Members of the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee hear about Mission Board staff reductions at a meeting in Snellville on Tuesday.
By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index
DULUTH, Ga. – A prolonged decline in Cooperative Program giving is forcing the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to further reduce staffing levels in order to right-size the organization to meet financial realities.
Cooperative Program receipts have declined in Georgia from a high of $49.5 million in 2007 to $37.8 million in 2020, an overall drop of $11.7 million. That includes a $2.6 million decline since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have been in the process of right-sizing our organization to match our current and future financial realities,” said Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. “Even with this reset, we remain resolved to fulfill the Great Commission. Our commitment to reach Georgia with the gospel, encourage pastors, strengthen and plant churches will not change. And we’ll still be serving Georgia Baptists with one of the largest state convention staffs in the Southern Baptist Convention.”
In 2020, when the pandemic began, the Mission Board took immediate action in anticipation of the Cooperative Program being impacted. Staffing levels were reduced. Salaries were reduced and retirement benefits were suspended for all current staff. Some properties were sold. And voluntary retirement incentives were offered.
“At the end of 2020, while going through personnel reductions, we informed staff that this may not be the final cut,” Hammond said. “And since June of 2020, we’ve been able to complete an independent financial review that revealed some incomplete accounting practices with unbudgeted expenses. These findings have given us a clearer picture of our financial situation.”
Cooperative Program giving in 2021 has not returned to 2019 levels because of a variety of external reasons.
“Because of this, we’re having to make extremely difficult decisions,” Hammond said. “These decisions are difficult because they affect the lives of very talented and godly people.”
On Tuesday, Hammond and Melber outlined for the Mission Board’s Executive Committee a list of actions that have been taken over the past three years as a result of declines in Cooperative Program giving.
“For the past 15 years, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of churches participating in CP and a steady decline in the percentages of undesignated receipts churches are giving through CP,” Melber said. “While giving has declined, we’ve seen an increase in inflationary costs.”
For years, the Mission Board had been offsetting declines in Cooperative Program receipts by drawing from cash reserves and setting up a line of credit to cover budget overages. By 2018, cash reserves had been exhausted and the line of credit had been maxed out.
The Mission Board had 171 full-time staff members in 2018. That number is now less than 90.
Recently, the Mission Board took steps to reduce operational expenses by selling properties, including the Sugarloaf property with a projected close date of April 2022.
“The collective sale of these properties will lower our operating costs, greatly contribute to the financial health of the Mission Board and enable us to continue providing ministry and resources to our pastors and churches,” Hammond said.
“As a result of previous decisions, progress has been made. We are currently debt free. We’ve been able to forward on Cooperative Program and designated gifts on schedule. We’ve begun replenishing designated accounts and building toward appropriate operating reserves. And we’ll soon be in a position to build back stronger.”