Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist mission numbers
Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated.
In a Jan. 2 blog entry A Proposed New Year’s Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention: Integrity in Numbers, he writes:
For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.
He explains that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process.
Likewise, the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is also complex and time-consuming.
Yet IMB numbers suggest that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:
- Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
- Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.
The numbers defy belief, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested, and are not supported by the documenting data required to answer questions like:
“Where do these churches exist?”, “How many people attend?”, “Who pastors them?”, “How many are still in existence?” etc . . .
He reports having inquired:
I have asked some of our SBC missionary personnel to give me the names of those baptized under their care as reported on the Annual Statistical Report – only to be given a blank stare by many. It seems there is no record of either the names of those baptized or churches they attend. The baptism number is simply that – a number.
How are the numbers padded?
. . . all that IMB field missionary personnel have to do is simply say they started a church, and it is recorded as a “new” church start. Or, sometimes, as reported to me by several field missionaries, they report on some excellent Bible study groups they have started, and “presto” – several new churches are born and wind up being reported by their supervisors on the Annual Statistical Report. Or, as has happened in various regions, statistics are given about “new” church starts that have nothing to do with SBC personnel; they have been started by indigenous people groups that have absolutely no connection with SBC personnel in the area.
He bases his views on confidential reports from those in the field:
I have had missionary personnel from different regions in the world write me with concerns about the reporting process and ask “When is somebody going to challenge the numbers?”
His view is supported by comments from Montgomery, AL., pastor Alan Cross, who wrote:
I wrote a similar post on the now defunct SBC Outpost last May. To back up what you are saying, I communicated with missionaries from 4 different regions before writing my post. None of them were connected but they all told the same story. Pressure from superiors (both administration and trustees) had created an environment where numbers were being exaggerated and sometimes fabricated.
Cross also indicated sweeping problems with the reported numbers. He wrote:
There are CPM’s (church planting movements) that have been reported that do not exist presently, or if they ever did, they are not able to be found now. There are church plants that have been reported that do not exist, or if they do, they are totally the work of indigenous believers. The baptism numbers are totally wrong.
They seem to agree about why numbers are being exaggerated and fabricated. As Burleson wrote:
The fault lies with the system we have constructed that puts such an ungodly emphasis on numbers.
Their desire for simple reform is painfully clear.
Such systems are, unfortunately, rarely self-correcting.
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