IMB Frequently Asked Questions


IMB Frequently Asked Questions (Updated August 11, 2016)

The Future/Strategy & Structure
Missionary Appointment Qualifications/Policy Updates
Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO)


The Gospel is the good news that the only true God, the just and gracious Creator of the universe, has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women and has sent His Son, God in the flesh, to bear His wrath against sin through His substitutionary death on the cross and to show His power over sin and death through His resurrection from the grave so that everyone who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus alone as Savior and Lord will be reconciled to God forever.

Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit with the aim of persuading people to repent and believe in Christ.  

Conversion is the divinely enabled personal response of individuals to the gospel in which they turn from their sin and themselves and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

Disciples are followers of Christ. They have turned from their sin, trusted in Jesus as their Savior, have died to themselves and surrendered their lives to Him as Lord. Christ lives in them, resulting in six primary marks of a disciple: transformed heart, mind, affections, will, relationships, and purpose.  

Disciple Making is the Christ-commanded, Spirit-empowered duty of every disciple of Jesus to evangelize unbelievers, baptize believers, teach them the Word of Christ and train them to obey Christ as members of His church who make disciples on mission to all nations. 


  • Call to salvation: The gracious act of God by which He draws people to become disciples of Jesus and members of His church;
  • Call to mission: Everyone who responds to God’s call as a disciple of Jesus receives Christ’s command to make disciples of Jesus;
  • Call to station: Christ calls disciples to specific stations in and through which they exalt Him on mission: Family, singleness, church membership. 
  • Call to service: God directs disciples to make disciples in a certain way, at a certain time, among a certain people, in a certain location or through a certain vocation. 

 IMB Missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church and affirmed by the IMB to cross geographical, cultural and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. 

Missionary Team is an identifiable group of disciples who meet together regularly, care for each other selflessly and partner with one another intentionally to make disciples and multiply churches among particular unreached peoples and/or places. 

Unreached Peoples and Places are those among whom Christ is largely unknown and the church is relatively insufficient to make Christ known in its broader population without outside help.

A church is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in

the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth.


Q: How do IMB financials work?

A: When we think about financials, we consider two things: cash flow and reserves. Cash flow is what comes in minus what we spend. Reserves is the money we set aside to weather ups and downs in the economy, emergency circumstances and anticipated future needs. The two main sources of income for the IMB are the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) and the Cooperative Program (CP).  These constitute over 95% of our budgeted income.  We are grateful Southern Baptists have increased their giving  to both LMCO and CP over the last four years.  

Q: What is the IMB’s budget for 2016?

A: The IMB budget projects expenditures and projects receipts in 2016 will be $278,755,000. The 2016 budget shows a deficit of $22,580,000, which the IMB plans to cover from reserves. 

Q: Does the IMB’s 2016 budget include proceeds from property sales?

A: Property sales are not factored into the 2016 budget on either the receipt or expense side. Any property sales proceeds will be used to replenish and stabilize the organization’s reserves.

Q: What is the final total of the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering?

A: The 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering totaled $165.8 million — the highest total in the 127-year history of the offering.

Q: What are the 2016 projected giving totals to IMB from the Cooperative Program (CP)?

A: Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program is trending upward. The 2016 IMB budget projects we will receive $95.2 million in CP giving.

Q: What is the projected financial outlook for IMB in 2017?

A: Because of the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and the Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) process and the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially during these days, IMB is now in a much healthier financial position. IMB is confident that for the year 2017 we will operate with a balanced budget.

Q:  The North American Mission Board (NAMB) recently gave a one-time gift of $4 million dollars.  How were these funds used?

A: This gracious gift was used to offset the Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) expenses for missionaries. 

Q: What percent of the IMB budget goes for overseas purposes?

A: Approximately 84%.

Q: If there is a surplus of funds at the end of the year, how will the surplus be used?

A: Any surplus funds will be added to IMB’s reserves to achieve an appropriate level of reserves. If there are any remaining funds after achieving an appropriate level of reserves, then those funds will be used for operational needs and sending additional missionaries.

