If Southern Baptists tithed its membership to reach people who don't know the Gospel, they would have 100,000 missionaries, says an official for the Southern Baptist Convention's mission agency.
"I want to ask whether a church shouldn't tithe its membership to reach a lost world?" posed Gordon Fort, vice president of overseas operations for the International Mission Board (IMB).
The Southern Baptist Convention is the largest Protestant denomination in the country.
The IMB is urging Southern Baptists for 3,000 more active missionaries around the world for a total deployment of 8,000. There are currently 5,000 missionaries and 200 new missionaries are scheduled for dispatch to overseas mission fields in 2007-2008.
"Adding 3,000 new missionaries might be a difficult task if we were starting out with no resources, but the truth is that those 3,000 new missionaries are already sitting in our churches, and the finances to support them are already in our pockets. It's not a hard task," Fort said at a Southern Baptist missionaries gathering last week, according to the IMB.
Part of the effort to mobilize thousands of new missionaries is an emphasis on involving more young people into overseas mission works.
The IMB is stepping up a 60-year effort of dispatching student missionaries beginning in January 2008 when the mission agency sends a group of twentysomethings to Africa as part of a pilot project for about half a year.
"Hands On: Africa" aims to recruit college students to serve 4-12 months in a wide range of mission challenges and see more students become career missionaries.
"I find a tremendous responsiveness to missions in the hearts of young people today. They want to make a difference," said Fort.
The "Hands On" initiative will roll out to 11 regions around the globe in 2009.
IMB President Jerry Rankin called for "harvest" in mission fields that are neglected rather than fields that are already plentiful with workers and resources.
"Harvest, or responsiveness, is always linked to access," Rankin said. "There is no harvest where there is no proclamation."
Reminding the IMB that the agency's mission is to make disciples of all the world's people, Rankin said a sharp focus must be maintained on getting workers into the "neglected harvest fields."
"These are critical times. Global events are providing unprecedented opportunities to penetrate the lostness of the last frontiers of Great Commission fulfillment," he said. "We must adopt the 'whatever it takes' attitude of the apostle Paul, who was willing to risk imprisonment, beating, stoning and a deprived lifestyle that 'they who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'"
The IMB recently celebrated the service of nearly 1,000 emeritus Southern Baptist international missionaries who totaled more than 26,000 years of serving in mission fields around the world.