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IMB workers celebrate 600,000 overseas baptisms, engage 131 unreached groups

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–The Gospel began making inroads this past year among 131 people groups that previously had little or no access to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, International Mission Board trustees were told during a Nov. 16-17 meeting in Oklahoma City.

The trustees also heard a report of more than 600,000 overseas baptisms, adopted a $283.1 million budget for 2005 and set an example for all Southern Baptists by personally pledging $88,396 to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.

Southern Baptist missionaries and their overseas Baptist partners engaged 163 people groups for the first time during 2003, said Gordon Fort, the board’s vice president for overseas operations. Of those, 131 unreached groups — representing 152 million souls — had virtually no access to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ.

International Mission Board workers also reported that 607,132 believers were baptized, a net increase of 97,973 (19.2 percent). Just last year the number of baptisms passed 500,000 for the first time.

The total number of congregations worldwide reached 99,495, a net increase of 15,480 (18.4 percent) over the previous year. That growth was fed by 21,028 new Baptist congregations, an increase of 4,428 (26.7 percent). Of those new churches, 16,891 were produced by church-planting movements among approximately 50 people groups.

In other categories of the annual report:

— Total outreach groups grew to 50,297, a net increase of 3,920 (8.5 percent) over the previous year. That increase was made possible by 9,216 new outreach groups, although that number was down 413 (4.3 percent) from the previous year.

— Overseas church membership climbed another 7.2 percent (498,886) to a total of 7,451,242.

— Bible teaching enrollment increased by 234,318 (6.3 percent) to 3,942,886;

— New believers in discipleship training reached 490,046, an increase of 66,760 (15.8 percent). More than 80 percent of the people baptized this past year were enrolled in discipleship training;

— Church members in discipleship training grew by 156,208 (17.7 percent) to 1,037,985;

— Non-residential leadership training enrollment jumped 29 percent (24,809) to 110,356;

— Residential leadership training recorded an increase of 909 (4.1 percent) to 22,959;

— International missionaries fielded by Baptist partners rose 22.6 percent (351) to a total of 1,901;

— Baptist partner home missionaries totaled 3,920, an increase of 1,595 (68.6 percent). The large increase in this category was partly the result of better application of the correct definition of “home missionary” during the collection of data.

“These numbers provide a snapshot of the amazing way God is moving lost people all over the world to faith in Jesus Christ,” Fort said. “The number of new churches illustrates the serious efforts of our missionaries and Baptist partners to conserve these new believers and extend the Kingdom like glowing candles in the midst of vast spiritual darkness.

“The evangelical world is aware as never before concerning the number of people groups and significant population segments that remain without a Christian witness,” he added. “This gap in global witness gives us a growing sense of urgency. While waiting for a witness, the eternal destiny of lost men and women hangs in the balance.

“We want to sound a trumpet call to Southern Baptists to assemble all the resources necessary to complete the task in this generation. It is my conviction that Southern Baptists are a mission people. They will rise to the incredible global opportunities that God has laid before us.”


Trustee chairman Tom Hatley of Rogers, Ark., challenged board members to adopt a “whatever it takes” attitude toward sending the number of missionaries needed to complete the Great Commission task.

After his election in May, Hatley asked the board’s overseas leadership to estimate how many new missionaries would be required to take the Gospel to the largest people groups that have yet to hear it. In a three-hour, closed-door dialogue Nov. 16, the board’s 11 regional leaders delivered a preliminary report to trustees.

Southern Baptists need to increase dramatically the number of missionaries and funding for international missions — perhaps by as much as 60 percent, Hatley said.

“Working with our Great Commission Christian partners, we can reach all people groups numbering more than 100,000 with the Gospel, and we can do it in years, not decades,” Hatley said. “God has provided the resources, the technology and the ability to travel. We are at a point of opportunity never before seen.

“We need to let our brothers and sisters know the size of the task that remains and that it can be achieved in the next few years,” Hatley said. “This is not a goal; it is a mandate given to us by our Lord.”


The trustees also adopted a 2005 budget of $283.1 million that represented an increase of $7.1 million over the total budget for 2004. The revenue plan anticipates receiving $99.6 million from Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program giving channel and $150 million from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

The spending plan allocates $243.8 million to overseas operations, an increase of more than $20.3 million (9.1 percent) over 2004. The $37.7 million allocated to stateside administration and promotion represents an increase of $2.2 million over 2004 but amounts to a decrease as a percentage of the total budget (13.7 percent to 13.3 percent).

The overseas portion of the budget includes $47 million dedicated to fostering church-planting movements, the rapid multiplication of new congregations among a people group. The budget also includes $1.5 million for support of “global personnel,” a new category that covers missionaries temporarily assigned to stateside tasks, such as “missions personalizers” who help churches understand the missions challenge and opportunity they face.


As Southern Baptists prepare to give their 2004 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the trustees set an example by making their personal pledges to the campaign.

With 69 of the 85 trustees reporting, the pledges totaled $88,396, an average of $1,281 per trustee. When all trustees have returned their pledges, the total is expected to well surpass the $100,214 they pledged in 2003.

Trustee Bo Graves of Haysville, Kan., also presented a $145,000 check for the offering on behalf of the Heart of Kansas Baptist Association in Wichita. The check represented proceeds from a sale of property that the churches in the association wanted to contribute to overseas missions.

During the 2004 Week of Prayer, Nov. 28-Dec. 5, Southern Baptists will focus on God’s promise of power that transforms even the most ordinary believer into a bold and effective witness. This year’s theme — “That All Peoples May Know Him” — emphasizes the wave of divine power that is drawing unprecedented numbers of Southern Baptists into overseas service and sweeping multitudes into the Kingdom of God.

The national goal for this year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $150 million — every penny of which will be used to send missionaries and support their ministries. The International Mission Board relies on the Lottie Moon offering for 51 percent of its annual income.


Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch praised International Mission Board missionaries and their leadership for a focus on bringing lost souls to Christ that would result in more than 600,000 baptisms in a single year.

“Thank you for making soul winning your No. 1 priority,” Welch said. “You set a great standard and pace for the churches of this convention. When you keep on that track, God is going to bless you.”

In October, Welch completed a 50-state bus tour in which he rallied support for his “Everyone Can … Witness, Win and Baptize” campaign for Southern Baptists to baptize one million people in 2005.

Welch is pastor of First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he co-founded the FAITH Sunday School evangelism strategy, which is widely used by churches across the Southern Baptist Convention. More than 8,000 pastors and thousands of church groups have been trained in the program.

The next meeting of IMB trustees will be Jan. 24-26 in Richmond, Va. A missionary appointment service will be Jan. 25 at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Colonial Heights, Va.

    About the Author

  • Mark Kelly