Q: What is an “appropriate level of reserves”?

A: IMB leaders and trustees are in a process of identifying the wisest level of reserves for long-term organizational stability. This process will be finalized later this year.

Q: When do you expect to have a balanced budget and achieve appropriate levels of reserves?

A: Based on current projections, we expect a balanced budget with appropriate levels of reserves in 2017.

Q: Will property sales be used to help balance future budgets?

A: No. The purpose of VRI/HRO was to achieve short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability. We have achieved this goal. Therefore, property sales will not be needed to balance future budgets.

Q: Has the average cost to support a missionary changed post-VRI/HRO?

A: In the 2015 LMCO campaign materials, we stated that the average cost to support a missionary is $51,400 per year. This number has not been updated yet.

Q: Are monetary gifts from individuals and churches sent directly to the IMB that are not specifically labeled “Lottie Moon offering” still counted as part of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering?

A: Direct gifts received are credited as the donor intended. Where there is no designation from the donor, those gifts are counted as Lottie Moon Christmas Offering contributions.

Q: Has there been a change in how direct gifts to the IMB are counted as part of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering revenues for the 2015 campaign vs. the 2014 campaign?

A: No. There have not been any changes to how direct gifts are being recorded for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Q: Why doesn’t IMB share the salaries of its executives?

A: Like other Southern Baptist entities, IMB does not release salaries or other personal information concerning individual employees.


Q: What is IMB’s plan moving forward?

A: The future IMB strategy revolves around

  • Enabling limitless men and women to participate in global mission through a multiplicity of pathways and opportunities. This involves continuing to support full-time, fully supported personnel as the essential, critical core of our missionary force around the world and surrounding these personnel with students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the gospel.
  • Serving and mobilizing local churches as the primary agent God has promised to bless for the spread of the gospel in the world.
  • Training and equipping Christians and church leaders, pastors and missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches across cultures.
  • Engaging and reaching unreached peoples and places through missionary teams who are maximizing opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, church formation and leadership training from the most populated cities to the most extreme places in the world.
  • Supporting and strengthening an ever-multiplying mission force through practical services that include everything from logistical help to health care to tax assistance. 

Q: Is IMB moving toward a societal giving platform in allowing churches to send however they want? How can going to “limitless” pathways not undermine cooperative giving?

A: IMB is absolutely committed to the Cooperative Program and the structure of giving through which Southern Baptist churches are together sending missionaries around the world. This involves missionaries going through a variety of different pathways with varying levels of support. For years, Southern Baptist churches have sent IMB missionaries through such pathways, and IMB requires Southern Baptist churches to commit to maintain (or even increase) their current CP and LMCO giving levels as they send people in different ways.

Q: What is the role of an IMB trustee?

A: IMB trustee policies identify eleven core functions of a trustee:

  1. Identify the IMB’s mission and purpose;
  2. Select the President and approve the President’s compensation;
  3. Support and review the performance of the President;
  4. Monitor IMB operations and use of IMB resources for consistency with IMB’s mission, purpose, and strategy;
  5. Ensure IMB’s financial viability and monitor its financial status;
  6. Approve (a) IMB’s annual budget and monitor actual performance against the budget, (b) IMB’s overall investment strategy, (c) the selection and engagement of IMB’s outside auditors, and (d) legal resolutions;
  7. Adopt and monitor policies that provide oversight of IMB affairs and legal compliance;
  8. Ensure full disclosure of and avoidance of all potential conflicts of interest within IMB and the board;
  9. Evaluate the performance of the IMB board of trustees;
  10. Allow IMB’s President and IMB personnel to implement strategy and carry out day-to-day operations to achieve IMB’s mission, purpose, and strategy;
  11. Serve as ambassadors for IMB — interpreting its mission, purpose, and strategy and enhancing its public image. 

Q: Does the IMB promote any particular theological positions or persuasions?

A: The IMB, including every member of its executive leadership, is completely committed to the most current Baptist Faith and Message as the foundation for our work around the world. In May 2015, IMB staff and field leaders joined with trustees to strengthen IMB policies concerning this commitment to the Baptist Faith and Message. 

