More than enough Southern Baptist Convention missionaries and International Mission Board staff accepted incentives to step down voluntarily to balance the IMB budget without any forced termination of overseas personnel, board president David Platt announced Feb. 24.
Addressing IMB trustees and an Internet audience in a first-ever live webcast of a board meeting, Platt said a total of 983 missionaries on the field and 149 on staff stepped down in two phases, exceeding an original goal of reducing the work force by 600 to 800 jobs in order to balance the budget after several years of deficit spending.
“As hard has this process has been, because of this process and because of the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially during these days through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, IMB is confident that for the year 2017 we will operate with a balanced budget,” Platt said.
Platt said the response to a Voluntary Retirement Incentive for missionaries and staff 50 and older with five or more years of service and subsequent Hand Raising Opportunity offered across the board puts the IMB “in a healthy, sound financial position where the stage is set, I pray, for a sustainable financial future.”
Platt said all the personnel cuts were voluntary, with the exception of the Richmond communications staff, whose positions were eliminated in the formation of a new “mobilization structure” for the agency.
“Apart from that exception, this process has been designed to be voluntary,” Platt said. “We wanted to leave as much decision making as possible in the hands of our personnel.”
Platt drew criticism from Baptist state newspaper editors for not explaining reasons when the IMB announced the decision in January to lay off 30 people working on the communications team in Richmond, Va.
Platt told editors gathered Feb. 16 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the IMB’s mobilization strategy has “not kept up with our times,” resulting in efforts by home office staff that “have often been disconnected from our field strategy.”
Ken Winter, who served the IMB as vice president of church and partner services from 2006 until 2015, cried “foul” in a blog Feb. 19, saying the contributions of his former colleagues “have been grossly undervalued and maligned.”
Winter, now senior associate pastor of Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., defended the Richmond communications staff as “a team of gifted, godly, and passionate followers of Christ” and “some of the most gifted communicators in their respective crafts” who “have been employing new methods for reaching a changing audience for years.”
Platt said the terminations of the communications team plus the Hand Raising Opportunity will reduce the IMB work force by 281 people on the field and 40 people on staff. That number could change, he said, because missionaries on the field have until April to reconsider.
Added to the 702 field missionaries and 109 staff who took the earlier Voluntary Retirement Incentive, Platt said, as many as 1,132 of the IMB’s 5,250 employees will be transitioning out of their jobs, far more than the 15 percent reduction goal when the incentives were announced.
“Obviously this number exceeds what we needed,” Platt said. “This field number could decrease between now and April – I don’t know how much. Also when we see this number we need to keep in mind that over the rest of this year we are scheduled to add more missionaries to this count and we’re going to be back filling some positions on staff that are critically needed.”
Platt also plans to revise IMB strategy in ways that will open up additional avenues of service for students, professionals and retirees who live oversees to work in concert with fully-funded missionaries.