The International Mission Board (IMB) cited sharp increases in the number of missionary candidates it has received since last fall, and due to the organization’s strong financial position, leaders are preparing to rally even more Southern Baptists to do mission work through the IMB.
IMB President Paul Chitwood told the Biblical Recorder there are more than 900 candidates currently in the process of becoming missionaries. He said that number represents a strong uptick since he became president on Nov. 15, 2018. (The IMB was unable to provide specific comparison data by publication time.)
“We feel like we’re rebuilding that pipeline just the way we need to,” Chitwood said in a phone interview.
Chitwood said staff downsizing that occurred in 2015-16 under the leadership of then-president David Platt left many Southern Baptists with a false impression that the IMB was not able to send new missionaries, but “they did what they needed to do.” The personnel reduction was part of a plan overseen by Platt to balance the budget after years of deficit spending, which was achieved in 2017, according to IMB reports.
Chitwood explained that Platt and other leaders recognized the need to keep missionary candidates in the “pipeline” and emphasized the IMB was “open for business.”
“There are always vacancies that need to be filled, even in the midst of a downsizing,” Chitwood said.
Now that the organization is in good financial shape, it hopes to ramp up deployment of new missionaries.
The IMB recently added mobilization staff and reduced the missionary application process by six to eight months, according to Chitwood. The organization is also increasing student engagement and retooling its communications and marketing team.
There are 3,692 overseas missionaries currently serving with the IMB, according to figures provided at SBC.net.
When asked about the “limitless” self- and partially-funded mission opportunities championed by Platt, Chitwood said those roles are still in place and important to the IMB.
He also said missionary teams and church planting are key aspects of the IMB’s work.
“Church planting is still the ultimate goal of the missionary task,” Chitwood said, adding, “We want our people to serve on a team, having accountability and fellowship. That team strategy is still critical.”
The IMB’s current budget totals nearly $265 million. Thirty-seven percent of the budget comes from the Southern Baptist’s Convention’s Cooperative Program (CP), a unified funding tool that supports 12 organizations. The IMB receives 50.41 percent of CP funds.
“The IMB is on strong financial footing. We’re in the black,” said Chitwood. “We’re incredibly thankful for the generosity of Southern Baptists. … I hope the generosity of Southern Baptists will match the number of Southern Baptists who feel called to serve through the IMB.”
In his report at the 2019 SBC annual meeting, Chitwood said, “We now have more fully-funded, open missionary positions than we have candidates in the missionary pipeline.”
When asked how he would like Southern Baptist church leaders to respond to the IMB’s current situation, Chitwood said, “Issue the call. It’s not my call; it’s not the IMB’s call; it’s not even the pastor’s call or Southern Baptists’ call. It’s the Lord’s call. … The nations are waiting.”