IMB Baptisms Hit Lowest Level Since 1969

March 21, 2016

Will Hall | Editor
Baptist Message, Louisiana

**This article was originally posted HERE and is used by permission**
For more information on Will Hall click HERE and

Overseas baptisms for 2015 dropped to 54,762 from the 190,957 reported for 2014, according to information submitted by the International Mission Board in response to a request by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. Likewise, the number of new churches fell from 13,824 to 3,842 over the same one-year period.

The baptism figure represents the lowest level reported in 46 years.

A note explaining the declines states the decrease is “due to one large CPM no longer reported” (CPM refers to “church planting movement”). Since 2009, the IMB has changed data gathering procedures to “no longer include reports from partner conventions and unions,” but to report information about “work related to IMB personnel only,” according to annotations in the SBC Annual.

A table provided by IMB, in item 22 of 25 replies to “Ministry Inquiries,” shows an even larger four-year downturn. Baptisms fell by 211,689 since 2012 and the number of new churches declined 20,231 during the same time frame.

For perspective about the drop to 54,762 annual baptisms, according to data in SBC Annuals and information posted on the IMB’s website, the 50,003 baptisms for 1969 were achieved with 2,371 missionaries deployed on the field while the baptisms tallied in 2015 were accomplished with 4,707 personnel under appointment.

The information being reported for 2015 represents work done in 2014 during the transition of IMB leadership from Tom Elliff, who had led Southern Baptists’ largest evangelism entity since March 2011, to David Platt, who was elected in August 2014 to replace Elliff.

Meanwhile, the numbers for work accomplished in 2015 and 2016 likely will be impacted by the terminations of a reported 1,132 personnel as part of a plan launched in August 2015 to reduce the total number of IMB personnel “by at least 600.” The process will not finalize until nearly the end of April 2016.

The Baptist Message discovered the information about the fallen numbers of overseas baptisms and new churches while reviewing materials IMB supplied to the SBC Executive Committee’s request for information.

In advance of its Feb. 22-23 meeting, the SBC Executive Committee sent a data call to all ten entities, including itself, which receive funding through the Cooperative Program. It also queried LifeWay Christian Resources and GuideStone Financial Resources; and, the Council of Seminary Presidents provided comparative data.

The information from all of these SBC entities was posted online and an email was dispatched Feb. 19 to an electronic mailing list with a link,, to the main web page.

During this same time frame, the IMB released a press report Feb. 24, “Thanks to Southern Baptists, IMB in ‘much healthier financial position,’” which included six paragraphs of general information about the organizational “reset” that has fundamentally reformed the structure of Southern Baptists’ missionary forces by targeting missionaries at least 50 years old with a minimum of 5 years of field experience and dropped the number of IMB people in the field to 3,817, the lowest total since 1993.

However, as of the time of publication of this article, IMB has not yet issued a press release addressing the negative trend in baptisms and new churches discussed in the SBC Executive Committee materials.

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Removing bogus nmubers (my term) being counted to a more real number of baptisms where SBC people were directly invovled is good, no matter how bad it looks on paper. Numbers not ours should never have been counted, though a need to present ourselves as something more than we are might be a topic worth writing on.

Our missionaries are the best in the world and we should be applauding them instead of finding criticism for numbers not in their control. The results of evangelism is in God’s hands, not ours. Our missionaries could easily be faithful daily in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth and no results shown for the efforts.This in not a sign of lack of ambition or lack of service. The baptism numbers are dropping across the US in Baptist churches. I will be willing to say many churches in the US are doing nothing with the gospel or doing less with it than ever.

I am going to go out on a limb and say if we are not willing to pay for the people to be on the field, we are probably not praying for them as we ought, also. Just my opinion.

William Thornton

I had a suspicion that this would find its way to SBCT. This is at one level good reporting by Will Hall and he is to be commended for finding and highlighting information made publicly available by the Executive Committee. On another level it begs for context and explanation. Perhaps he is working on that.

