Action 1 — Increase IMB missionaries by 500
EDITOR’S NOTE — Bottom line from the interviews for how SBC/IMB leaders suggest achieving Step 1 of Vision 2025? Individuals and churches increase praying and giving to IMB, and churches enhance discipleship efforts of members, especially those sensing a call to the missions field.
In its 175-year history, the International Mission Board has sent more than 25,000 missionaries overseas, according to David Brady’s report in “One Sacred Effort.” The current missions force stands at 3,558, as of Feb. 28, reported IMB officials, who also noted a desire to increase the number on the field.
Vision 2025 Proposal
Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee president and CEO Ronnie Floyd is working to get the word out through his Vision 2025 proposal (see below).
Adding 500 fully funded missionaries came to IMB leadership directly as a request from the field and was announced by IMB President Paul Chitwood in January 2020.
“For Southern Baptists to commit to 500 additional international missionaries may seem like a random number, but it’s not,” he said.
“In March 2019, when senior field leadership teams met together, I asked each leader, ‘What’s the minimum number of missionaries you need to make the maximum impact in your affinity?’
“When we added up the numbers from all of the affinity leaders, the total was a collective increase of 500 — so that’s our target,” Chitwood explained.
“We are asking God to call out and Southern Baptists to send out an increase of 500 missionaries to serve alongside Southern Baptist personnel and their Great Commission colleagues around the world.”
The number of IMB missionaries has fluctuated some in recent years, with significant decreases in the international missionary forces in 2015 and 2016 when IMB experienced financial hurdles.
In 2014, IMB reported a total of 4,707 missionaries; two years later, that number was down by more than 1,100 with a total of 3,596.
Reaching the new goal of nearly 4,100 international missionaries by 2025 would recover roughly half of the missionary decreases in 2015 and 2016, but attrition rates must also be taken into account.
The IMB reports the attrition average over the past seven years is 230, not including the “voluntary retirement incentive” in 2015 and the second volunteer “hand-raising opportunity” to retire or resign in 2016.
To rebuild the career missionary force needs a unified effort among Southern Baptists, officials noted.
“To get 500 more full-time missionaries on the field will require 75% of all Southern Baptist churches prayerfully and financially supporting the IMB; a consistent 6% annual increase in gifts through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the next five years; and God-called people who are willing to follow His call to go,” said Julie McGowan, IMB associate vice president for communications/public relations.
In January 2020, Chitwood reported to IMB trustees that less than half of Southern Baptist churches annually give to the LMCO, offering ample opportunity to expand the number of churches giving to the offering.
“With less than half of Southern Baptist churches reporting on the Annual Church Profile that they gave to the Lottie offering last year, we have lots of opportunity to grow the support needed by our missionaries,” Chitwood said.
National Woman’s Missionary Union is bolstering this effort as they announced a plan in November 2020 to send handwritten appeals to 20,000 Southern Baptist churches to encourage every church to give to the annual LMCO.
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director-treasurer for National WMU, committed to personally writing 175 letters asking pastors to lead their churches to give.
The 6% increase equates to approximately $10 million per year over the next four years.
“While that seems like a lot of money, it will only require that every one of the 16 million Southern Baptists increase their Lottie offering by $0.63 per year,” Chitwood said. “Every church needs to give an additional $200 per year. No matter how you do that math, the point is, it can be done.”
The highest LMCO ever received was $165.8 million in 2015. The second highest was $159.5 million in 2019, even amid the pandemic.
The offering runs from Oct. 1 of one year to Sept. 30 of the following year, so the 2019 offering continued during the pandemic in 2020.
The 2020 LMCO goal, which runs Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021, is $175 million.
While the LMCO wasn’t officially established until 1918, giving to international missions first began in 1888 with the inception of WMU. WMU raised more money that first year to send two women to China to help missionary Lottie Moon. Calculating all giving since then, that total recently surpassed $5 billion.
IMB reports the average cost of supporting one full-time missionary is $164 per day or $60,000 per year.
Those figures include all forms of ministry and personnel support, such as salary, medical expenses, children’s education, housing, visas, travel and retirement benefits.
For a missionary couple, the amounts are double.
Still, even with the funding in hand, getting new IMB missionaries on the field takes time.
“The IMB is committed to sending missionaries who are healthy (theologically, spiritually, physically, emotionally) and sustainable in their work. As missionary candidates display needs for improvement in these areas of health or sustainability, the IMB works alongside them and their churches to strengthen those areas,” said McGowan.
Missionary candidates who are completely healthy can be affirmed in six to 12 months from their time of application, depending on their service pathway.
After affirmation, a missionary spends six weeks in orientation before going to the field for further training, she said.
Issues with candidates
“From a practical standpoint, the IMB consistently sees people delayed in going to the mission field due to seeking freedom from pornography and debt — both of which are deterrents to people being healthy, sustainable missionaries.
“As churches readily address these areas early in discipleship, Southern Baptists will be more prepared to take the gospel to the nations,” McGowan explained.
Also, a major impediment to getting missionaries to the international field is that “people do not think they can go. They do not see themselves as being a part of the gospel harvest force. They think, ‘I can’t go because … I am too old,’ or ‘… I am too young,’ or ‘… I have too many kids,’ or ‘… I am single,’ or … ‘I am not a pastor. …’ Yet this is not the case — God has a place for Southern Baptists on the mission field,” she said.
With the current global restrictions, sending missionaries is more challenging, but IMB personnel “are responding to this challenge with perseverance.”
“Right now, ‘sending’ may look different than it has looked in the past — and likely doesn’t look now like it will look in the future — but the task is too urgent for churches to stand by, so we continue to prepare and send when and where the Lord presents us the opportunities to go,” McGowan said.
Chitwood added, “Our focus as an organization is the ‘core missionary task’: We evangelize and disciple in order to see new churches started and national leaders raised.
“Missionaries have a multiplicative effect. The more [sent] to the nations, the more people hear the gospel and are discipled, and the more churches are started and leaders raised. This means not only are the 500 additional missionaries doing the core missionary task, but all those they see come to Christ and discipled are doing the same.”
Southern Baptists to vote on Vision 2025 plan
Messengers to the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, scheduled for June 15–16 in Nashville, will be asked to vote on Vision 2025, a plan for Southern Baptists to renew their commitment to the Great Commission.
Vision 2025, originally launched by SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd in February 2020, weeks before the pandemic, was relaunched in February 2021 and approved unanimously by EC members.
The vision outlines five strategic action steps:
- Increase full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving us 4,100 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the International Mission Board.
- Add 5,000 new SBC congregations to our Southern Baptist family, giving us more than 50,000 SBC congregations.
- Increase total number of workers in the field through a new emphasis on “calling out the called” and then preparing those who are called out by the Lord.
- Turn around our ongoing decline in reaching, baptizing and discipling 12- to 17-year-olds.
- Increase our annual giving in successive years and establish a new path of growth that will lead us to reach and surpass $500 million through the Cooperative Program to achieve these Great Commission goals.
To help Southern Baptists gain a fuller understanding of Vision 2025, The Alabama Baptist plans to run a series of articles offering an in-depth look at one strategic action step per article. (TAB Media)
State convention executive directors express support for Vision 2025. See story here.