ROME, Ga. – The International Mission Board – the international evangelistic arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, received positive reports from leaders around the world, during their weeklong retreat at the WinShape Center near Rome, Ga.
"We are seeing the most amazing things. This is an extremely responsive place," one regional leader said at the gathering in early November. "We never imagined we would see the kind of things God is doing here. It is literally exploding."
"God truly is moving, and I really believe this is just the beginning of what He is intending to do," another leader added. "It is a privilege for us to be involved here. The challenges are overwhelming."
According to the reports, one part of the world saw 211,000 believers baptized, 17,500 churches started and a stunning 69,196 leaders trained in just the past three years, one regional leader reported.
In another area, a report of 150,000 adults who had left their traditional religion to follow Jesus had to be revised upward to 280,000. One country in the region has seen as many as 900,000 people decide to follow Jesus in the past three years. In just one district of that country, researchers count more than 1,000 congregations where five years ago only a handful existed.
In one region, the very first churches have been planted among three people groups, and researchers have verified that five church-planting movements are underway.
The regional leadership teams met to find ways they can work together to fulfill the vision of all the world's peoples hearing the Gospel, IMB President Jerry Rankin said.
"This was an unprecedented retreat," Rankin said. "It would be difficult to overstate the synergy and impact of this global gathering as they focused on key result areas that will move us toward fulfilling the vision of making the Gospel accessible to all the peoples of the world."
"This was the first time we have had so many people representing IMB work in so many places around the world with such a single-minded focus on reaching all peoples with the Gospel," said Larry Gay, who leads work in the Western South America region. "Rather than focusing on specific needs in any given region, we all focused on what God wants to do through us in calling all peoples to saving faith in Jesus Christ."
"God was at work during our week at WinShape as we sensed a unity of purpose in doing whatever it takes to make sure that all the peoples of the world have the opportunity to hear the good news," said Dickie Nelson, who leads work in the Caribbean Basin region. "The week was an 'iron sharpening iron' experience. We learned from one another and looked for better ways to be positioned to allow God to use us to be part of seeing church-planting movements begin around the world."
In the past five years, the number of people groups engaged by IMB personnel doubled to nearly 1,500. Worldwide, the church planting movements experienced a similar growth with 7 confirmed and 42 others pending.
Regional leadership teams are looking for ways more missions resources can be focused on the unreached by allowing national Baptists and likeminded Great Commission Christian groups to assume leadership where work is well-established. Even many harvest fields have significant areas where the Gospel has not penetrated.
"This meeting provided encouragement and 'best practices' ideas for training our church leaders," said John Sapp, who leads work in the Eastern Africa region. "We are expecting to continue new advances of church planting among the people groups of the eastern Africa coastline and in northern Kenya and Uganda."
The regional leaders said they didn't see any of the self-interest and defensiveness that might be expected when teams have to share limited financial and personnel resources.
"I didn't see any evidence of provincialism or competition," Gay said. "For example, on Monday night the leadership team for Western South America met with the team for Northern Africa and the Middle East to ask for help researching and engaging a large unreached people group in our region that has ties to the other region. Together the two teams explored ways to help each other by sharing resources and strategies."