 76,838 (17.7 percent) and the first time the number of baptisms has passed a half million.

“That’s a wonderful, wonderful mark,” Willis said. “This is a cause for tremendous rejoicing. God is blessing as we are proving faithful to the vision of bringing all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ.”

The total number of congregations worldwide reached 87,419, a net increase of 15,516 (21.6 percent) over 2002. That growth was fed by 16,721 new congregations, an increase of 8,314 (98.9 percent) over 2002, Willis said. He also noted that the board uses seven criteria distinctive of Baptist churches to ensure that only churches that are Baptist in faith and practice are being reported.

A total of 10,031 outreach groups also were started in 2003, Willis said. While that represented 38 fewer than in 2002, it still brought the total number of outreach groups to 47,103, a net increase of 5,648 (13.6 percent) for the year.

In other categories:

— Overseas church membership surpassed 7.04 million, a net increase of 336,411, for an annual growth rate of 5 percent.

— Bible teaching enrollment increased 182,806 (5.1 percent) to 3.77 million.

— New believers in discipleship training increased 42.8 percent (128,035) to 426,849.

— Church members in discipleship training grew 24.9 percent (180,255) to 894,470.

— Non-residential leadership training enrollment grew by 27,832 (47.8 percent) to 86,059.

— Residential leadership training programs showed a net increase of 557 (2.6 percent) to 22,366.

— The total number of international missionaries fielded by Baptist partners grew at an annual rate of 11.9 percent to 1,523.

— The total number of Baptist partner “home” missionaries dropped by 231 (-9 percent) to 2,339, in part because of better application of the definition of home missionary as someone who goes to a people group other than his own within the same country.

When the number of new congregations is rapidly multiplying in a church-planting movement, leadership training and doctrinal integrity become vital concerns, Willis noted.

Toward that end, the trustees adopted a plan to create three permanent subcommittees to exercise “careful watch-care” over new work. The committees will “review and monitor” efforts in the areas of general administration, leadership development and global strategy and research.

“The idea is that this helps us do our job a little bit better,” said Jay Owens of Roanoke, Va., chairman of the trustees’ overseas committee. “When there are issues to be brought up, we will know where to send them to be reviewed and then brought back to the overseas committee for action.”

In a later session, trustees adopted a motion from the floor directing the overseas committee “to perform routine audits of new IMB church plants and submit an annual report to the board of trustees.”

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  • Mark Kelly