IMB reduces missionary staff by 21 percent in historic “reset”; stateside staff reduced by 33 percent
RICHMOND, VA — Southern Baptists’ missionary force took a 21 percent drop in a matter of months last fall in a six-month bid to cut overhead from years of overspending. In addition, stateside staff, many concentrated in its Richmond headquarters, was reduced by 33 percent.
Agency President David Platt announced the reduced staffing levels to trustees today (Feb. 24) in their regularly scheduled meeting,
A total of 983 missionaries out of a worldwide force of about 4,800 came home after being offered enhanced retirement incentives early last fall. Another 149 stateside staff out of about 450, or 33 percent, accepted similar packages based on age and years of service.
Total staff reductions total 1,132 in the historic downsizing.
The massive pulldown brings the missionary force of the nation’s largest evangelical denomination to around 3,800. That is a number not seen since the 3,954 reported in 1993.
Staffing level reductions initially set for 600-800
To balance the budget, the Atlanta native – who was named to lead the 170-year-old agency in August 2014 – announced last fall that the IMB would reduce staff by 600-800 positions by Feb. 22. The higher number that was announced to the Board today reportedly came as a surprise to many.
Platt told trustees that the agency “is now in a much healthier financial position. Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering givings are trending upward.”
Budgeting on offering goal rather than receipts
The agency had a standing policy of frequently increasing its Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and budgeting the entire amount, even though it regularly failed to reach the goal by at least $20 million. Over six years that brought its deficit to $210 million and severely depleted its cash reserves.
At a meeting of state Baptist papers editors in mid-February, Platt noted that the agency had taken the unprecedented step of lowering the 2016 offering by $20 million – from $175 million to $155 million – to bring it more in line with expectations.
While the offering had increased in recent years it never met the goal on which the agency based its budget – thus creating over spends.
Platt encountered criticism in mid-January when he announced the shuttering of the agency’s Communications department, eliminating 30 employees. No other department was affected by staff reductions in the agency’s “reset” as Platt has termed the restructuring.
Work going to overseas teams, churches, outside vendors
In a statement regarding the elimination of the work unit, Platt stated in January that “After examining the functions, capacity, and workload, we determined that the functions performed by the Richmond Communications center are no longer needed or can be adequately performed by others. The functions of the Center will be performed in the future by overseas IMB missionary communication teams, or through partnerships with churches and outside vendors.”
Under the reset, much of the work previously performed in Richmond will be farmed out to communications teams in overseas locations.
“These next two months put a responsibility in each one of our laps to seek the Lord concerning His will for our lives,” Platt said, reiterating two points to missionaries and staff.
However, at the editors meeting two weeks ago he added that the cuts were not based on finances but on an inability of the team to work in a highly digital world.
Communication team elimination not driven by finances
“This decision to remove various positions in Richmond was not driven by a financial need as much as it was driven by stewardship of responsibility,” Platt said. “We have a responsibility to Southern Baptists to [ensure] that every position we have is a position we need. We have a responsibility to use the resources entrusted to us in the wisest way possible for the spread of the Gospel to the nations.”
The decision to close the Richmond Communications Center was made following internal and external audits of the IMB’s communications effectiveness and extensive meetings with stateside and overseas communications staff, Platt said.
The closure stemmed from the fact that “our mobilization efforts” – presumably including the communications strategy – “have not kept up with our times,” Platt said. “We are way behind in the development of a digital mindset that builds on customization and flexibility rather than predictability and uniformity. Our field and stateside communicators struggle with employing new methods for reaching a changing audience.”
Floyd: “Disappointing, but we will trust God”
In responding to today’s news of the reductions, SBC President Ronnie Floyd noted, “While this news is disappointing to all of us, we know we have prayed for God’s leadership; therefore, we will trust God in this season and with our future as Southern Baptists.
“This reset is not regress or retreat,” Floyd said. “Southern Baptist churches must see this as a fresh calling to reaching the world for Christ. Now is the time to go forward with a clear vision and an aggressive strategy to make disciples of all the nations for Christ.”
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said, “My heart is broken to hear of the large number of missionaries and staff who are leaving the IMB. My prayers are with them as they transition.
“However, most of all,” Page noted, “My prayers are focused on the fact of the massive lostness in our world. May God bless Dr. Platt as he leads us in a new strategy to see a new day of intentional evangelism around our world. God help us all!”