Southern Baptist foreign missionaries drop by nearly 1,000

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David Platt, IMB president, leads 26 new missionaries in a time of prayer during their missionary appointment service on Feb. 23, 2016 in Richmond, Va. The service was broadcast via live stream to several thousand viewers. Photo by Warren F. Johnson, courtesy of IMB

David Platt, IMB president, leads 26 new missionaries in a time of prayer during their missionary appointment service on Feb. 23, 2016 in Richmond, Va. The service was broadcast via live stream to several thousand viewers. Photo by Warren F. Johnson, courtesy of IMB

“IMB is now in a much healthier financial position,” International Mission Board President David Platt tells trustees on Feb. 24, 2016 during their plenary session. “Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are trending upward,” he reported. Photo by Lexie Bennett, courtesy of IMB

“IMB is now in a much healthier financial position,” International Mission Board President David Platt tells trustees on Feb. 24, 2016, during their plenary session. “Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are trending upward,” he reported. Photo by Lexie Bennett, courtesy of IMB

(RNS) One out of five Southern Baptist missionaries overseas — or nearly 1,000 total — have volunteered to leave their posts to help the denomination’s mission board deal with its financial straits. That’s in addition to the departure of a third of the staff of the International Mission Board, also mostly through a voluntary program.

“Obviously, this number exceeds what we needed,” said its president, David Platt, at a trustee meeting Wednesday (Feb. 24). But he said the departure of 983 missionaries means the mission board will be in improved financial health.

In August, leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination announced that the board would need to cut up to 800 employees, after spending a total of $210 million more than it had received since 2010.


RELATED STORY: Southern Baptist mission board to cut as many as 800 positions


The number of missionaries now stands at about 3,800 and there are about 300 staffers, said IMB spokeswoman Julie McGowan. In August, there were 4,800 missionaries and 450 staff. Officials had said the missionary force needed to be reduced to 4,200 to balance the budget.

Platt said that although “these brothers and sisters will be missed,” it is time to turn to the future and the board’s goal of taking the gospel to those who have not heard it.

David Platt, IMB president, leads 26 new missionaries in a time of prayer during their missionary appointment service on Feb. 23 in Richmond, Va. The service was broadcast via livestream to several thousand viewers. Photo by Warren F. Johnson, courtesy of IMB

David Platt, IMB president, leads 26 new missionaries in a time of prayer during their missionary appointment service on Feb. 23, 2016 in Richmond, Va. The service was broadcast via live stream to several thousand viewers. Photo by Warren F. Johnson, courtesy of IMB


RELATED STORY: Facing early retirement, Southern Baptist missionaries vow to continue evangelism stateside


In addition to remaining the largest missionary-sending organization of its kind, Platt suggested that the current full-time foreign missionaries can be augmented by Southern Baptists ranging from students to retirees who spend time overseas.

Southern Baptists, along with other Christian denominations, have seen a decline in membership, dropping from 16.3 million in 2003 to just under 15.5 million in 2016.

Two prominent Baptist state conventions — in Texas and North Carolina — have set aside $1.5 million to help provide jobs to missionaries returning to the U.S. McGowan said the funds would be used specifically to evangelize immigrants in those states.

(Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national reporter for RNS) 

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  • Tom

    As someone who remembers when Southern Baptists were unified in their support of missionaries, I find it beyond sad what has happened to the recalling of these missionaries. Something is terribly wrong with the SBC leadership, but no one will speak out and IMO the SBC is headed towards oblivion.

  • Eric

    Bummer for them.

  • Just to add a few words here, the SBC is not the largest – missionary sending organization of its kind. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends young and old alike to preach the gospel throughout the world at their own expense from 18 months to two years. They have 75,000 to 80,000 missionaries bearing their testimony of the risen Christ among all who will listen to their message.

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  • MarkE

    Spoken like a true missionary! No wonder they’re failing.

  • John Wiley

    As a “Recovering Southern Baptist,” I would argue that the SBC IMB leadership is pushing strongly to pattern their mission efforts after the LDS. There is some irony here: Most SBC members do not believe members of the LDS faith tradition are “real” Christians…but a large cult.

  • David Lloyd-Jones

    “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends young and old alike to preach the gospel throughout…”

    I’m not sure that this is strictly true, Steve. I’ve probably met a dozen pairs of LDS missionaries in my life, and I always ask them if they need to use the toilet, and would they like a glass of water? They always strike me as decent and interesting, and I’ve learned some from them.

    Not one single one of them ever mentioned the Christian Gospel among their interests. Of the great majority of them who talked religion, every one was pushing their own particular denomination.

    This is not a criticism. I think that the emphasis on personal responsibility, and the rejection of the notion of preternatural Original Sin is greatly to be admired and supported. If they get it from Joseph Smith and I get it from Bertrand Russell, so be it.

    It is very obvious, though, that these two doctrines are the exact opposite of teh Gospel, at least in its American…

  • Quandmeme

    I believe the LDS missionaries are largely self-funded where the article is speaking of salaried missionaries. I don’t think comment about the “kind” of program means we have to wade into whether Mormons meet any particular definition of Christianity to figure out what the article was saying.

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  • GTO

    That was my question when I read the article, knowing what a large missionary force The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has, and not knowing how the Southern Baptist program differs. What does “…of its kind” mean? How do the programs differ?

  • “By there fruits shall you know them”, After spending 18 to 24 months 18/6 serving your fellow man, preaching and studding the word of God, it changes the rest of your life. When has the gospel been so much about a salary? How was Paul paid? Do you want money or blessings? the Mormons have answered that queston.

  • Stephen Pruett

    The “Conservative Resurgence” among Southern Baptists (e.g., Pressler and Patterson) OWNS this. They brutally and politically (not spiritually) gained control and they are in charge, so this mess is TOTALLY theirs. Do they admit it? Do they have any answers for it? No.

    I was an active Southern Baptist (before the Fall), when Bold Mission Thrust was known and embraced by all Baptists who were spiritually (not politically) motivated. Pressler and Patterson destroyed this. I cannot know if their motives were impure, but the evidence is now completely incontrovertible that their methods and the results were WRONG. Otherwise, we would be talking about record numbers of new missionaries. Oddly, I am still an active Southern Baptist, because I am hoping we will repudiate the failed ideas and methods of Pressler and Patterson and that we will return to a Biblical Christianity.

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  • Tom

    Stephen:

    I remember like yesterday Bold Mission Thrust. Many FUNDAMENTALIST will deny there was ever such an emphasis or say it was just a slogan. I know better. The SBC was excited about this program and preparing to put it into action but Pressler and Patterson at the 1979 SBC convention changed the whole the direction of the SBC. Sadly in the last soon to be 37 years their misguided efforts to “turn the SBC around” has resulted in nothing short of the dismantling of a once great Denomination. These men and others who chose not to financially support the SBC before they took it over are quickly bringing it to a shell of what it once was. They will not even take responsibility for what they have done.

  • Laurie Reeder

    This breaks my heart. Keith Parks, the best “Foreign Mission Board” president in my eyes, one who felt and communicated his tremendous burden for the lost in other countries and the need to send more missionaries so that the gospel would be accessible to all, would be be horrified.