30 missions media professionals jobless as IMB closes Richmond office

by Joni B. Hannigan, Editorial Staff |
Christian Examiner/iStock

RICHMOND, Va. (Christian Examiner) – As the news begin to spread late Wednesday night that the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention is eliminating its stateside office, Facebook pages of those affected – and those of their friends – lit up with indirect messages of encouragement and promises prayer.

By Thursday morning, Jan. 14, the Facebook page of Baptist Communicators Association announced what most had discovered privately.

"According to multiple sources, approximately 30 jobs are being eliminated on IMB's communications team in Richmond. Our thoughts and prayers are with these individuals whom we all know and love. May God be your loving and wise Guide as He begins to write a new chapter in your lives. Know that you have many friends and colleagues who are standing in the gap with you during this time."

Many whose jobs were confirmed terminated are members of the professional organization comprised of more than 250 members across the United States and around the world.

By mid-day, the IMB sent a news release to Baptist agencies and papers announcing the terminations amidst a reorganization which began in August.

The Richmond Communications Center will close April 29, marking the termination of 30 of its stateside staff members, according to the Jan. 14 release. Others have reported that the 30 staff members terminated will be released Feb. 28, while 10 others have been reassigned, with final shutdown of the office April 29.

The center is being closed not only because of the financial difficulties the IMB is facing, David Platt, IMB president, said in the release, but had also come under scrutiny after an evaluation of its operations.

"During that evaluation leaders made the difficult decision to eliminate the Richmond Communications Center as it currently exists, effective April 29," the release stated.


Platt expressed appreciation for the "kindness" of the communication professionals.

"These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office," Platt said. "IMB is indebted to them on many levels. In the days to come, we want to express our honor and appreciation for the countless ways these brothers and sisters have served Christ through the IMB."

Plans were made for the terminated staff to remain employed until the center closes in April, the release stated. In addition, the terminations do not affect missionary positions.

Projections of future operations include Lottie Moon Christmas Offering promotion to be the completed by "IMB's existing global network of communication teams and other trusted partners."

IMB communicators are considered top in their fields of writing, editing, photography, graphic design, video production, public relations, and more. They have consistently earned top awards for their work in the Baptist Communicator's Association Wilmer C. Fields competitions and other contests. The board's publications have been ranked along with National Geographic, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times Magazine in competetive contests.

Bill Bangham, now retired IMB staff, and former editor of "The Commission" magazine, said in 2001 after one such contest: "Our people are very talented, and there are a lot of other places they could be working. But they choose to work here and every one of them would tell you they have a sense of calling in what they do."

Last August the IMB, a 170-year old organization, after announcing revenue shortfalls and dipping into its reserves announced a plan to reorganize the mission board by eliminating 600-800 of its staff and field personnel.

In order to complete the reduction of 15 percent of its force, and to be able to continue to send 300 new missionaries out in 2015 and a comparable number in 2016 – the board immediately offered incentives for those over 50 – and those who meet other parameters – to retire early.

Meanwhile, as early as 2003 the IMB announced it was eliminating 37 staff positions in the Richmond office in order to keep expenses in line with anticipated income, for a total of 61 full and part-time positions of management and support personnel worldwide.

In addition, at that time, the board said after a shortfall in the 2002 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering of nearly $10 million, it would also limit the number of new missionaries sent overseas in 2003 and 2004.

Then President Jerry Rankin announced the changes along with the halt of production of the print edition of IMB's flagship magazine, "The Commission."

In 2003, the suspension of the publication saved a projected $800,00 in printing and postage costs for the 250,000-circulation magazine, and with 14 employees from the communications department terminated, even more in salaries and benefits, according to the Baptist Standard.

Still, reports indicated "The Commission played a significant role in raising money for the IMB, recruiting career missionaries and informing church leaders about missions."

Leland Webb, a retired editor, said, "Because of [The Commission], many advocates of mission bowed their heads in prayer and reached into pocket or purse to give extra dollars."

The IMB in its Jan. 14 release also discussed phase two of its draw down and promised to post updates online at IMB.org.

Baptist Press reported in response to questions from Baptist State paper editors, IMB will hold a press conference for Baptist media the week of Jan. 18.

The complete IMB news release is below.


IMB announces final phase of organizational reset

By Julie McGowan

RICHMOND, Va. -- The International Mission Board is in a position, financially, where no missionaries will be required to leave the field as the organization wraps up its two-phase reset, IMB President David Platt announced Thursday, Jan. 14.

In the second phase of the IMB's plan to address revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization, leadership also announced details of a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) during two town hall meetings. The HRO plan, leaders shared, offers missionaries and stateside staff members the opportunity to transition outside the IMB if they believe God is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission.

"While most will remain in their current roles, some may redeploy," IMB President David Platt said. "I use that term 'redeploy' intentionally because no one is stepping onto the sidelines of mission in this process. These decisions are more about what place, role, responsibility or assignment people have in the mission of God."

Sebastian Traeger, IMB executive vice president, presented specific details of the plan, which includes a package beyond the scope of a normal resignation. Personnel who elect the HRO will finalize their decisions by Feb. 22.

The HRO information was shared in two segments during the town hall meetings: first to missionary personnel, and then to staff, who are mostly based in Richmond, Va. Both groups attended in person or via Web conference and had information available online (after the meeting). The two meeting times allowed leadership to convey specific details that pertain to each group.

Active, long-term and short-term missionaries are eligible for the HRO. Missionaries can transition from the field over the next several months. All full-time and regular part-time staff are eligible for the HRO.

"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. "First, on a biblical and theological level, IMB missionaries must each resolve to do all of our work around the world in glad, wholehearted alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message adopted by the 40,000 churches we represent."

"Second, along these lines, those 40,000 churches expect each of us individually and all of us collectively to work diligently and wisely for the spread of the Gospel around the world. In other words, they expect all of us to give the right effort that this mission requires, and this means we must hold one another to a high bar when it comes to our work."

Difficult decision

In the midst of this two-phase process, Platt shared last August that IMB leaders would be re-evaluating systems and structures across the IMB not only because of IMB's financial realities, but also to be the best possible stewards of the resources that churches have entrusted to IMB to get the Gospel to the nations. During that evaluation, leaders made the difficult decision to eliminate the Richmond Communications Center as it currently exists, effective April 29.

"These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office," Platt said. "IMB is indebted to them on many levels. In the days to come, we want to express our honor and appreciation for the countless ways these brothers and sisters have served Christ through the IMB."

Thirty stateside staff have options that allow them to remain as employees until the Center closes April 29; 10 staff are being transferred to other positions. The change does not affect any missionary positions. The functions of the Richmond Communications Center, including Lottie Moon Christmas Offering promotion, will continue to be performed by IMB's existing global network of communication teams and other trusted partners.

IMB leaders will not be eliminating any other teams, groups or departments during this two-phase organizational reset.

Final numbers

The two-phase plan originally was announced during an Aug. 27, 2015, town hall meeting when IMB leaders laid out a strategy to address IMB's revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization. The first phase of the organizational reset was a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) that became final in December.

As the two-phase process has progressed, IMB leaders have sought to guard the integrity of the process to avoid swaying IMB personnel as they make their decisions. Leaders indicated they strongly desire personnel to receive clarity from God regarding His leadership in their lives.

In November 2015, IMB leaders communicated that based upon the results of the Voluntary Retirement Incentive, coupled with this second-phase Hand Raising Opportunity, they project IMB will meet its need to reduce the total number of personnel by at least 600 people. Leaders plan to share final and official numbers at the end of this two-phase process at the end of February.

IMB will continue to post updates, including frequently asked questions and answers, online on IMB.org.