Editor’s note: The following is IMB President Paul Chitwood’s address to the SBC Executive Committee on September 20, 2021.
In late July, Michelle and I, along with two of our daughters, traveled overseas, where we met with more than 60 of your missionaries and their kids. We were so encouraged by the days we spent visiting with them and were again reminded that Southern Baptists have sent their very best to the nations.
Several of the young ladies we met are serving as Journeymen, a two-year missionary assignment available for people under the age of 30. These young ladies have been serving alongside one of our career missionaries in a ministry she started inside a women’s prison. In the closed country where they served, women sentenced to prison who have children under the age of 6, are required to take their children to prison with them. In a prison full of women and children, your missionaries started a medical clinic and a preschool to help provide care, show the love of Jesus, and share how He offers eternal freedom.
Thank you, Southern Baptists, for loving women and children in prison. Thank you for loving orphans and refugees. Thank you for loving those who are spiritually deaf and physically Deaf. Thank you for loving the lost and sending your missionaries to reach them.
Two of the ways Southern Baptists show that love is by sending and supporting missionaries. The evidence suggests that love is growing.
Just 10 days away from the end of IMB’s fiscal year I can tell you with assurance that, for only the second time in history, the 2020 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® for International Missions will surpass $160 million. And, because of the generosity of Southern Baptists, we will close the books on a second year of growth in the Lottie Offering. This is a significant turnaround for the IMB. From 2013-2018, the number of churches giving through Lottie fell by 10%. Thankfully, that number is growing again!
But there’s even more good news. When we add Southern Baptists’ gifts to Lottie Projects to that $160 million Lottie Offering total, we will surpass our $175 million dollar Lottie goal by at least $2 million. Even more astoundingly, by God’s provision, the total of all the combined IMB revenue streams make this year our best financial year in history. Thanks be to God!
Another evidence of the growing love of Southern Baptists for the lost among the nations, and another significant turnaround, is the number of missionaries serving through the International Mission Board. Over the decade from 2008-2018, that number fell by more than 2,000 frontline missionaries, a reduction of force of approximately 40%. Thankfully, today, the missionary headcount is growing again. Just this past Friday, 141 adults and kids completed their seven weeks of pre-deployment training. Most will be overseas by Halloween, hopefully all of them by Thanksgiving.
As the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world is growing again, so is the impact of Southern Baptists among the nations, particularly among the unreached and unengaged, where IMB focuses most of our resources. In 2020, IMB missionaries and our Baptist partners engaged 1,400 people groups and places around the globe, 82% being unreached.
While some have claimed that only 1% of mission dollars are spent on reaching the unreached, that claim can never be made of Southern Baptist mission dollars. The IMB is privileged to steward the largest share of those mission dollars and most of what we steward is used to get the gospel to the unreached. In fact, 91% of IMB missionary teams work among the unreached peoples of the world, where the population is less than 2% evangelical Christian. And many are pushing out to the very edge of lostness, to those remaining 3,000 people groups yet unengaged with the gospel. In 2020, we engaged 55 formerly unengaged people groups, peoples who had no known evangelical Christians or churches.
The IMB is also seeking to engage Southern Baptist churches more so than at any point in our history through our new Church Connections strategy. By December, every church in the Southern Baptist Convention will be assigned an IMB missionary. For that to happen, every missionary unit will be assigned a portfolio of 20 churches. The missionary’s job is to find the church, make contact with the church, thank the church, and build a partnership with the church to help that church grow in its commitment to our cooperative mission efforts. We believe these vital connections have the potential to positively transform our convention and will result in more people in North America and among the nations hearing the good news of the gospel.
While we have much to celebrate as Southern Baptists and at the IMB, much work remains. The IMB has a long way to go to grow out of three decades, yes, three decades of revenue growth falling short of inflation. We are finally heading in the right direction, but the journey has just begun.
More importantly, our celebration of growth is tempered by the fact that 3,000 people groups remain without a witness. And our celebration is tempered by the fact that, around the world today, 155,473 people died lost and entered an eternal hell. That number, brothers and sisters, is not shrinking, it’s growing.
We cannot slow down. We cannot be distracted. We cannot be divided. We must not be deterred. The vision of heaven is not yet fulfilled. The nations are waiting. We still have work to do.