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5 facts about the International Mission Board (IMB)

December 06, 2019

This week SBC churches across the globe are holding a week of prayer for the International Mission Board and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Here are five facts you should know about one of the world’s largest missions organizations.

1. The IMB was originally called the Foreign Mission Board (FMB) when it was formed in 1845 to manage the sending of missionaries to foreign countries. Based out of Richmond, Virginia—where the IMB still resides today—the FMB oversaw missionary work and served as a liaison between missionaries and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). 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. 

2. In 1873, the FMB appointed the woman who would become the entity’s most famous missionary—Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon. Moon became the first American woman to attempt to live exactly as the Chinese did, adopting their dress and language and showing a greater appreciation for their culture. The effort helped to connect with Chinese neighbors. As Moon told the FMB,  “I am more and more impressed by the belief that to win these people to God, we must first win them to ourselves.” In 1888, a handful of women dedicated to the cause of missions founded the Woman’s Missionary Union. Moon suggested they take up a Christmas offering to send missionaries to China and to help her and support her work. That initial Christmas offering collected $3,315 (roughly $95,000 in 2019 dollars) and was named for Lottie Moon in 1918. Since its inception, several billion dollars has been collected for the fund, including $157.3 million in 2018. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions funds more than 50% of IMB work.

3. Despite the efforts of missionaries like Moon, significant growth in overseas work did not occur for the FMB until after World War II. By 1955, though, the FMB was able to support 1,000 missionaries in the field. Another boost came in 1964, when the FMB began a new effort to send single missionaries called the Missionary Journeyman Program. Modeled on the Peace Corps and Baptist colleges' summer missions programs, the Journeyman Program provided young adults the opportunity to both on a mission field and explore the possibility of lifelong service as a missionary. Since the program's launch, about 6,000 people have served as journeymen, and more than 1,000 went on to serve as career missionaries. Currently, over 200 journeymen serve overseas.

4. The Southern Baptist Convention voted in 1997 to change the name of the Foreign Mission Board to the International Mission Board. The IMB has also shifted its focus from geographic countries to people groups, with a concerted effort to start church planting movements among “unreached peoples,” (i.e., ethnolinguistic groups in which the number of evangelical Christians is less than 2%). The current vision of the IMB, rooted in Revelation 7:9, is a “multitude from every language, people, tribe, and nation knowing and worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ.” The current mission of the IMB is to partner with churches to “empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”

5. As of Dec. 1, 2019, the IMB has a total of 3,656 field personnel. In 2018 the entity had 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.