Q: Does the IMB show favoritism among churches in hiring staff and/or sending missionaries?

A: No, the IMB does not show such favoritism. The IMB desires and works to partner together with the over 40,000 churches in the Southern Baptist Convention and wants to see multitudes of missionaries sent from all of them.

Q: Why did IMB sign the amicus brief that supports the construction of a mosque in New Jersey?

A: IMB supports freedom of religion for all people both in the United States and around the world. IMB signing the amicus brief regarding the New Jersey mosque is an agreement that all people deserve religious liberty, but it does not in any way support the mosque financially or with human resources. [See from ERLC: 4 Things Christians Say When They Deny Religious Liberty to Others / Why We Should Thank Thomas Jefferson?]

Moreover, IMB’s specific interest in the brief arises out of our belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty, including the freedom to embrace the gospel.   This is what we believe and why we take the gospel to them, despite situations that pose great risk.  A public record by IMB of supporting freedom of religion for all people in the United States — regardless of their beliefs — gives IMB workers overseas a credible foundation from which to advocate for freedom of religious exercise in countries that are hostile to Christianity, penalize those who convert, or make it difficult for a new church to own or rent property for worship.   If one follows global news (e.g., Russia’s restrictive laws signed earlier this year, on-going battles in places like Egypt, Malaysia, or India on the right to convert to Christianity, etc.), it’s apparent that religious liberty is an ongoing global issue.  IMB’s call on the government of these other countries to support the religious freedom of their citizens will ring hollow if, in the USA, we only support freedom of religion for Christians. 

Finally, IMB is responsible for carrying out its ministry consistent with the entirety of the Baptist Faith & Message, not only the portions related to spreading the gospel. The BF&M  supports the historic Baptist position on religious liberty (see section XVII below), so when there are opportunities in the US to support that right that can further our overseas efforts to advance that right, we must consider taking that opportunity. 

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Genesis 1:272:7Matthew 6:6-7,2416:2622:21John 8:36Acts 4:19-20;Romans 6:1-213:1-7Galatians 5:1,13Philippians 3:201 Timothy 2:1-2;James 4:121 Peter 2:12-173:11-174:12-19.

Q: How do the International Mission Board (IMB) and North American Mission Board (NAMB) work together?

A: IMB and NAMB are two separate SBC entities who gladly partner together in various ways that help serve churches across the Southern Baptist Convention and the spread of the gospel around the world. This includes everything from hosting events like the SEND Conference together to coordinating strategies for reaching unreached peoples in the United States and around the world.

Q:  What does it mean when an IMB missionary says a particular church is their “sending church”?

A: IMB missionaries are sent on mission by both a church and a convention of churches. Each missionary is called by God in the context of a local church, and we want that church to see themselves as a sending church, much like the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. In order for such a church to send a missionary through the IMB, that church must be “in friendly cooperation with the general Southern Baptist enterprise of reaching the world for Christ.” In that sense, then, the same IMB missionary is sustained and supported not only by one church alone, but also by the convention of churches who are cooperatively praying and giving for the sending of missionaries. 

Q: How does the IMB collect and report numbers regarding its work around the world? How should one understand the way numbers from current years relate to numbers from previous years?

A: IMB is committed to biblically faithful reporting of numbers. Various differentiations in numbers are due in part to the complex nature of reporting numbers for IMB work. For a full explanation, read “IMB reiterates commitment to biblically faithful reporting.”


IMB trustees established a policy to streamline guidelines for appointing new personnel within the framework of the Baptist Faith and Message during their May 12-13, 2015, meeting in Louisville, Ky. Below are questions and answers explaining the changes.

Q: What was the central idea of this policy change?

A: The revised policy created a single statement that characterized every missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB to mobilize more Southern Baptists to go to unreached peoples and places with the gospel. 

Q: Why change the missionary qualifications?