I asked Jerry Rankin years ago about the stats that IMB reported on churches and baptisms. I didn’t save his reply but recall that it was not completely satisfying. Since we don’t have SBC churches overseas, reporting is less clear than, for example, what NAMB migh report. Our partners overseas may change. Do we count aggregate numbers from partner conventions or just those of churches our personnel are directly involved in? To be candid, there are few less meaningful and informative numbers than IMB reported churches and baptisms, especially now that we have a greater proportion of our personnel in the difficult locations.

The Executive Committee rightly queried IMB about “the most reliable metric” for the IMB. It is an important question. I’m not sure what the proper answer should be. Reported baptisms and churches clearly are not a reliable measure.

    Scott Shaver

    William writes “On another level it begs for context and explanation”.

    Funny, when the CR promised it would INCREASE the effect and magnitude of SBC “evangelism” nobody was offering “context” and “explanation”.

    The “purists” have failed and failed miserably in this area….”context” and “explanations” notwithstanding.

      Tom Parker


      I agree with you the “purists” surely have not turned the SBC into what they purported it would become. And I am laughing while typing these words–they got rid of all the liberals and yet things continue in a downward spiral in the SBC.


How will the bringing home of over 1000 missionaries affect the future baptisms? I agree with Jon it is not the SBC missionaries fault for the lower baptisms.

Rick Patrick

1. MOST of the decline is indeed due to a change in reporting policies—a change probably for the better. We should not be “taking credit” for the baptisms of national pastors on the field.

2. At least SOME of the decline is due to our imbalanced strategy of pushing the Pioneer Mandate at the expense of the Harvest Mandate. That is, we are pulling missionaries from so-called “Reached” people groups (defined as being at least 2% Christian, an inappropriately low percentage) while sending so many missionaries to “Unreached” people groups where the work will take a matter of years to mature and bear fruit. To be clear, I prefer the 40-40-15-5 approach developed by Southern Baptist missiologist Robin Dale Hadaway: 40% Unreached, 40% Harvest, 15% Education and 5% Administration.


    A legitimate debate on allocation of resources and I appreciate Rick’s acknowledgement that the reporting policy accounts for the wild swings in reported baptisms. There are positive and negative points to be made for all views. I adhere to the principle that God’s work is too important to be left to the professional missiologists. All the threshold numbers are arbitrary. I am pleased that, so far, no one has said baptisms have declined as a result of Calvinism.

    Eric Nixon

    I am glad the reporting is focused on SBC Missionary efforts alone now. It has always boggled my mind when I would hear our IMB folks speak of leaving an area once 2% were reached. I do have a question in regards to the 1969 numbers verses today. I definitely like the 40-40-15-5 approach. Could some of the decline be that since 1969 the mission field focus has been moved to the more difficult areas of the 10/40 Window?

David Rogers

Reporting of IMB-related baptisms is, by nature, tricky business. Sound missiology has as its goal the planting of indigenous churches with indigenous leaders, who—according to how well the work progresses—will soon take responsibility for their own continued growth, evangelism, and baptisms. At times, the most effective missionary work may well be that in which the foreign missionaries are the ones least directly responsible for the evangelistic efforts and growth of the churches planted. Also, according to CPM theory, the real measure of effective mission work is not even churches planted by foreign missionaries, but rather third, fourth, and fifth-generation church plants in which the direct working relationships with IMB missionaries and the IMB may be minimal or even inexistent. But, if the theory is really correct, the original spark that led to these churches planting other churches may be traced to efforts in which IMB workers—in connection with others in the Body of Christ—were involved. Needless to say, all of this makes accurate and objective reporting of IMB-related baptism statistics a conundrum for which there is no easy solution—or, even more likely, no goid solution at all.

In the end, perhaps it is just as well that no one group is able to take credit for what God Himself is doing—by means of the shared efforts of the entire Body of Christ.

    Chris Johnson

    David: Good points! Numbers can be discouraging even when good things happen.

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