IMB, NAMB celebrate 175 years of helping Baptists pursue the Great Commission

When 327 delegates met at First Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., on May 8, 1845, they did more than start a new convention of Baptist churches in the South.

They began a missionary movement that would, in time, start new gospel-proclaiming churches throughout North America and the world. This May, Southern Baptists celebrated the 175th anniversary of the founding of what became the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board — and the corresponding gospel movement they launched.

The founding of the two mission boards in 1845 marked a change in missions strategy among Baptists in the United States. Earlier organizations of Baptists had funded individual missionaries through an associational method. The convention’s founders preferred an approach where churches would take ownership of the entirety of Southern Baptist missions instead of only supporting individual missionaries. Many believe this decision helped to fuel the growth of SBC mission work over the next 175 years despite a Civil War, the Great Depression, two world wars and multiple global pandemics.

Nathan Finn, history professor, provost and dean of the faculty at North Greenville University, said many missions organizations have drifted away from gospel proclamation and church planting as their main focus. The IMB and NAMB have resisted that drift. There has never been a time when the two mission boards were seriously tempted to elevate other ministries over evangelism and church planting.

“These two mission boards have shown how missions can be a part of the DNA of a denomination,” Finn said. “Almost every group cares about missions. … But the Southern Baptist Convention puts our money where our mouth is. It has always been at the heart of SBC life. It doesn’t mean that we’ve always done missions well. And it doesn’t mean there hasn’t been controversy. But I don’t think there has ever been a time when Southern Baptists have shrugged their shoulders about missions. That has largely been because these two boards have, together, gotten that into the DNA of Baptist life.”