A: As we look toward the future and the limitless number of missionaries we want to mobilize from Southern Baptist churches, we know this will likely involve many new pathways through which men and women might serve on missionary teams through the IMB. Each of these pathways may carry unique qualifications, involve various types of training and include different levels of support from IMB. However, we have seen a foundational need for a simple, clear statement of qualifications that not only unifies all IMB missionaries, but also unifies IMB with the churches and entities of the SBC.

Q: Sending limitless missionary teams is a big goal. How does IMB plan to achieve this?

A: IMB aims to provide multiple pathways where members of Southern Baptist churches may serve on a missionary team.  When you hear pathways, think possibilities—all the possible ways that ordinary Christians might serve overseas: church planters, doctors, teachers, accountants, lawyers, fitness instructors, rickshaw drivers, retirees, students and the list goes on.  God has providentially arranged a multiplicity of avenues through which His people can take the gospel around the world, and as IMB, we want to help Southern Baptists go through as many of those pathways as possible.

Q: What is an example of how IMB may adjust these specific criteria?

A: As an example, a lead church planter in the remote deserts of the Middle East may require different criteria than an information technology expert in London, a student in Shanghai, a business professional in Dubai or a retiree in Bangkok. IMB may establish different criteria for missionaries serving in each of these pathways and positions, yet all of them will meet a base level of qualifications, which is expressed in this revised policy.

Q: Does this change mean families with teenage children may be appointed as IMB missionaries?

A: It depends. This revised policy does make it possible for missionaries with teenage children to be appointed. However, the previous policy was established for good reason in light of challenges for children (and their families) moving cross-culturally at certain ages, and we will continue to take those challenges into account when considering missionaries. For example, a family considering serving long-term in an isolated African village may be different than a family considering a one-year term in London.

Q: Does this change mean that people who have been divorced may be appointed as IMB missionaries?

A: Yes. Divorce is no longer an automatic disqualifier for long-term service. Short-term assignments (two to three years in length) have been open to people with a history of divorce for years. In all categories of missionary service, individuals who have been divorced may be able to serve. However, a person’s role on a missionary team, the circumstances surrounding his or her divorce, and the suitability of the culture where he or she will serve will all be considered by the IMB in cooperation with that person’s local church.

Q: What changed with the IMB’s policy related to baptism?

A: IMB now operates solely in accord with the statement on baptism in the Baptist Faith and Message, which reads: Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer’s faith in a crucified, buried and risen Savior, the believer’s death to sin, the burial of the old life and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.

Q: Does this change mean that someone can become an IMB missionary even if they were not baptized by immersion?

A: No. In light of the statement on baptism in the Baptist Faith and Message, any potential IMB missionary must have been baptized by immersion as a symbol of his or her faith in Christ.

Q: What has changed related to speaking in tongues and private prayer languages?

A: A person who has spoken in tongues or may have a private prayer language is not automatically disqualified as a potential IMB missionary. However, IMB missionaries in no way promote speaking in tongues or a private prayer language. Further, IMB may still end employment for any missionary who places “persistent emphasis on any specific gift of the Spirit as normative for all or to the extent such emphasis becomes disruptive” to our missions work, which must align with the Baptist Faith and Message agreed upon by the Southern Baptist Convention.

Q: Does this change mean that IMB missionaries will now speak in tongues and/or promote speaking in tongues around the world?

A: This is definitively not what this change means. Trustees voted specifically on the base qualifications for potential IMB missionaries in the church, not on the practical work of actual IMB missionaries on the field. This is a critical distinction, for over the course of appointing, training, and supervising missionaries, IMB addresses many significant theological, missiological, ecclesiological, and practical issues, including the use of tongues. Though these issues may not affect our base qualifications, they do affect our everyday work.  Through careful appointment, training and supervisory processes, IMB ensures that every missionary remains resolutely focused on making disciples and multiplying churches in ways that faithfully represent Southern Baptist theology, missiology, ecclesiology, and practice.

Q: Does this change mean that potential IMB missionaries will no longer need to have a certain level of education?

