Upward trends in evangelism, leadership development highlight IMB’s 2019 ministry report

The International Mission Board publicly released its Annual Statistical Report (ASR) based on 2019 data, revealing year-over-year increases in gospel presentations, new believers and theological training. The in-depth annual report, typically reserved exclusively for trustees, is now being made available to Southern Baptists. In addition to extensive quantitative data the report also contains short missions stories from around the globe.

“People want to know what their IMB missionaries are doing,” said Wilson Geisler, director of global research at IMB. “This is a chance to boast in the Lord.”

The International Mission Board on June 10 publicly released its Annual Statistical Report which provides an in-depth look at the statistics and stories of God’s work through IMB missionaries worldwide. In this photo, a pastor from a church in Pakro, Ghana baptizes a new believer in the Densu River. (IMB Photo)

The ASR, which was posted online June 10, testifies to the faithfulness of Southern Baptists’ 3,623 missionaries, even as it points out the grim realities of a world without Christ. Out of a global population of more than 7.6 billion people, 154,937 die daily without Christ—roughly equivalent to two populations of Tyler, Texas.

The ASR summarizes the work of IMB missionary teams across all nine affinities worldwide. The data from the ASR follows the six components of the missionary task, as set out in the Foundations document adopted by IMB in 2018.

The six components of the missionary task—entry, evangelism, discipleship, healthy church formation, leadership development and exit to partnership—describe what IMB missionaries do and what “we see in Scripture that both Jesus was about and also the apostles,” Geisler said.

“Entry is basically showing up and getting to opportunities for sharing the gospel, making disciples,” he explained. “The same is true in the United States: I can enter a Starbucks with the purpose of sharing the gospel to make a disciple.”

The six components help IMB missionaries “look holistically across all of Scripture” to “see what health is when it comes to being a disciple,” he said. According to the ASR, this “greater emphasis” on the “entire missionary task” equips missionaries to enter a mission field “with a forward view to the end goals of healthy church formation and leadership development.”

This year’s 35-page ASR shows IMB missionaries engaged 827 people groups last year. Like-minded partner groups engaged an additional 5,983 people groups, leaving 4,920 people groups unengaged with the gospel in 2019. IMB currently puts the total number of people groups worldwide at 11,730.

IMB missionaries shared the gospel including an opportunity to respond with 396,499 people, an uptick of nearly 9 percent over 2018.

“Given this increase in gospel sharing,” the ASR notes, “it is hardly surprising there have been corresponding increases in the number of” new believers. IMB missionary teams reported 89,325 new believers worldwide, an increase of more than 15 percent over the previous year.

According to the report 535,325 people heard a gospel witness, which means they heard some aspect of the gospel but the encounter fell short of a call to respond.

In the component of discipleship, IMB missionaries saw 47,929 baptisms and 174,393 in ongoing Bible studies. These numbers are a decrease from 2018, down from 52,586 and 261,812, respectively. Pointing to the reality of “governmental persecution resulting in the expulsion of IMB missionaries from certain countries,” the ASR notes these downward trends “most likely do not represent church planting realities but rather IMB’s inability to report on such efforts done through Baptist partners.”

Last year IMB missionaries saw 12,368 new churches planted across the globe. The overwhelming majority of these new churches are among South Asian people groups—9,911, and Southeast Asian people groups—1,615.

In leadership development, over 33,000 people were in advanced theological education in 2019—an upswing of more than 17 percent over 2018—and 38,866 received church planting training.

This continues an upward trend, as advanced theological training and church planting training in 2018 were up 49 percent and 28 percent, respectively, over 2017.

In the exit to partnership component, IMB missionaries reported 21 people groups no longer being engaged by IMB or its partners, often due to geopolitical turmoil and persecution. Yet an additional 214 people groups are marked in this final component of the missionary task because they themselves are taking ownership in the Great Commission. Of those, 91 people groups are doing missions inside their own country, while 40 are doing so outside their own country.

Downward trends in the ASR may reveal regress or progress along the six components of the missionary task. “However,” Geisler said, “we ought to be careful to not read too much into some trends. For example, when our personnel are asked to leave certain countries it is possible that the [missionary] work continues but our personnel simply have no way to collect the data.” In Asia particularly “we continued to see increased persecution,” Geisler said. “Our missionaries stay the course as long as they are able, but the reality of the world is that access to peoples and places can change overnight.”

Sometimes downward numbers show definite progress, he said, as with the 214 people groups with whom “an intentional exit to partnership” occurs and “that group carries on ownership in kingdom tasks that cease to be reported by our personnel.”

Geisler summarized the ASR by noting, “There is a continued movement of God to call believers from all nations to go be missionaries in other nations.” Yet, “We are currently losing the war of sharing [the gospel], so regardless of where we live or work, we all need to be challenged to open our mouths and proclaim.”

“Please pray fervently and share your faith boldly,” Geisler asked Southern Baptists. “In uncertain times, let us not shrink back from declaring the whole truth.”

“The biggest challenge is that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers few,” he said.

IMB President Paul Chitwood commented on the 2019 data in IMB’s 2020 Annual Report video saying that through IMB, which celebrates 175 years this year, “Southern Baptists have maintained an uninterrupted witness among the nations, in spite of famines, wars, civil unrest and—even as we’ve experienced this year—pandemics.”

“We know that every second, two people die without knowing Christ,” he said. “And that is why, Southern Baptists, your IMB is still sending your missionaries.”

“This commitment does not come without sacrifice by your missionaries,” Chitwood said, “and their continued witness cannot continue without your sacrificial support.”

“You’re a part of this eternal work,” he said, “through your giving, your praying, your sending and your going.”

“And the nations are waiting.”