What is the future of missions?
To answer that question, the International Mission Board commissioned Barna Group this year to conduct a survey and prepare a report on younger Christians’ perspective of missions.
“As the largest missionary-sending agency of our kind, we’re compelled to search for solutions to the challenges of a declining missionary candidate pipeline and a plateaued giving stream,” IMB President Paul Chitwood said in the report.
“We’re obliged to ask the hard questions: How do we bridge the gap between shrinking church attendance and a burgeoning world population that doesn’t have access to the gospel? How does the next generation contribute to fulfilling this spectacular vision so beautifully revealed in Revelation? In essence: What is the future of missions?”
On Wednesday, Sept. 2, representatives from Barna Group and IMB conducted a webinar to discuss findings with an international group of close to 1,000 people, including Brian Gay, minister of missions at First Baptist Church, Montgomery.
“The presenters on the webinar did an excellent job of breaking down the research and sharing their findings. Some information they shared was very encouraging. For example one presenter emphasized that ‘half of young Christians 18 to 34 (52%) qualify as potential missionaries.’ While I wish that number was closer to 100%, it is exciting to see that many young people are qualifying and identifying themselves as candidates for missions work,” said Gay.
Much of the information shared, Gay believes, confirms what many Christians already know intuitively, such as the finding that young Christians who know a missionary are more likely to say they will give to missions, pray for missionaries and go on a short-term or long-term missions trip. At First Baptist Church, Montgomery, he said, “We recognized that truth a long time ago, and for this reason we are constantly looking for ways to introduce our congregation to missionaries from the field.” The church maintains a mission house to host in-residence missionaries and conducts a tri-annual global missions celebration, inviting enough missionaries to join every Sunday morning Bible study class in the church, including youth and young adult classes.
During the webinar, Jason Thomas, IMB’s African American church mobilizer, spoke to the hopeful statistic that Black churchgoers are eager to engage in missions. When speaking to churches, Thomas says he wants to “unearth the rich history of African Americans in missions so they actually see themselves there.”
“We need to dispel the myth that all generations and all ethnic groups aren’t called to global missions,” Thomas said.
Oscar Tortolero, IMB’s Hispanic church mobilizer, mentioned the unique giftedness of Hispanics growing up in the U.S. who are often multilingual and culturally prepared to reach others in the U.S. and take the gospel overseas.
“We have a huge potential to take Hispanics to the nations. Let us not miss it, because now is the time. We are ready to go.”
Sarah Farley from IMB’s student team said that young adults have much to offer to the spread of the gospel, but they may hesitate to be involved in long-term missions because of financial, educational and lifestyle concerns.
She encouraged churches, leaders and parents to “engage them with accountability when it comes to investing in missions, engage them with relationships with missionaries, and equip them and disciple them so they can go.”
Gay agrees, saying that Alabama Baptists should be encouraged that church members are willing to participate in missions through praying, giving and going. “It is up to us as church leaders to spark that willingness into action by doing all we can to engage our congregants with real life missions experiences. In today’s context, that might be facilitating your members to participate in a virtual prayer walk. Or perhaps you can invite missionaries to join a special conference call with your congregation to share about their work and pray for them from a long distance.
“We will have to be creative, but God is still at work, and we have a special opportunity to join Him in making His gospel known from the neighborhoods to the nations.”
IMB and Barna Group will continue the discussion of the future of missions as part of IMB’s Every Church, Every Nation Summit, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. Learn more and register at imb.org/futureofmissions.