A: It depends on the particular role that a person might play on an IMB missionary team. As we develop different pathways for people to go overseas and define different positions in which they might serve, various levels of education may be either recommended or required for service. For example, if a potential missionary is going to serve as a lead church planter, IMB will have qualifications pertaining to biblical, theological, missiological, ecclesiological and practical expertise and/or education. If, on the other hand, a potential missionary is going to serve in an accounting support role for our missionary teams, we would expect him or her to have a level of experience, expertise, and/or education in accounting. In sum, the new policy that trustees created established a baseline of qualifications which does not include a particular level of education. Any qualifications for education, expertise or experience will apply to specific positions in particular pathways through which a missionary might serve.

Q: Do these actions by IMB trustees lower the standards for missionaries?

A: No. The opposite is true. The baseline qualification for missionaries includes men and women who bear spiritual fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ. They must be meaningful members of a Southern Baptist church where they are leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized and showing believers how to obey Christ.

Q: How is the local church involved in determining if an individual is qualified to serve?

A: IMB desires to partner with local churches as they send out members on mission. As such, prospective missionaries must show evidence of a missionary call that is both discerned within their local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.

Q: What differences does IMB hope these policy changes will make?

A: In addition to uniting IMB more closely with Southern Baptist churches and entities through clear alignment with the Baptist Faith and Message, IMB hopes these changes will open the door wider for Southern Baptist churches to send more qualified members to serve on IMB missionary teams making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached. Team members will serve in many different positions with many different responsibilities, from church planters to administrative assistants, from business professionals to college students, to active retirees. From a variety of different backgrounds with a variety of different skills and a variety of different qualifications, they will join together to spread the gospel to people who have never heard it. The ultimate aim of this revised policy was to enable limitless God-exalting, Christ-following, Spirit-led, biblically faithful, people-loving, high-quality Southern Baptist missionaries to serve with IMB through a multiplicity of pathways IMB provides in the days ahead.

Q: Can people who were not approved for service under the previous guidelines related to baptism, speaking in tongues, private prayer language, divorce and teenage children reapply under the new guidelines? 

A:  Yes.

Q: What is the exact wording of the policy?

A: IMB Policy 200-1 -- An IMB missionary is a disciple of Jesus set apart by the Holy Spirit, sent out from the church, and affirmed by the IMB to cross geographic, cultural, and/or linguistic barriers as part of a missionary team focused on making disciples and multiplying churches among unreached peoples and places. IMB exists to empower limitless teams of missionaries made up of different men, women, and families with distinct roles and responsibilities. IMB provides multiple pathways in which missionaries may serve on one of these teams, each of which carries unique qualifications. However, any IMB missionary serving through any pathway created by IMB leadership is required to meet the following qualifications: 


  • Vibrant personal discipleship: As they abide in God’s Word and walk in step with God’s Spirit, IMB missionaries bear fruit of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ.
  • Evident personal disciple making: IMB missionaries are meaningfully involved in a local church in which they participate in leading people to faith in Christ, seeing new believers baptized in the church, and showing believers how to obey Christ, all with a view toward reaching the nations with the gospel.
  • Call: The call to serve as an IMB missionary has been discerned within a local church and affirmed by that local church alongside IMB leadership.
  • Commitment: IMB missionaries are devoted to the vision, mission, values, and beliefs of the IMB.


  • Currently a baptized member of a Southern Baptist church
  • Commitment to and identification with Southern Baptists
  • Conviction of truth as expressed in the current Baptist Faith and Message statement of the Southern Baptist Convention


  • Good physical, emotional, and mental health.


  • IMB missionaries model a godly family life and/or personal relationships.


  • Service is open to U. S. citizens and permanent residents of the United States. 


Q: What was IMB’s plan for reducing the number of missionaries and staff to balance the budget while concluding the organizational reset leadership begun over the last year?

A: This plan had two primary phases: 1) offering a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI), and 2) concluding the reset of the organization, which involved a strategic review of how the IMB is organized and how it conducts both day-to-day operations and long-range planning. The second phase includes consolidating support services, recalibrating mobilization, assessing global engagement and re-envisioning training.

