USA (BP/MNN) — As the United States continues to face uncertain economic times, leaders with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board will have some challenges in the months ahead.
Southern Baptists gave $145.6 million to the 2011 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The numbers are just now being released. Unfortunately, the 2010 offering is $3 million less than the $148.9 million Southern Baptists gave in 2009–a 2.2% decrease, and $8.3 million less than IMB needs to meet its 2011 operating budget. Offering receipts also fell well below the national goal of $175 million.
IMB President Tom Elliff says the "deficit is a matter of concern, but the issue is ultimately spiritual, not fiscal."
"Every offering is a picture of our heart, and it illustrates whether we have faith in God. That's what stewardship is all about," Elliff said. "When we give generously, not only do we accomplish more on the field, but more is accomplished in our own heart because we're expressing our trust in Christ.
Elliff challenged Southern Baptists to greater missions involvement following the announcement of the results.
Despite the shortfall, the money will support nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries serving around the world through the International Mission Board. It will help provide housing, salaries, medical care and children's education. The cost averages $46,700 annually per individual missionary.
In 2009, that support enabled missionaries and their national partners to baptize more than 360,000 people and start more than 29,000 churches.
Now, more than ever before, Elliff said, it is critical to press forward with taking the Gospel to those who haven't heard.
"Never has the cry of the lost been more desperate and the opportunity for sharing the Gospel been greater," he said. "The fact that there remain 3,800 people groups that are not engaged with the Gospel (coupled with the fact that–barring an awakening of our faith–1.7 billion people will die without hearing the name of Jesus) should be totally unacceptable to those of us who call ourselves by Christ's name.
"We will not evangelize the world by simply falling out of bed tomorrow morning and going about our business as usual. We must awaken to the trumpet call of faith."
Regardless of the budget deficit, Elliff said the IMB will not retreat during what may prove to be the most effective season of the organization's 166-year history.