Southern Baptist Missionaries See Baptisms and Converts Surge With COVID-19 by David Roach for Christianity Today
Leaders cite missiological methods and the work of the Spirit as the reasons for the surprising statistics.
The Southern Baptist Convention fell on hard times last year, with a contentious sexual abuse investigation, racial tensions, and shrinking US baptism numbers. But amid the gloom, there was a bright spot: international missions.
During the COVID-19 pandemic ’s first year, the number of new believers harvested by the 3,552 missionaries serving with the convention ’s International Mission Board (IMB) increased 62 percent from the previous year. Baptisms were up 81 percent from 2019 to 2020 (the most recent year for which data is available), and salvation testimonies continue to pour in.
The increases are particularly significant in a denomination where many cite missions as their reason for joining and staying.
A 53-year-old Thai man with chest pain went to see an IMB medical missionary outside Bangkok. The man collapsed in the clinic and regained consciousness only after the IMB missionary, a physician, performed emergency medical procedures.
As they waited for an ambulance, the man prayed to receive Christ, prompting the doctor to ask, “When did you start to become interested in God ’s story?”
The man pointed to the place on the floor where he collapsed and said, “Right there. Before that, I had never been interested at all. But when I collapsed, I heard God call my name three times, and I knew he was warning me.”
That wasn ’t an isolated incident, according to IMB reports. The evangelistic surge, missiologists say, is attributable to effective methodology, the pandemic, and the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit.
“We ’ve seen the Holy Spirit working across the globe in mighty ways,” said Wilson Geisler, IMB director of global research. One missionary team “saw the first believers among an incredibly tough-to-reach people group.” Another “saw more people coming to faith in 2020 than in the previous three years combined.”