IMB approves 51 missionary personnel, trustees hear report of balanced budget

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Danielle and David Flannery pray, surrounded by supporters, as they celebrate their appointment as Southern Baptist missionaries on Sept. 13 in Ridgecrest, NC. The Flannerys are sent by Mountain View Baptist Church in Hamptonville, N.C., to share the Gospel with European Peoples. One of those newly commissioned missionaries, known simply as “Caleb,” is a Georgia Baptist from the Greater Atlanta area but who cannot be identified due to his security level. He will be taking the gospel to unreached South Asian peoples.  CHRIS CARTER/IMB

This is one of three stories relating to the September International Mission Board announcement of its balanced budget, reaction of Georgia Baptist trustees to the agency’s new direction, and coverage of Georgia Baptist emeriti missionaries who were recently honored by the agency.

RIDGECREST, NC — International Mission Board trustees, including three from Georgia, heard a slate of good news from President David Platt during their Sept. 11-13 meeting.

Trustees Allen Hill of metropolitan Atlanta, Bill Ricketts of Athens, and Derek Spain of Dacula attended the meeting and expressed appreciation for the balanced budget for 2017-18 and the appointment of 51 missionaries. Trustees and the public also honored nearly a thousand emeritus missionaries in a reunion that occurs every five years.

Hill, who serves as director of missions for Appalachee Baptist Association, noted that one of the highlights of the meeting “was the opportunity to hear from our Affinity Group Leaders from around the world.

“These men gave wonderful testimonies of how God is working through our missionaries, many of whom serve in very difficult places. The stories they told of lives impacted by the gospel and the advance of the gospel among unreached people groups helped the trustees to know that our service is not in vain,” he stated.

“We are there to “hold the ropes” for those who have answered the call to go wherever God may lead,” he added.

Ricketts said he was encouraged by news of the balanced budget after several years of operating in the red and with substantial staff reductions.

“When I came to the Board four years ago we were in extreme financial difficulties. But under the administration of David Platt the agency has been painfully moved onto solid financial footing. We are now, once again, sending out missionaries in good numbers,” he said.

One of those newly commissioned missionaries, known simply as “Caleb,” is a Georgia Baptist from the Greater Atlanta area but who cannot be identified due to his security level. He will be taking the gospel to unreached South Asian peoples.

Click here to read more of the Georgia trustees comments about the agency’s new direction and plan for fiscal responsibility.  An upcoming story will focus on the reunion of retired missionaries, several of which are from Georgia.

Timeline and turnaround of IMB financial struggles

There was clearly reason for joy among trustees regarding the budget. The Richmond, VA-based agency had fallen on hard times, dating back 14 years.

• In June 2003, home office staff members were notified that their jobs were being eliminated to keep the agency’s expenditures in line with anticipated revenue. A total of 61 full-time and part-time positions were eliminated, some being vacancies that would not be filled under the retrenchment.

That reduction was the second step taken within weeks to reduce expenses and prevent deficit spending. On June 5, IMB leaders announced limits on the number of new workers that would be sent overseas in 2003 and 2004.

But the cuts did not help as the agency continued to spend funds based on what it expected to receive from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering rather than what was actually received. That created an ongoing budget shortfall of around $10-million annually. The budget crisis finally came to a head a decade later.

• In September 2007 – exactly 10 years ago in the same Ridgecrest location as trustees met last month – the agency cast the vision for placing an additional 3,000 missionaries on the field even as it struggled with budgetary restraints.

• On Aug. 27, 2015, the agency announced a radical “reset” under the new administration of Platt – a reorganization that called for moving forward with “innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability.”

At the time of the announcement he noted that the IMB was projecting to fall $21-million short of its current budget. Over just the past six years, according to Baptist Press, the agency’s expenditures totaled $210-million more than had been given to it each year.

Part of that reset was offering Voluntary Retirement Incentives to staff serving in the U.S. and field staff. The plan was offered to employees age 50 and over with five or more years of service. Staff had three months to decide whether to accept the plan or stay, without a guarantee of employment.

• Five months later, on Jan. 14, 2016, the IMB took another drastic step when it shuttered its Richmond-based communications office. A total of 30 stateside staff were terminated with 10 additional communications staff members transitioned to other positions.

According to an IMB press release, the employees represented about 6.5 percent of the approximately 450 stateside staff members at the IMB prior to the board’s “organizational reset,” which began with the launch of the Voluntary Retirement Incentive.

• When the dust had settled on the retirement incentives, a staggering 1,132 missionaries and staff accepted the buy-out package. It was the largest staff reduction in the agency’s 170-year history. The retirements reduced the number of missionaries on the field to between 3,600 and 3,800. The last time the number was below 4,000 was in 1993 when the SBC Annual Reports showed a head count of 3,954.

With that background it was easy to see why Platt’s news was received so heartily. The agency is now back on track living within its budget, spending only funds that it receives from offerings and the Cooperative Program, and only sending missionaries to the field who it can support.

New pathways to missionary service, stronger partnership with churches.

One of Platt’s new concepts that emerged through the agency’s soul searching was opening up new avenues to service, or pathways as they are being called, and streamlining the appointment process. He also called for a closer partnership with Southern Baptist churches and redefining the role of the agency as simply an enabler of the larger role which congregations play in nurturing those who were being called out to missionary service.

The appointment of 51 missionary personnel at the Ridgecrest meeting was also the icing on the cake, Georgia trustees noted. The Sept. 13 Sending Celebration represented churches in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

At the Sept. 13 plenary session, Platt introduced the 2017-18 proposed balanced budget projected at $262 million.

Platt said the IMB’s priorities for the budget are to sustain an increasingly efficient and effective organization; undergird the existing mission force and staff; replenish the current mission force in response to natural attrition; and expand the future mission force with the remaining budget.

Rodney Freeman, vice president of support services and IMB treasurer, reiterated the budget reflects short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability. The budget is based on a new fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018, which aligns IMB’s financial year with other SBC entities.

Platt and Freeman reported the IMB budgeting process follows five core principles:

  • Uses realistic to conservative projections for receipts (projecting Lottie Moon Christmas Offering receipts at $153 million for 2017-18);
  • Maintains contingency reserves at an appropriate level (set at 5.5 months, which falls within SBC Executive Committee guidelines);
  • Excludes property sales from budget receipts or expenses;
  • Spends 100 percent of LMCO receipts on the mission field; and
  • Presents a balanced budget for approval each year ($262 million for 2017-18).

IMB trustees will next meet via video conference Nov. 14 to approve new missionary appointees, with a Livestream Sending Celebration honoring the appointees and their sending churches slated for Nov. 16, at 2 p.m. EST.

The official launch date for the 2017 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was Oct. 1. For more information, go to IMB.org/LMCO to find the new resources for your church’s mission offering.

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