AUGUSTA, Georgia (BP) - On May 8, 1845, 327 delegates meeting at First Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, launched a missionary movement that would start new Gospel-proclaiming churches throughout North America and the world. On May 8, 2020, Southern Baptists celebrated the 175th anniversary of the founding of what became the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board - and the corresponding Gospel movement those entities launched.
The founding of the two mission boards in 1845 marked a change in mission strategy among Baptists in the United States. Earlier organizations of Baptists had funded individual missionaries through an associational method. The convention's founders preferred an approach where churches would take ownership of the entirety of Southern Baptist missions instead of only supporting individual missionaries. Many believe that decision fueled the growth of SBC mission work over the next 175 years despite a Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars and multiple global pandemics.
Nathan Finn explained that many missions organizations had drifted away from Gospel proclamation and church planting as their focus. Finn is a history professor and provost and dean of the faculty at North Greenville University, South Carolina, The IMB and NAMB have resisted that drift. The two mission boards have never faced serious temptations to elevate other ministries over evangelism and church planting.
"These two mission boards have shown how missions can be a part of the DNA of a denomination," Finn said. "It has always been at the heart of SBC life. It doesn't mean that we've always done missions well. And, it doesn't mean there hasn't been controversy. But I don't think there has ever been a time when Southern Baptists have shrugged their shoulders about missions."
Keith Harper, senior professor of Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted women's role in the history of both mission boards.
"The incorporation of women as missionaries stands as one of the great accomplishments of SBC missions," Harper said. "We would not have missions as we understand them today without Southern Baptist women. They are crucial to our story!" He highlighted Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong, whose names identify the annual offerings that provide much of NAMB's and IMB's budgets.
Harper also noted the Cooperative Program's significance in the mission boards' histories. After its 1925 launch, the mission boards could more easily project their annual revenue. That prompted an increase in Southern Baptist missions-sending capabilities.
To mark its 175th anniversary, IMB launched an interactive timeline (imb.org/175) that highlights major IMB milestones. It includes missionary profiles and opportunities for Southern Baptists to participate in international missions. On May 10, IMB launched 175 Days of Prayer. Southern Baptists can sign up (imb.org/175-days-of-prayer) as advocates and pray for specific IMB requests.