The Baptist movement has become significantly fragmented over the years, and there are various types of churches that use the label “Missionary Baptist” as part of their name. This article deals with the Missionary Baptist movement within the African-American community; it does not address other groups that may happen to use the name “Missionary Baptist.”
Most Baptist churches, including Missionary Baptists, believe and follow the essential tenets of Christianity. They hold to the inspiration and authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus. Also, Missionary Baptists, like other Baptists, teach the autonomy of the local church and practice believer’s baptism by immersion. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the two ordinances of the church. Most Missionary Baptist churches view Sunday as the Christian Sabbath, in which no work or secular activities should be done. Many Missionary Baptist churches also call their pastor’s wife the “first lady” of the church.
Two of the largest groups of Missionary Baptists are the National Baptist Convention USA, with about 8 million members; and the National Baptist Convention of America, with a membership of about 5 million. Other African-American Baptist groups using the name “Missionary Baptist” include the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention.
The Missionary Baptist movement began in 1880, soon after the Civil War. At that time, there were many freed slaves in Baptist churches, and they felt the need to come together in worship and to fulfill the Great Commission. The former slaves formed the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention of the United States in 1880, the American National Baptist Convention in 1886, and the Baptist National Educational Convention in 1893. These three organizations united to form the National Baptist Convention in 1895. About 24 years later, a disagreement within the convention led to a split, and the National Baptist Convention of America separated from the National Baptist Convention USA.
Generally speaking, Missionary Baptist churches place an emphasis on Christian evangelism, promoting missions efforts at home and abroad; encourage Christian education; seek social justice and community involvement; and publish and distribute Sunday school material and other Christian literature. Missionary Baptists embrace their history and maintain a strong connection to the needs in their surrounding communities. As conventions (not denominations), Missionary Baptist groups do not have administrative or doctrinal control over their member churches; such matters are left up to each local church.