The International Mission Board experienced double-digit growth in nearly every category of their work in 2003, the board announced Feb. 3 in Richmond Virginia.
The greatest accomplishment is the net increase of 17.7 percent in the number of baptisms, pushing the number passed half million for the first time. 510,357 were Baptist in 2003, up 76,838 from the year prior.
"That's a wonderful, wonderful mark," Willis said. "This is a cause for tremendous rejoicing. God is blessing as we are proving faithful to the vision of bringing all the peoples of the world to saving faith in Jesus Christ."
The total number of congregations worldwide reached 87,419, a net increase of 15,516 (21.6 percent) over 2002. A total of 10,031 outreach groups also were started in 2003, Willis said. While that represented 38 fewer than in 2002, it still brought the total number of outreach groups to 47,103, a net increase of 5,648 (13.6 percent) for the year.
In addition, Overseas church membership surpassed 7.04 million, a net increase of 336,411, for an annual growth rate of 5 percent; Bible teaching enrollment increased 182,806 (5.1 percent) to 3.77 million; New believers in discipleship training increased 42.8 percent (128,035) to 426,849; Church members in discipleship training grew 24.9 percent (180,255) to 894,470.
Non-residential leadership training enrollment grew by 27,832 (47.8 percent) to 86,059; Residential leadership training programs showed a net increase of 557 (2.6 percent) to 22,366; The total number of international missionaries fielded by Baptist partners grew at an annual rate of 11.9 percent to 1,523; The total number of Baptist partner "home" missionaries dropped by 231 (-9 percent) to 2,339, in part because of better application of the definition of home missionary as someone who goes to a people group other than his own within the same country.
According to Willis, when the number of new congregations is rapidly multiplying in a church-planting movement, leadership training and doctrinal integrity become vital concerns.
Subsequently the trustees adopted a plan to create three permanent subcommittees to exercise "careful watch-care" over new work. The committees will "review and monitor" efforts in the areas of general administration, leadership development and global strategy and research.
"The idea is that this helps us do our job a little bit better," said Jay Owens of Roanoke, Va., chairman of the trustees' overseas committee. "When there are issues to be brought up, we will know where to send them to be reviewed and then brought back to the overseas committee for action."