RICHMOND, Va. (Christian Examiner)—International Mission Board President David Platt, along with other senior IMB leadership, presented a plan to address significant revenue shortfalls and "complete a reset of the organization" during a town hall meeting with missionaries and staff, Aug. 27. The plan includes reducing missionary and staff personnel by 600-800 and restructuring its Support Services and Mobilization divisions.
"Words can't really describe how difficult a reality that is to communicate to our IMB family. These aren't just figures; these are faces," Platt told members of the press in a conference call later in the day.
"These are brothers and sisters who have spent and are spending their lives in various capacities to spread the Gospel among those who have never heard it."
With a desire to "move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability," Platt said IMB expenditures since 2010 have exceeded revenue by $210 million. The 170-year-old missions agency has offset those imbalances with global property sales and reserve funds, but leadership understands this cannot continue.
In response to a question from the TEXAN, Platt assured media members that IMB wants to walk in transparency before Southern Baptists through this process. In addition to continuing their practice of making all trustee meetings open to the public, Platt said, "meetings of any trustee standing committee and any trustee affinity group committee are also open to any member of the media on a background rules basis.
"I know the personnel and the trustees in the IMB, and we have policies in place just to say we want to work with members of the media to enable them to do accurate, complete, well-balanced reporting."
Despite slight increases in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as well as Cooperative Program giving over the past four years, Platt said there remains an "inability to financially support our current mission force in the field."
Platt noted that prior to his election as president in 2014, IMB recognized these trends in previous years and had already set a plan to reduce the missionary force from its height of 5,600 missionaries in 2009 to its present number of 4,800, with the ultimate goal of reaching 4,200 "through normal attrition and limited appointments.
"I want to be clear," Platt said, "that my aim is in no way to question decisions by previous leadership across the IMB during these years. As I mentioned, previous leadership put in place a plan to slowly reduce our number of missionaries ... while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries as possible on the field."
Platt said he praises God for that strategic vision, which has resulted in more unreached people groups responding to the Gospel.
"What we've come to now is the realization that that plan is no longer viable in light of current realities," Platt said. After describing the numerous options they evaluated, he said, "We believe the only viable way forward for us involves a significant reduction in our number of both staff and field personnel."
Because personnel comprises approximately 80 percent of IMB's budget, Platt said, "we won't be able to get to short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability without making a major adjustment in our number of personnel now."
This year alone, IMB expects to receive $21 million less than it budgeted
'VOLUNTARY' RETIREMENT INCENTIVE
IMB leadership has decided the best way to reduce staff is to begin with a voluntary retirement incentive that will be offered to all eligible employees, including both missionaries and staff. While the parameters defining who is eligible are still being finalized, details of the incentive will be announced Sept. 10, 2015, and those eligible will be notified in the days following the announcement.
"Whether to accept the incentive is a voluntary decision completely up to the discretion of eligible individuals," Platt told missionaries and staff, who attended the town hall meeting either in person or through digital communication. "This offers personnel who may already be considering a transition in their lives an opportunity to make that transition.
"We want to be as generous as possible, and we want to honor every brother or sister for his or her service. We know that taking a voluntary retirement incentive does not mean stepping onto the sidelines of mission, but moving into a new phase of involvement in mission."
600 NEW MISSIONARIES IN 2015-15
IMB is sending approximately 300 new missionaries in 2015 and expects to send a comparable number in 2016.
As phase one of the plan (the voluntary retirement incentive) is being implemented, phase two of the plan will focus on concluding a reset of the organization. Platt said that phase would include consolidating support services, recalibrating mobilization, assessing global engagement and re-envisioning training.
During the phone press conference, the TEXAN asked if there were plans to coordinate with the North American Mission Board to place retiring IMB personnel into stateside SEND cities or other positions with UPG cross-cultural opportunities.
"We have had numerous conversations on a big picture level with the North American Mission Board about increased partnership on a variety of different levels, (but) not specifically about this," Platt said.
"We've already heard from one of our personnel who just recently made a similar move—things were going well but (they) sensed the Lord was leading them into a place of ministry in North America and accepted that role. It was encouraging to us as leadership as we think through the difficulties with a step like this but also the opportunities that are going to open up in work among unreached peoples in North America and work in churches in North America.
"I trust in all kinds of ways that God will creatively and sovereignly lead and direct 600-800 people in the days to come. And because of our ongoing and growing partnership with NAMB, I'm certain there are possibilities that may unfold along those lines, (but) we don't have a formal plan for integrating certain people into certain positions with NAMB."