Q: What was meant by a “major adjustment” to missionary and staff numbers?

A: The IMB planned to reduce the total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 people — or approximately 15 percent of its total personnel. At that time, approximately 4,800 personnel served as missionaries and 450 as staff.

Q: There was a big difference between 600 and 800 people. Why these numbers?

A: The “600” number represented the change IMB leadership knew the organization needed to reduce missionaries from 4,800 to 4,200. The “600” number was most likely the minimum.  The larger “800” number represented a more realistic picture of the reduction of missionaries and staff necessary to put IMB in a responsible and sustainable financial position.

Q: In summary, what was the goal of these actions?

A: We had to get to a healthy place in the present in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability. 

Q: What is a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI)?

A: A VRI is an official program by which any personnel who meet certain eligibility requirements may choose to retire from the IMB and receive a particular financial benefit in their retirement.

Q: Who was eligible for the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI)?

A: The IMB offered the VRI to all eligible staff and active, career missionaries age 50 (as of Dec. 31, 2015) and older with five or more years of service (as of Dec. 31, 2015). For a missionary couple to be eligible for the VRI, only one spouse was required to meet the qualifications.

Q: How many were eligible?

A: IMB leadership asked all personnel, both missionary and staff, to consider how God was leading them in their future involvement in missional service. At that time, the IMB had approximately 4,800 missionaries and 450 staff.

Q: What was the timeline for VRI?

A: Eligible missionaries and staff received personalized VRI packets the week of September 14. And then all eligible missionaries and staff were required to respond with their answers November 2. Service concluded by the end of 2015.

Q: How quickly did the VRI take place?

A: Once individual details were sent to eligible personnel in September, those personnel had at least 45 days to decide whether or not to accept the VRI. Beyond the date IMB set as a decision deadline, all personnel who took the VRI remained on payroll through December, providing additional time to work through potential transition plans. For mission-field personnel with remaining stateside assignment, IMB leadership worked with those individuals through the ramifications of what that meant for their retirement.

Q: Was the VRI really voluntary?

A: Yes. This VRI was indeed voluntary. IMB leadership did not in any way encourage or influence any personnel to elect or reject the VRI. It was totally up to the discretion of an individual (or missionary family) eligible for the VRI to decide whether or not to elect or reject it. To help ensure this decision was truly voluntary, supervisors across the organization did not even discuss with any individual personnel whether he or she should take the incentive. IMB leadership designated people available to talk with personnel to help them understand what the VRI entailed, but beyond that, the IMB would not point personnel toward a particular decision. IMB leadership’s aim was to eliminate any possibility of pressure or coercion in a certain direction, but to ensure that this program was indeed voluntary in every way.

Q: Why did IMB choose to make the staff reductions voluntary?

A: Even though an involuntary process would yield more precise and predictable results, IMB chose a voluntary process that would leave as much decision-making as possible in the hands of IMB personnel. Knowing such a voluntary process would yield more imprecise and unpredictable results, we believed that we should trust God with this process and every man, woman, and family within the IMB. This process remained entirely voluntary for all IMB missionaries overseas. No IMB missionary was required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sensed the Lord leading them to do so. The same voluntary nature of this process was applied to all staff with the exception of approximately 30 personnel in the Richmond communications office, whose positions were eliminated in IMB’s new mobilization structure.

Q: What did the VRI include?

A: IMB leadership wanted to make the VRI as generous as possible, so they used every possible means available to provide for the men and women who took this incentive.  The details were disclosed to personnel on September 10 in a Town Hall meeting. In the few days following that meeting, all eligible personnel received a packet of information that included the specific details of how this incentive would affect them. The IMB’s tight financial position created more urgency for this program, because the longer the organization waited, the less generous it could be. The VRI was the best option that could be offered.

Q: What was the status of IMB finances before the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and the Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO)?

