RICHMOND, VA — The dramatic “drawdown” and “reset” of the International Mission Board has apparently begun with the elimination of its entire communications team.
Initial reports indicate that the work unit was informed of the elimination of an estimated 30 out of 40 positions during a called staff meeting around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Facebook posts by affected employees confirm the meeting and that most photographers, videographers, writers, graphic designers, and support staff will no longer be employed beyond Feb. 28. Salaries will be continued through April 30.
The 10 employees not affected will be reassigned to yet-to-be announced positions but the work group will cease to exist.
IMB President David Platt called a Town Hall meeting for 10:30 this morning to provide further details about the downsizing. The Index will update this story as more information becomes available.
UPDATE: In an 11:50 a.m. response today to concerns voiced by state paper editors, IMB media spokesperson Julie McGowan said a press release will be distributed mid-day and will focus “largely on the next phase of IMB’s organizational reset (Hand Raising Opportunity). Staff are currently in meetings learning details this morning.”
She also indicated that a conference call will be set up next week with state paper editors to field questions “as we begin to work on this 3.5 month transition” but that further details were not readily available.
Platt is a native of Georgia and grew up in Briarlake Baptist Church in Decatur, an Atlanta suburb.
The communications team is responsible for telling the story of international missions to its primary Southern Baptist audience. It produces all news, promotional materials, website, social media, and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering content.
Work group produced ‘books to bookmarks’
The IMB’s flagship tabloid magazine, CommissionStories, was shuttered six months ago in June 2015. In 2014 it was recognized in Pictures of the Year International competition and was a finalist as best magazine behind National Geographic.
Sources said the team was responsible for producing up to 600 projects a year “from books to bookmarks,” including content for SBC annual meeting exhibits.
It was not immediately known how much of the work would be continued under a far leaner organizational structure. When the North American Mission Board underwent a similar reset and its communications team was dismantled, much was outsourced to former employees and contract workers.
The trend has become common in the secular world as a way to streamline operations and reduce overhead from salaries and benefits and allow more funds to flow to the field.
Historic ‘drawdown’ announced in August 2015
On August 27, Platt announced a “drawdown” of the agency’s missionary force due to expenses that exceeded income by as much as $21 million in 2014 alone. That amount totaled $210 million over the previous six years.
To balance the budget, Platt – who was named to lead the 170-year-old agency in August 2014 – announced the IMB would reduce staff by 600-800 positions in the coming months.
To put the staff reduction in context, approximately 4,800 personnel serve as missionaries and 450 as staff. The “600” number represents the change IMB leadership has known the organization needs to make to reduce missionaries from 4,800 to 4,200. That number is most likely a minimum, with the larger “800” number representing a more realistic picture of the reduction of missionaries and staff necessary to put IMB in a responsible and sustainable financial position.
Georgia Baptist Mission Board first to offer assistance
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board was the first state convention to offer a helping hand to IMB missionaries and staff who will accept the agency’s voluntary retirement package. State Missionary Stuart Lang is serving as contact person to help many of those individuals transition back into the workforce in the United States.
Within days of the intent, 15 missionaries expressed gratitude for the offer. One wrote “I am currently looking for a job, and have submitted my resume to several places. I haven’t looked for a job for 23 years, so this is all difficult.”
Currently about 60 affected IMB staff have contacted the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to discuss assistance.