RICHMOND, VA. (BP) —Southern Baptists gave $149.3 million to the 2012 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
The 2012 Lottie Moon offering, finalized June 5, totaled $149,276,303.72. It surpassed last year's offering of $146.8 million by more than $2.4 million and marked the third–highest amount given in the offering's 124–year history.
Speaking on behalf of missionaries serving across the globe, International Mission Board President Tom Elliff expressed profound gratitude to God for the generosity of Southern Baptists.
"The signifiance of the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, promoted each year in partnership with Woman's Missionary Union, can only be understood in light of eternity," Elliff said. "This year's offering, showing an increase during financially challenging days for our nation, is a reminder that missions is the stack pole around which Southern Baptists place their hearts, afire for the Gospel."
"I am quite confident that nothing would so urge God to turn His face away from our convention, its churches and people as a loss of zeal for fulfilling the Great Commission. Our giving to world missions is the clear, undeniable barometer of our passion."
Although recent statistics show a decline of 2.4 percent in overall giving among Southern Baptist churches, Elliff expressed optimism about this increase in their continued missions support.
"I pray this year's offering is an unmistakable indication that in coming days Southern Baptists will give, go and carry the Gospel together—to the ends of the earth," he said.
Wanda Lee, executive director–treasurer of Woman's Missionary Union, also expressed gratitude to Southern Baptists for the increase.
"We were excited to hear about the significant increase of $2.4 million over last year's receipts for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering," Lee Said. "How exciting, after four years of economic challenges, to see Southern Baptists continue to increase their giving to our international missions offering. While we are grateful for this third–largest offering in our history, we are still praying for individuals and churches to understand the biblical call to stewardship and sacrificial giving that will enable more to go and more to hear the wonderful story of Jesus."
Along with Southern Baptists' regular giving through the Cooperative Program (CP), the Lottie Moon offering, named for Southern Baptists' most famous missionary, supports nearly 4,900 missionaries worldwide. It funds salaries, housing, medical care and children's education. Supporting one missionary overseas costs an average of nearly $50,000 per year—or $136 per day.
Most important, Lottie Moon support made it possible for IMB missionaries, working with their ministry partners around the globe, to communicate the Gospel to more than 1.4 million people, lead more than 337,000 people to faith in Christ, baptize 266,451 new believers and start more than 24,000 churches, according to IMB's most recent annual statistical report (2011).
Though the 2012 offering fell short of the national goal of $175 million, "We are grateful first and foremost to the Lord for all that He provides," said David Steverson, IMB treasurer and vice president for finance. "We have confidence that He knows just exactly what we need and also knows exactly when we need it. We are grateful that He chooses to use Southern Baptists in such a great way to provide the support we need.
"From that very first offering back in 1888, we continue to use the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to send and support missionaries. The vast majority of all missionary support is funded through the offering. None is ever used for stateside administration or support. It always goes 100 percent to the missionaries on the field. In an era of unprecedented openness to the Gospel, we are grateful the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering enables the IMB to continue to send and support missionaries around the world. The number of missionaries sent out is a direct correlation to the income we receive. We are committed to being good stewards of everything entrusted to us."
"Even though we did not meet the goal this year, this is the third–largest offering in our history. Thank you, Southern Baptists, for your commitment to missions around the world. Your support is greatly appreciated."
The offering marked the fourth–straight annual increase since the 2008 offering—which fell about 6 percent below the previous year's total as the full force of the global economic downturn that hit that year was felt by churches. The overall giving trend since then has been on the upswing, but "only marginally," according to Steverson.
The IMB's purpose is to serve Southern Baptist churches and assist them in obeying the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to make disciples among all peoples. But the marginal level of increases in mission support in recent years—balanced against the sheer number of lost people worldwide—led Elliff to issue an "urgent appeal" in May to Southern Baptists to "carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth—now."
"There are over 7 billion people on this globe, and unless something changes drastically, radically, it is estimated that fewer than half will ever have the slightest connection with evangelical Christianity in their lifetime," Elliff said during the IMB trustees' May 14-15 meeting in Rogers, Ark. "Why would God entrust to us the greatest lostness in all of history if He did not expect us to do something about it?"
Elliff warned of "disturbing signs" that Southern Baptists "may not be prepared to fulfill our part in the Great Commission equation." The combined effect of a five–year decline in missions giving through the Cooperative Program and modest increases in Lottie Moon giving has resulted in static or declining support, which has affected the number of missionaries serving overseas. The IMB missionary count dropped below 5,000 to 4,850 at the end of 2012. But the drop wasn't for lack of qualified applicants, Elliff stressed. Many missionary candidates have been and will continue to be put on hold until a position becomes vacant or significant additional funding becomes available.
"In a generation that could be literally fulfill the Great Commission by taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth, lack of missions support signals an impending retrenchment. That is unthinkable; in fact, it's unacceptable in light of the opportunity we have, " Elliff said.
The trustees approved a resolution urging Southern Baptists to rally around Christ's Great Commission challenge. The resolution appealed for greater commitments to pray and give and asked the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee for an "aggressive, proactive and prompt" response to the challenges of missionary mobilization and support. It also asked the Executive Committee to offer "thoughtful and substantive proposals" as early as the SBC's 2014 annual meeting that will enable the convention to "operate at maximum effectiveness in taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth."
"The emphasis here is now," Elliff said. "This is the moment of greatest lostness, greatest resources, greatest willingness, greatest access–right now. We cannot guarantee it tomorrow."
The Lottie Moon Offering goal for 2013 is $175 million.
–Baptist Press 06/06/13