A: Despite increased giving to the IMB over the last four years, the organization spent more money than it received. For example, a Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal of $175 million was set for several years, but each year the amount received fell short. In 2014, IMB budgeted $21 million more than it received, so it drew from contingency reserves and global property sales to cover the shortfall. Not only did IMB fall $21 million short of budgeted revenue in 2014, but it also utilized global property sales to cover $18 million of budgeted expenses. In total during 2014, the organization spent $39 million more than it received. Since 2010, the organization has spent $210 million more than it received. Fortunately, with contingency reserves and global property sales, the organization was able to cover these shortfalls each year.

Q: How serious was the drain on IMB contingency reserves?

A: One month of contingency reserves would have been spent for every six months that we took no action. IMB had just over four months of contingency reserves. If we spent one month of contingency reserves every six months, IMB would have been placed in an extremely dangerous position. Contingency reserves would be completely depleted in two years.

Q: What did the IMB do to cover these budgetary shortfalls? Could the same solution not have worked for the 2016 budget?

A: IMB covered costs through reserves and property sales in the past. But this was not a long-term solution because IMB did not have an endless supply of properties, and there were many complexities involved in selling overseas property and repatriating the funds. Moreover, IMB was close to depleting its reserves and had to restore them to a more responsible level.

Q: Why didn’t previous IMB leadership address these issues?

A: Previous leaders put in place a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries (through normal attrition and reduced appointments) while using reserves and global property sales to keep as many missionaries as possible on the field. This plan, however, was not sufficient to address IMB’s immediate needs. Simply put, IMB could not continue to overspend or deplete its reserves.

Q: Did the decline in missionary numbers helped cover the shortfall?

A: Yes. In 2009 the IMB hit a high of 5,600 missionaries on the field. To address budgetary shortfalls, IMB trustees along with previous IMB leadership enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries to 4,200 through normal attrition and limited appointments, while using IMB’s reserves — including global property sales — to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. By 2015, missionary numbers had decreased to about 4,800. 

Q: What was IMB’s goal in making financial changes?

A: In 2015 we were projecting that our 2016 budget would call for us to spend more than we would bring in. Knowing that since 2010 we had already spent $210 million more than we received, the goal was not simply trying to get a budget that worked for one year, but to identify structural changes needing to be made so IMB could become a healthy organization into the future. Overall, our goal was to align our cost structure with the amount of money given to us, so that we linked our spending to the amount of money entrusted to us.

Q: What options for change did IMB consider?

A: We considered many options and combinations of options which were grouped around five high-level options: increase giving, selling properties, reducing the number of new missionaries sent out each year, modifying our support model and voluntary retirement. 

Q: How did IMB evaluate the various options for change?

A: We evaluated each option through two lenses: feasibility and financial impact. Feasibility asks the question, “Can we actually implement that option?” And, because of our precarious reserve situation, the way we asked that question was: “Can we implement this option NOW?” Financial impact is a quantitative analysis of how an option would impact cash flow and reserves. In order to properly assess the impact of any option, we modeled the financial impact to our cash flow and reserves through 2020.

Q: Why not just increase giving?

A: We would have liked to increase giving to missions, and worked hard to do just that! However, bringing about a $40 million increase in 2015 giving was not something that could have been done very quickly. We already had effective promotional resources for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We were already receiving a very generous portion of Cooperative Program receipts. We could see incremental changes in giving, but to make meaningful changes at the level we needed would take time that we simply did not have.

Q: How much would the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering have had to increase?

A: Our Lottie Moon giving averaged a little more than $150 million. To make up the shortfall would have required a 25 percent increase overnight in Lottie Moon giving.

Q: How much would Cooperative Program giving have had to increase?

A: For every dollar given through the Cooperative Program, about 25 cents of that flows to IMB. The other 75 cents goes to extremely valuable work all over North America and to our incredible ecosystem of partners including NAMB, the six Southern Baptist seminaries and the 42 state conventions. If you think about a $40 million shortfall, Cooperative Program giving would have had to increase by $160 million in order for it to impact IMB’s shortfall — which was not going to happen overnight.

Q: What about the option of selling properties?

