Bold Mission Thrust comes to
an end with a few of many goals realized
___By Mark Wingfield
___"Whatever happened to Bold Mission Thrust?" longtime Baptists were heard to ask during more than 20 years of denominational fighting among Southern Baptists.
___The 25-year plan to take the gospel to every person on earth by the turn of the century sometimes appeared to take a back seat to politics in the years after its launch in 1976. But despite those appearances, denominational officials--both old guard and new guard--continued to keep track of the goals and measure successes and failures.
___Finding an answer to whether Bold Mission Thrust was a success or a failure, a ministry motivator or a forgotten relic, isn't so easy, though.
___That's due in part to a labyrinth of goals set over the 25-year period and difficulty in tracking numbers related to some of those goals.
___The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee filed its final annual report on Bold Mission Thrust June 12 during the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans. Such reports have been given annually since 1976, when convention messengers set a goal "that every person in the world shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ in the next 25 years ... and can understand the claim Jesus Christ has on their lives."
___Although it wasn't called Bold Mission Thrust until 1979, this convention-adopted mandate to unite all SBC agencies in a massive effort of "bold mission" set the agenda for SBC missions work for years to come.
___Contrary to popular perception, Bold Mission Thrust was not constructed as a single set of goals for the 25-year period. Instead, it developed in stages.
___The first basic goals were for the period 1977-1979. They encouraged inter-agency cooperation, increased Bible teaching, more witnessing and emphasis on mission action.
___The next goals, for 1979-1982, focused on "the church growing," "the church going" and "the church giving." Sub-categories called for a 12 percent gain in Sunday School enrollment, a 10 percent increase per year in baptisms, 5,800 new churches, a net gain of 1,000 career missionaries and doubling Cooperative Program giving.
___This mechanism continued to evolve until the goals for the final period, 1995-2000, fell into 13 specific categories, calling for 2.5 million baptisms over the five-year period, a total of 50,000 congregations, Sunday School enrollment of 13 million, a total of 5,000 home missionaries and 5,600 foreign missionaries, 400,000 missions volunteers and $2.5 billion given to the Cooperative Program over five years.
___So were all the goals met?
___Answers fall into three categories: Yes, no and only God knows. Some goals clearly were exceeded. Other goals are difficult to track. Some of the goals not met were, in hindsight, unrealistic. For example, the goal of increasing giving 10 percent per year was dreamed up in a time of economic inflation that didn't last.
___One of the clearest summary reports on Bold Mission Thrust was given to International Mission Board trustees in March by Senior Vice President Avery Willis. Willis reported on several of the SBC's overseas goals related to Bold Mission Thrust:
___ International missionaries. In 1975, the SBC had 2,667 foreign missionaries, mainly long-term career missionaries. One Bold Mission Thrust goal called for increasing to 5,000 foreign missionaries, while another called for increasing to 5,600. The actual total at the end of 2000 was 4,946, an increase of 85.5 percent but slightly short of the goal. That number includes Journeyman and International Service Corps missionaries serving two years or longer but does not include volunteers serving less than two years.
___ Countries served. In 1975, the SBC had missionaries in 82 nations. The Bold Mission Thrust goal was to reach 125. By the end of last year, the actual number of countries served by the IMB was 153, surpassing the goal.
___ Volunteers. Regardless of what goals were set, the phenomenal increase in Southern Baptist missions volunteers both at home and abroad is by all accounts one of the greatest successes of the Bold Mission Thrust era. Mission Service Corps, a primary category of volunteer missionary service, was birthed at the same time as Bold Mission Thrust. In 1975, the IMB reported only 1,200 missions volunteers. By the end of 2000, that number had soared to 30,362, an increase of 2,430 percent. The SBC's North American Mission Board reported 250,000 volunteers serving during the five-year period from 1995-2000.
___ Overseas churches. In 1975, the SBC related to 7,584 overseas churches. By the end of 2000, the number had grown to 60,988, an increase of 704 percent but short of the goal of 75,840.
___ Overseas church membership. In 1975, overseas churches related to the IMB's work recorded 896,063 members. Bold Mission Thrust set a goal of increasing that to 8,960,630. The final total was 5,624,018, an increase of 528 percent but short of the goal.
___ Overseas baptisms. In 1975, IMB missionaries and the overseas churches they related to baptized 80,747 new believers. The goal was to increase baptisms to 807,470 annually. Although the 2000 total of 451,301 was a gain of 459 percent, it fell short of the goal.
___A spokesman for NAMB said the SBC's domestic missions agency does not produce an annual Bold Mission Thrust report. Therefore, comparable numbers to those given in the IMB report were not available.
___However, the final report filed by the SBC Executive Committee sheds some light on these goals and other local-church-related goals:
___ Baptisms. Various goals were set for increasing baptisms among SBC churches in the United States. One goal called for a 10 percent gain each year. Another goal called for a total of 2.5 million baptisms in the final five years of Bold Mission Thrust. In reality, SBC baptisms in 1975 totaled 421,809. By 2000, the total was 414,657, a 1.7 percent decrease. The five-year total of 2,032,634 fell short of the 2.5 million goal for 1995-2000.
___ New congregations. A clear goal of Bold Mission Thrust throughout the years was to reach the 50,000 mark in number of churches and missions. The actual total at the end of 2000 was 46,831, a gain of 34 percent over the 34,902 churches and missions reported in 1975.
___ Bible study enrollment. Despite several years of significant growth, total Bible study enrollment in SBC churches grew only from 7,281,532 to 8,186,415. That's a gain of 12.4 percent but far short of the Bold Mission Thrust goal of 13 million.
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