IMB Workers Celebrate 600,000 Overseas Baptisms

Board members of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board were recently challenged to adopt a "whatever it takes" attitude toward sending the number of missionaries needed to complete the Great Commission task. At a Nov. 16-17 meeting in Oklahoma City, trustee Chairman Tom Hatley of Rogers, Ark. said that Southern Baptists needed to increase dramatically the number of missionaries and funding for international missions—perhaps by as much as 60 percent.

"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 during a three-hour, closed-door dialogue on Nov. 16. "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."

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

"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."

During the meeting, IMB 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Other news listed in the annual report included the following:

- 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.”

Southern Baptist Convention President Bobby Welch, who last month completed a 50-state bus tour as part of a campaign for Southern Baptists to baptize one million people in 2005, praised IMB 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 number one 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 addition to the report of the more than 600,000 overseas baptisms, the trustees also 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.
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.