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International missions gains in 2000 reflect ‘how big God is,’ leader says

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–God continued to astonish Southern Baptist workers with phenomenal growth in overseas baptisms and church starts last year.

“God is at work and he is giving us the privilege of joining him in astounding ways,” said International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin in reporting missions gains during 2000.

Last year 6,520 new churches were established, an increase of 37.4 percent over the 1999 figure of 4,748. In addition, 451,301 people were baptized, an increase of 24.1 percent over 1999’s 363,703.

But even with the jumps in statistics, Rankin warned against getting lost in the numbers.

“These are not just numbers or massive global reports,” he said. “These are actual individuals who have been brought into the kingdom of God.”

The exponential growth in baptisms and church starts is a relatively recent development for the International Mission Board, he added. Historically, the board has recorded incremental growth rates of 1 percent or 5 percent a year.

“For many years, we were satisfied with the incremental growth,” Rankin said. “For baptisms to reflect a 24.1 percent increase this year is amazing.

“It just shows how big God is.”

The astounding growth in baptisms and church starts is just one example of how God is blessing Southern Baptist work overseas. Other points of comparison include:

— Total members: 5.6 million members in churches with which IMB workers are affiliated, a 14.4 percent increase over the 4.9 million reported in 1999.

— Total churches: 60,988 congregations with which IMB workers are affiliated, a 16.7 percent increase over 1999’s 52,186 churches.

— New outreach groups: 3,682 new outreach groups (formerly called preaching points) brought the total number of outreach groups to 38,294, a .2 percent decrease from the previous year’s 38,363.

— Bible teaching: 3.15 million people involved in Bible teaching, a 15.3 percent increase from the 2.7 million reported in 1999.

— New believers in discipleship: a 62.6 percent increase was recorded, bringing the total number to 461,901 over 1999’s 284,038.

— Leadership training: 30,366 people enrolled in non-residential programs, a 46 percent increase over 20,802 in 1999; 17,975 enrolled in residential programs, a 40.8 percent decrease from 30,353 in 1999.

— Missionaries sent out by Baptist partners: 2,690 home missionaries, a 1.2 percent decrease from 2,726 in 1999; 1,383 international missionaries, a 5.6 percent increase from 1,317 in 1999.

Another indicator of God’s activity overseas is the overwhelming number of volunteers who went on mission last year. In 1975, when Southern Baptists set a goal of giving everyone in the world an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel by 2000, one objective was to multiply by 10 times the number of volunteers serving overseas.

But God surpassed the visionaries’ dreams.

Instead of sending the projected 10,000 volunteers in 2000, a total of 30,512 Southern Baptists participated in overseas missions projects through the International Mission Board last year.

The way God’s work outstripped 1975’s goals explains why Rankin doesn’t like to project missions results.

“It is not within our ability to project how many new churches will be started, especially as church planting movements take it far beyond our level of involvement,” Rankin said. “It would be an insult to God to presume to identify how many new believers would be won to faith in Christ and baptized.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at https://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MISSIONARIES AT WORK, BEGINNING A CHURCH, RIVER BAPTISM, THEOLOGICAL TRAINING and VOLUNTEERS ON MISSION.

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  • Brittany Jarvis