The nation's largest Protestant denomination reported an increase in the number of new church plants last year compared to 2007, its mission board announced this past week.
In 2008, there were a total of 1,538 Southern Baptist church plants – six percent more than the 1,445 figure for 2007, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) informed its trustees on Wednesday at a meeting held in its offices in Alpharetta, Ga.
In addition, there was a net gain of 212 long-term missionaries in 2008, bringing its total to more than 5,600, according to the report by the mission agency of the 16-million member Southern Baptist Convention.
The encouraging news came as NAMB President Geoff Hammond spoke about the importance of the 2009 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions – one of the agency's main sources of income each year.
This year, the offering goal is $65 million.
"As partners in the Annie Armstrong offering, we're grateful to the Woman's Missionary Union, all the state conventions and local associations but ultimately, it's the local pastor who must challenge people to contribute," Hammond stated.
The missions leader highlighted this year's Annie Armstrong theme of "Sowing Together For Harvest," and said Southern Baptists need to pray and give together in order to reach North America for Christ.
Hammond noted that 100 percent of the Annie Armstrong offering is used for missionaries.
During the meeting, a video featuring eight NAMB missionaries was shown as part of the "Week of Prayer" for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering on March 1-8.
Willie Jacobs, one of the eight missionaries featured in the video, shared with NAMB trustees about the great need for the Gospel among the people he ministers to in the inner city of Memphis.
"In Memphis, 1 million people do not know Jesus as their personal savior," Jacobs said. "We're challenged with going into places where people don't look like us, act like us or think like us. But they need the Gospel. I'm glad God has chosen me to be part of it. Pray for me as we go into drug-infested areas. Remember that He loves the drug addict, the one on skid-row, the prostitute and the homosexual."
NAMB trustees were also updated about the agency's ambitious God's Plan for Sharing (GPS) initiative, which seeks share the Gospel with every person in North America by 2020.
"We need a renewed urgency in North America about the Gospel and the need to sow the Gospel in North America," Hammond declared. "We have enough Southern Baptists to reach all the people of North America. Through GPS, God's Plan for Sharing, we want every believer sharing and every person believing by 2020."
Hammond told the trustees that TV commercials for GPS are being filmed in both English and Spanish, and GPS brochures are being printed in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.
Pilot editions of GPS materials will be used in several states later this year, he said. The responses from the pilots will then used to design the final versions of the GPS resources that will be released in 2010.
A financial report was also given by NAMB's chief financial officer, who said the agency's 2008 income came in $8.3 million below budgeted projections. But in the end, NAMB had nearly a half million surplus due to under spending, larger than expected designated gifts, and asset sales.
For 2009, NAMB team leaders have been told to limit spending to 90 percent of their approved budget.