IMB retooling to focus agency on local-church mission work

ATLANTA (ABP)—The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board will reorganize over the next year to focus more on local churches’ involvement in missions and provide flexibility to reach people groups across geographical lines.

At their September meeting in Atlanta, IMB trustees approved a reorganization of the missionary-sending agency and revised its vision, mission and core-values statements. The process will take about a year to fine tune and complete, according to an IMB news release.

Although details of the reorganization have not yet been publicized, basic changes include grouping current missionary teams into “clusters” and replacing the IMB’s 11 geographically based regions with eight “affinity groups.”

IMB President Jerry Rankin told trustees that sending missionaries, reaching the lost and planting churches would remain the agency’s primary tasks. Reorganization would provide the support to focus on reaching people groups even when they move across national boundaries.

But changes in the agency’s mission statement and core values also emphasize the local church’s role in reaching the world with the message of Christ.

“The revised mission statement ... reflects that the Great Commission is the responsibility of the local church and refocuses the efforts of the agency on assisting churches to fulfill that responsibility,” according to the IMB release.

The values statement, the release continued, shifts “the role of the agency from a primary focus on sending missionaries to one that serves the churches in their involvement in the Great Commission and the sending of missionaries.”

The changes simply reflect what some churches already are doing through the current IMB structure and will facilitate involving more congregations, said Ken Winter, IMB’s vice president of church and partner services.

“Churches for years ... have been strategically involved in reaching the lost,” he said. “We’ve seen dramatically increasing involvement ... and churches desiring to engage people groups.”

For the past few years, congregations have been able to participate in strategic planning and action to reach specific people groups as “engaging churches,” often partnered with an IMB region. The mission board assists with training and resources and provides a coach/mentor for the congregation. Currently, 150 churches partner in some way in IMB’s West Africa region alone.

“We see an awakening taking place,” Winter said. The changes are designed “to unleash the resources God is making available,” and development of affinity groups is “an attempt to do more, effectively.”

Asked if the changes might adversely affect the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s unified budget, Winter said, “I don’t believe so, based on what we’ve seen. In fact, we’ve seen just the opposite. ... For the past four to five years, as churches have been more strategically involved ..., we see their giving increasing. ... I think it’s people connecting with God’s heart for missions.”

In other action, IMB trustees approved a new child-protection policy requiring all personnel to undergo thorough background checks and to disqualify anyone with a history of sexual abuse, a criminal conviction of a sexual nature or with behavior that indicates they pose a risk to children.
The board also approved appointment of 83 new missionaries.

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