NASHVILLE (BP) – Paul Chitwood knows the work of the International Mission Board is a team effort. He believes every Southern Baptist can and should play a role in helping to advance the Gospel to the nations.
“We’re the Southern Baptist sending arm to get missionaries around the world and to get the Gospel to those who have yet to hear,” said Chitwood, president of the IMB, “and that requires every church.”
The theme of the 2021 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, Advancing the Kingdom Together, reflects Chitwood’s desire for churches to connect with IMB missionaries in going, sending and giving.
“It’s together that we pray for our missionaries and the lost among the nations and for the Lord to call out more missionaries,” Chitwood said in a video interview  with Baptist Press.
The goal for the 2021 LMCO is $185 million, an increase of 6 percent from 2020, according to the IMB .
“Right now, we have 3,635 missionaries and about 2,700 missionary kids who are living overseas,” Chitwood told BP. “It takes all of us working and giving and praying in order to support them,” he said.
Between 2008 and 2018, the IMB reduced its workforce by 40 percent because of “financial struggles and challenges the IMB was facing,” Chitwood said.
The 30-year downward trend is reversing, though, as the IMB recorded their best financial year on record in 2020, he said. To continue the upward progress, generous giving to the LMCO will be required, as it is the source of nearly 60 percent of the IMB’s annual budget.
“Every penny of the Lottie offering goes to support work and workers on the ground,” Chitwood said.
He said the 10-year decline does not reflect a lack of generosity among Southern Baptists. Instead, he believes it was caused by a lack of relationship between missionaries and local churches. A problem the IMB is addressing.
“One of the unique things we have launched over the course of this past year is what we’re calling our Church Connections Initiative ,” Chitwood said. Through the initiative, every Southern Baptist church will be assigned a missionary for relationship building.
“We can actually cover every church in the Southern Baptist Convention with every missionary unit having 20 churches assigned to them,” he said, adding that believes this will create a personal connection between missionaries and their assigned churches.
As the relationships grow, Chitwood hopes churches will pray for the missionary and continue to grow in their giving. He also hopes to see volunteer teams from the church go work alongside the missionary in the field.
As missionaries and churches grow together, Chitwood believes the cooperative work among Southern Baptists will be strengthened and multiplied.
“If every Southern Baptist, all 14 million of them, gave an extra dollar to the Lottie offering this year, we would more than surpass our financial goals to support 100 new missionaries on the field ever year and over five years we’d have 500 new missionaries,” he said.
The emphasis season and Week of Prayer  for the LMCO is scheduled to begin on Sunday, Nov. 28.