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Nigeria church growth highlights ’97 gains overseas, IMB reports

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–To missionary Andy Norman, it
seemed pretty routine. But to Salimatu Jimoh, it made all
the difference in the world.
The young Fulani woman had given birth to two children
but had suffered in her third labor. As is common in
Nigeria, she labored in childbirth too hard for too long in
the bush. By the time she sought medical help, it was too
late. The baby was dead. Tissue in her birth canal and
bladder was destroyed. The smell of leaking urine would make
her an outcast among her own people.
Norman acted as any good doctor would. He fixed her
defect and sent her on her way. But he had won the respect
of her family. They allowed him to visit their village and
to share about his God. Migrant workers there heard the
gospel and asked Norman to visit their homes in distant
The events that unfolded typify the growth of Baptist
work in Nigeria — and worldwide — affiliated with the
Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
Last year, the Nigerian Baptist Convention recorded 627
new church starts — the largest ever reported in a year by
any Baptist convention with whom the IMB works, said Avery
Willis, the board’s senior vice president for overseas
Just a few minutes with any missionary to Nigeria
offers insight in how God uses faithful believers to link
together people, places and events, and grow new
congregations wherever he is drawing seekers to himself.
The IMB’s annual statistics worldwide for 1997 show
continuing growth, as missionaries focus on joining God on
mission. They are working especially hard in responsive
areas called “harvest fields,” and with unreached people
groups in the Last Frontier that have been shut off from
access to the gospel by such forces as religion, culture and
hostile governments.
“There’s no substitute for just going and being
faithful to tell the good news about Jesus,” Norman said.
“We’re continually looking for people who offer us places to
Norman spends Sundays with new congregations,
accompanied by Nigerian Baptist ministry partners —
seminary students and church leaders in training. On weekend
nights, he often shows evangelistic films such as “Jesus” in
areas surrounding Ogbomosho. “There’s a lot of joy in doing
what you’re supposed to be doing — that is taking the word
to those who have not already heard,” Norman said.
Mama Jimoh and her family — and others who have heard
the gospel — are traditional Muslim Fulanis and, while
excited about what they hear, have not accepted Jesus as
Savior yet. But the contacts with the migrant workers —
from another people group — have led to several new
congregations and churches now meeting in different areas of
Nigeria. Countless baptisms have resulted, and church
leaders have begun to emerge.
“The thing that was interesting is that because we were
faithful in taking the gospel to the unreached Fulani
people, God sent other, more responsive people, to us,”
Norman said.
Such efforts paid off last year among the board’s 4,249
missionaries working among 336 people groups in 127
countries. Worldwide, IMB partner groups reported 2,451 new
churches last year. That total number was up by about 3.5
percent from the 2,367 new churches reported the year
Spurred by new growth, the total number of churches
worldwide in groups with which IMB missionaries cooperate
rose by 4.1 percent, to 41,521 — for the first time in
history surpassing the number of stateside Southern Baptist
churches. The number of churches has doubled since 1987.
Other significant indicators of growth on the field are
a continuing upsurge in people enrolled in discipleship
training and a sharp rise in church contributions.
Statistical researchers say both are precursors to future
church growth. Participants in discipleship programs more
than tripled from 1996 to 1997, to 657,988. Total financial
contributions to churches increased from $287 million to
$478 million, a 66 percent jump.
Baptisms and church membership stayed high in 1997.
Membership totals reached 4,112,181 in 1997, less than a 1
percent increase from the year before. Baptisms, at an
average 6.8 per church and one per 14.5 members, totaled
283,100, a decrease of about .2 percent from 1996.

    About the Author

  • Marty Croll