One hundred seventy-five years ago this week, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was created “for the purpose of eliciting, combining, and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians, for the propagation of the Gospel.” Since then the churches and state conventions associated with the SBC have joined together on numerous ventures to advance the message and work of the gospel.
Here are five facts you should know about Southern Baptist cooperation:
1. To help cover the costs of expanding ministry opportunities, leaders of the SBC proposed, in 1919, the 75 Million Campaign, a five-year pledge campaign. The campaign was designed to fund the missions and ministries of all the state conventions as well as that of the Southern Baptist Convention. Although that program fell short of its goal, it led to the launching of the Cooperative Program in 1925. The Cooperative Program relies upon the undesignated gifts given to it by Southern Baptist churches. By unifying the funding, the Cooperative Program provides a workable way through which tens of thousands of like-minded churches can cooperate for the advancement and application of the gospel.
2. Southern Baptists work together to support the state conventions in evangelism, missions, and ministry through the North American Mission Board (NAMB). NAMB runs the Send Network, which plants churches and trains church planters, and Send Relief, a mercy ministry that focuses on such areas as poverty, refugee aid, foster care, and human trafficking. NAMB also supports and coordinates Southern Baptist chaplains and disaster relief efforts.
3. Southern Baptists have been officially cooperating on disaster relief for 50 years. It began in 1968 when Texas Baptists assisted victims of Hurricane Beulah. At that time, the Brotherhood Commission, along with state Baptist Brotherhood leadership, took the lead in organizing Southern Baptists to respond to disasters by creating the coordinating agency for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) and hiring the first national disaster relief director. The turning point for SBDR came in 1989 when Southern Baptists responded to Hurricane Hugo. Since that time, Southern Baptists have grown to become the third largest disaster relief organization in the country, behind only the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Nearly 70,000 Southern Baptists across the country are currently trained to handle disasters. Send Relief has also been helping during the COVID-19 pandemic through such efforts as distributing various types of personal protection equipment to medical facilities and providing meals to communities hit hard by the medical and economic impact of the virus.
4. The autonomous churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention pool their resources to support the work of the six theological seminaries that train ministers and Christian workers. The seminaries are The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky (1859); The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (1908); New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana (1917); Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention in Ontario, California (1944); The Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina (1951); and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri (1957). These seminaries also provide fully accredited residential master’s and doctoral training at their main campuses, as well as baccalaureate and master’s programs through Internet-based coursework and at numerous extension centers, extension campuses, and extension classrooms. During the 2017–2018 academic year, the seminaries trained 22,808 students.
5. Southern Baptists formed in 1845 to manage the sending of missionaries to foreign countries. Originally called the Foreign Mission Board, the name was changed in 1997 to the International Mission Board. Within four months of the founding of the SBC, the entity had appointed two missionaries to China and assumed support for a third missionary that was already serving in that country. Over the next few decades, the board expanded its work to include Africa, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and Japan. Today, the IMB has a total of 3,640 field personnel, and in 2018 engaged 847 people groups (out of 3,176), planted 13,898 churches in foreign countries, and trained 18,428 pastors overseas. The IMB also recorded 52,586 baptisms and 77,605 new believers overseas. Slightly more than 50% of all Cooperative Program contributions received on a national level are directed to IMB work. Approximately 83% of the IMB’s budget is used for overseas purposes.