David Platt, president of the International Mission Board, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Wednesday that the organization is working on new ways to stop the decline in Southern Baptist missionary efforts around the world as an estimated 2 billion people have still not heard the Gospel.
Speaking at the SBC's annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Platt praised the collective efforts of the organization and IMB, pointing out that there are 4,700 missionaries proclaiming the Gospel to nearly 2 million people around the world. He also noted that their efforts have led to nearly 200,000 people getting baptized and the planting of almost 13,000 new churches.
"I praise God for what he has created in the Southern Baptist Convention and in the IMB. It is breathtaking to see how you, as Southern Baptists, are making that happen through your praying, through your giving," Platt told the packed audience. "Over $94 million to the IMB through the Cooperative Program, over $153 million to Lottie Moon — the second largest offering in our 170-year history."
Despite these efforts, however, Platt said that the number of Southern Baptist missionaries has declined over the last five years, which has affected their ability to spread the Gospel to the world's unreached people.
"In 2009, we hit our height in number of missionaries in the field at 5,600, but now that number has dropped to 4,700 and it is fast on its way to 4,200. And the reason for that is that we're not able, financially, to support our mission force on the field," he said. "Last year, we operated almost $21 million in the red, so the number of our missionaries is decreasing, not increasing, which is not tolerable when 2 billion people still haven't heard the name of Jesus."
Platt proposed expanding outside of traditional missionary recruitment by focusing on students, professionals and retirees, in a bid to increase the number of missionaries overseas.
"The problem isn't the people aren't willing to go, the problem is we lack the capacity to send them," he said. "As long as fully financially supported missionaries are the only way we think about getting the Gospel to the nations, we will keep a cap on our missions involvement as Southern Baptists."
Platt suggested taking advantage of "God-given opportunities" that are readily available.
"Imagine a missionary team led by what we would view as a traditional missionary and lead church planter, fully supported by the IMB but then supported by students, professionals and retirees working alongside him, and playing different roles — all of them focused on making disciples and churches among the unreached," he said.
He continued: "God has divinely opened doors for us to take the Gospel around the world, not just through traditional missionary routes but through non-traditional roles as students, professionals and retirees. There are scores of opportunities for students to study and professionals to work and retirees to live overseas — all of whom can support themselves financially. So what if Southern Baptists started taking advantage of those God-given opportunities?"
The SBC's annual meeting was hosted by SBC President, Ronnie Floyd, and runs June 16-17.
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