RICHMOND, VA — The International Mission Board continues to rebuild its missionary force after a massive retrenchment in 2016, but has temporarily slowed the adding of more field personnel as it fine-tunes its reboot.
It was two years ago this month that the agency announced that 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff had accepted either an early retirement offer or an option for those who did not fit the retirement qualifications. The staff reductions, totaling 1,132, were the largest in the agency’s 173-year history as it sought to reduce overhead and trim operating costs.
Just nine months later, in November 2016, President David Platt announced the agency was in an aggressive turnaround mode and presented a balanced budget for 2017. That same month the agency appointed 50 new missionaries at a commissioning service at its Richmond headquarters.
The agency projected sending 451 new personnel for 2017, which would have represented a 3 percent net increase of 100 total field personnel. Of those newly sent, 351 were projected to replace personnel who retire, complete a mid-term assignment or transition through resignations or other departures, resulting in the net increase of 100.
Although actual departures occurred almost exactly as projected (352), the number of new personnel sent in 2017 was only 318. The result was a decrease of 34 missionaries. (On Dec. 31, 2016, the IMB reported 3,596 missionaries, while on Dec. 31, 2017, it reported 3,562.)
Appointments scaled back to fine-tune pathways options, missionary processing
As the year progressed, the agency recognized it was not achieving the projected net increase. The agency was still working on building new pathways to the field and streamlining the processes for accessing new missionary candidates and deploying them to the field. IMB Treasurer Rodney Freeman told The Index that the agency felt that focusing on building the new pathways and streamlining the processes were “the wisest stewardship of Southern Baptists’ support” rather than moving too aggressively to place personnel on the field.
Georgia Trustee Bill Ricketts of Athens said he may be disappointed that the agency did not reach the goal, but he is grateful that fiscal responsibility won out over the desire “to go for the numbers.
“You don’t know where you are going if you don’t have a goal, and while we may not have sent as many as we would have preferred this early after the downsizing, we are still headed in the right direction,” he said. “It is important that we be fiscally responsible as well as spiritually responsible, and this was the right decision.”
Ricketts said it took “months and months of digesting these substantial staff reductions – a total of 1,132 persons. All of that paperwork and logistics was not resolved overnight.
“But I can proudly tell Georgia Baptists that we are fiscally solvent and in the best shape in years, and we plan to remain there. Our cash reserves are up, our income is up as of Dec. 31, and we are moving forward.”
Ricketts: Streamlining appointment process is best decision for long term
Ricketts, who retired in 2016 as senior pastor at Prince Avenue Baptist Church, said he was very encouraged by the new Pathways program that Platt has introduced. He believes delaying some appointments in 2017 will prove to be the right decision as the appointment process is fully streamlined and becomes far more efficient.
“I am thankful for the people we have on the field and the new people in our pipeline,” he said. “I wish everyone could read the testimonies of these believers who are willing to leave friends and family and the comforts of home for service in distant lands.
“It took some of these individuals years to come to the point of surrender, as they were nourished by their congregations. And I am thankful for the role the IMB is playing in recognizing that the church is the one who sends the missionary. We are just walking alongside to partner with them as they send us their best.”
Freeman said, “The IMB desires that the number of field personnel grow as we continue to challenge Southern Baptist churches to send more missionaries through all types of pathways.”
Still sending full-time, fully funded career missionaries like always
“We still send full-time, fully funded career missionaries just like we’ve always sent. As David Platt has said before, they are ‘the priceless, precious, critical core of our mission force,’” Freeman added.
The administrator – who also serves as Vice President of Support Services – noted that as the agency continues to evaluate the large numbers of requests for new personnel from the field, its leaders in assessment and deployment “are praying for and seeking qualified candidates. We encourage pastors to challenge church members to take advantage of the avenues God is providing for His people to be on mission in places where the gospel still hasn’t gone.”
The slowing of appointments comes as the agency reported positive cash flow through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
- On January 17 Freeman reported that at the end of December, IMB had received $23,304,153 in Cooperative Program (CP) funding for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1. The total is $225,349, or 1.0 percent, ahead of last year.
- At the end of December 2017, the agency had received $15,221,629 for the 2017-2018 Lottie Moon campaign, which began Oct. 1 and now continues through Sept. 30. The total is $600,027, or 4.1 percent, ahead of last year’s October-December pace.
- The downsizing occurred in late 2015 and early 2016, and churches affirmed their support with a record-breaking $165.8 million given to the offering. Finalized in early June 2016, the amount wasthe highest total in the 127-year history of the offering. The total surpassed the previous all-time record of $154 million in 2013 by $11.8 million.
The right-sizing of the missionary force was tied to a 14-year-old budgeting process which placed more missionaries on the field than resources could support, resulting in chronic budget shortfalls. At the time of the late-2015 staff reductions, Platt announced the agency was facing a $21-million budget shortfall without an immediate and drastic “reboot.”
With that restructuring in the rearview mirror, the agency is now on track to boost the number of personnel who are being placed on the field through various pathways.