BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Southern Baptist churches that have Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) organizations support the denomination's missions programs at significantly higher levels than congregations without WMU, according to an analysis of reported church giving.
Tensions over several issues surfaced in recent years between some Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) leaders and leaders of the independently governed auxiliary group, founded in 1888 to promote SBC missions. They included WMU's refusal to submit to direct oversight by the denomination and the group's decision to remain part of the Baptist World Alliance women's department after the SBC severed ties with the global Baptist group in 2004.
Despite those differences, a new breakdown of giving patterns suggests missions education by WMU continues to play an important role in inspiring local churches to give more money to SBC home and foreign missions.
A review of annual statistics collected by LifeWay Christian Resources found that churches that have age-level WMU organizations like Girls in Action and Women on Mission support the SBC's unified budget and two annual special missions offerings at higher per-capita levels than those without ongoing missions education.
The study, conducted jointly by WMU and the SBC North American Mission Board (NAMB), found that churches with missions-education programs supported by one or both of the organizations gave $43.28 per member to the Cooperative Program. That compared to $23.65 per capita by churches without such programs.
Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions was $3.29 per capita from churches without missions education, compared to $9.05 from those with missions education. Per-member giving for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for home missions was $5.34 for churches with missions education, compared to $1.54 for those without.
Wanda Lee, WMU's executive director, acknowledged to a group of Baptist state convention executive directors and editors that "there have been some rocky times" with recent years' leadership transitions at WMU and the SBC's two mission boards, "but we are learning how to work together for missions."
Lee, meeting with Baptist leaders at a Dec. 2-3 briefing at WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., said that communication between the auxiliary and the SBC agencies has improved in the last year.
"Do we always agree about everything?" she asked. "No, but we seek to have healthy communication." She reported on both recent visits and planned future visits from NAMB President Geoff Hammond and Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC's International Mission Board.
WMU recently appointed a full-time liaison to coordinate communication with the two mission boards. WMU staffer Steve Heartsill said he received 7,000 e-mails from IMB personnel in the past year and a comparable number from NAMB workers.
The briefing was scheduled midway through WMU's Nov. 30-Dec. 7 Week of Prayer for International Missions. The national goal for this year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $170 million.
Over 120 years, WMU has helped raise more than $3 billion for international missions by promoting the Lottie Moon offering and $1.1 billion for home missions through the Annie Armstrong offering.
This year WMU produced nearly 4.2 million Christmas prayer guides in six languages, distributed by state WMU organizations to churches in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. About 174,000 Week of Prayer posters were sent to churches, and 4.8 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelopes were placed in pews in Southern Baptist churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)