If every Southern Baptist increased giving to international missions by the price of a single cup of coffee over the next five years, the International Mission Board would see historic growth in the number of missionaries it could fund.
That's the cost of the first of five strategic action statements of Vision 2025, which was approved by the Executive Committee in February and will be brought for messenger approval at the 2020 SBC Annual Meeting. The vision begins where Southern Baptists started 175 years ago, with a common purpose to send more missionaries to the nations.
Strategic Action #1 says, "Increase the total number of full-time, fully funded missionaries by a net gain of 500, giving the SBC 4,200 full-time, fully funded missionaries through the IMB." The action item comes directly from the IMB's overseas leadership. IMB President Paul Chitwood announced the goal at their January 29–30 trustee meeting in Riverside, California.
"We live in the most populous century in the history of humanity where 155,252 lost people die every day," Chitwood said. "By growing our mission force by five hundred, and many of those five hundred being devoted to training churches overseas to send their own missionaries, we believe Southern Baptists will see an exponential impact from their Great Commission faithfulness."
IMB leaders didn't choose the number five hundred randomly. Last March the IMB's affinity group leaders gathered to develop plans to accelerate the spread of the Gospel worldwide. During that week, Chitwood asked the leaders: "What is the minimum number of new field missionary personnel needed to have maximum impact in accelerating the spread of the Gospel?"
The question came at a critical time for one of the largest missions organizations in the world. In 2008, the IMB had a record number of 5,624 overseas missionaries, according to that year's SBC Annual. As of January 2020, just twelve years later, that number had dropped to 3,673, a loss of nearly two thousand appointed missionaries. While the number of missionaries had plummeted in a little more than a decade, lostness has climbed.
"The question was asked in the context that we did not have unlimited financial resources," said Charles Clark, the IMB's vice president for mobilization. "Each of the affinity leadership teams met to pray and consider the question, and the comprehensive sum they arrived at was five hundred new personnel. While five hundred additional field missionaries is a minimum number, it does represent the need to increase CP [Cooperative Program] and Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering] giving by Southern Baptists of some $50-plus million over the next five years."
Mobilizing five hundred additional missionaries in a five-year period would mark one of the biggest periods of growth in personnel in the board's 175-year history and would begin the effort to return Southern Baptists to earlier levels of missionary advancement.
Clark says the increase in missionary personnel would have a significant impact on the Great Commission efforts of Southern Baptists. He points out that five hundred new missionaries would allow the IMB to expand the number of sustainable missionary teams in the least-reached places in the world and expand a Gospel presence into the top seventy-five global cities.
In addition, Clark noted the increase will enable the IMB to better train nationals, strengthen theological education on the mission field, and better meet human needs with compassion.
Reaching the goal of five hundred new missionaries will face significant uphill challenges. First is the need for additional resources.
"The financial resources are in our Southern Baptist churches to not only fulfill the need but to surpass it," Clark said. "When we consider that the SBC has sixteen million members, that would be equivalent to every member of a Southern Baptist church giving an additional sixty-two cents per year."
Last year the IMB reported that Southern Baptists had given $157 million to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering during 2018–19. That was the third-highest total ever received.
An increase in giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program alone won't lead to the necessary five hundred new missionaries. Clark added that churches must send out more missionaries as well. He pointed to Luke 10:2 and Jesus's command to pray for more laborers: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
"The answer to overcoming these two obstacles is sitting in the pews of our Southern Baptist churches," Clark added. "Both the financial and human resources are available. Will we be faithful in giving our first and best to the Master?"
Clark urged all Southern Baptists to keep John's vision in Revelation 7:9 in front of them. The verse describes a great multitude from every people and language group in the world that will one day stand before Christ.
"[It] is a call to all Southern Baptists to be about the Great Commission task," Clark said. "It is a command from our Lord that involves praying, giving, going, and sending. May we as Southern Baptists embrace the Great Commission calling that unites us in this sacred task of making disciples of all nations."
Clark asked Southern Baptists to pray Luke 10:2, asking God to call more people into the mission field. He also asked Southern Baptists to pray for the necessary resources and consider whether God might be calling them to missionary service, either short-term or long-term.
To find out how your church can get more involved in helping Southern Baptists add five hundred new missionaries by 2025, visit imb.org.
Tobin Perry is a freelance writer in Evansville, Indiana, and is a member of Center of Hope Church in Evansville.