The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has reported a huge increase in the number of members through its international missions.
According to the International Mission Board's (IMB) 2020 Annual Statistical Report, reported by Christianity Today (CT), the new believers, reached out by the missionaries under SBC's IMB, increased to 62% in 2020 from its data in 2019. Moreover, the numbers of baptisms and new churches have risen as well to 81% and 33% from the previous year, respectively.
The growth was attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit, pandemic and effective methodology.
In East Asia, the missionaries witnessed the movement of the Holy Spirit, wherein the new converts who were arrested by the authorities during a Bible study session shared the Gospel in jail.
IMB Vice President John Brady declared that the discipleship plan may have played a factor in the surge.
In the method, new Christians are discipled through 35 Bible verses, focusing on the transformation by the power of God. These new disciples are then encouraged to disciple others with the same process. Then, they are taught about key doctrines and leadership development.
The majority of converts came from South Asia.
Wilson Geisler, IMB's global research director, said that the pandemic has not interrupted the normal lives of people in the region, as much as it did in the Western countries, due to the necessity of feeding their families amidst the lockdowns.
"In urban areas of South Asia, we've also heard from personnel that COVID provided more opportunities for gospel witness and disciple making," he added.
The IMB's report supports Geisler's statement.
"Southern Baptists generously provided food for those in need. Local evangelists then had the joy of going house-to-house in Muslim communities providing food and sharing the gospel," it revealed.
On the other hand, David Garrison, former IMB leader in South Asia, believes that church planting paved the path for the increase.
Garrison shared that when they started the ministry in the region, only 4% of IMB missionaries were serving. But he said that the numbers of Christians and churches hugely increased due to church planting movements (CPM), as evidenced by the new churches in South Asia.
However, some Christian leaders and organizations reportedly criticized the use of CPM.
According to the 9Marks and Desiring God ministries, the CPM methodology tends to lack quality controls and neglects preaching.
In his article titled "Wrinkling Time in the Missionary Task: A Theological Review of Church Planting Movements Methodology," John Massey, dean of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and former IMB missionary, spoke against the strategy.
"In CPM methodology, quick results take short-term precedence over long-term sustainability," he wrote.
But Massey told CT that since he wrote the article, "much has changed in the IMB leadership" wherein leaders were rejecting the use of the method. Thus his doubt that the increase in the number of people baptized was a result of the said strategy.
Garrison, however, claimed that IMB, as well as the international church planting community, is still using CPM. He clarified though that their method strictly follows the Southern Baptist standards.