A: Looking at it from a feasibility perspective, it takes time to sell properties overseas. The process is very complicated and can take several years to complete. Once a property is sold, bringing the money back into the United States is not straightforward. Most of the easy ones for us to sell had already been sold. Additionally, selling properties was not a long-term solution. At some point, we would have run out of properties to sell.

Q: Was giving some of IMB’s most experienced and seasoned personnel the opportunity to retire a wise first step in addressing the organization’s budget needs?

A: IMB leadership acknowledged this was not an ideal step — but also that there were no “ideal” steps at that point. The reason VRIs are established is to provide personnel who may be considering retirement at some point in the near future an opportunity with incentive to take that step in the present.

Q: Why did IMB ask seasoned missionaries to leave the field instead of freezing or decreasing the number of new missionaries sent out in the next few years?

A: Leadership concluded a two-phase plan was the most viable option based on four factors:

  1. Every type of person in the IMB is important, including long-termers and short-termers, staff and missionaries, younger personnel and older personnel, new missionaries and seasoned missionaries. Therefore, IMB leadership asked all IMB personnel to consider what God was leading them to do.
  2. Initial steps are absolutely voluntary. Everyone working at IMB was asked to voluntarily decide whether God was leading him or her to a new phase of involvement in mission outside the IMB, and the voluntary retirement incentive provided an avenue for some people to voluntarily leave the IMB if they sensed the Lord leading them to do so.
  3. Sending people through the IMB is necessary. This factor was born out of a conviction that new missionaries being sent from churches through the IMB is a foundational, non-negotiable part of the IMB’s purpose. Also, a decline in sending missionaries historically results in a decline in IMB’s relationship with SBC churches. Furthermore, of the new missionaries IMB planned to send in 2015 and 2016, respectively, more than half of that number included short-term missionaries. If IMB were to freeze sending new missionaries, within three years IMB would have zero apprentices or journeyman on the field.
  4. Cutting or freezing new missionary sending doesn’t address IMB’s immediate need to fix its long-term cost structure. IMB had to get to a place of short-term financial responsibility and long-term financial sustainability, and simply freezing the number of new missionaries for the next few years would not have solved that problem. However, IMB leaders considered they may need to make adjustments in the number of new missionaries sent in the future. 

Q: How did IMB leadership consider the spiritual foundations of this practical issue?

A: IMB leadership stated that while the issue at hand was obviously financial, it was ultimately spiritual. God was not surprised by these financial realities. He has reigned sovereign over the IMB for 171 years, and He will continue to reign sovereign over the IMB for years to come. God has reigned sovereign over the direction of each personnel’s life to this point, and He will reign sovereign over these lives in the days to come. Because He is sovereign, IMB leadership encouraged all of its personnel to seek Him, and ask Him how and where He was guiding each of them for the sake of His name. IMB leadership believed that, without question, God would continue to lead every one of its personnel on mission. It was expected that those who stepped aside from the IMB would not be stepping “onto the sidelines of mission,” but instead would be moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.

Q: What is the impact of IMB’s recent personnel reductions on gospel work around the world?

A: Without question, IMB’s recent personnel reductions have had an effect on gospel work around the world. Obviously, fewer people on the field means a shift in our work on the field. IMB leaders, including our Global Research Team, continually monitor our personnel and work in different places in order to determine our strategies for planting churches. Consequently, from the beginning of this process, IMB has worked to monitor all the effects of our reduction in personnel, and to adjust our strategies accordingly. Such monitoring continues, and necessary adjustments are ongoing as we discern the best stewardship of our personnel and resources for the spread of the gospel. 

Q: How did IMB handle additional personnel changes after the VRI?

A: IMB leadership desired to first provide personnel an opportunity to voluntarily transition into work outside of the IMB. In addition, IMB leadership evaluated the effects of the consolidation of Support Services and the recalibration of Mobilization, as well as any additional adjustments in Global Engagement and Training, to discern the different roles and responsibilities all IMB personnel will have in the future. Many personnel continued with the same roles and responsibilities.  Other personnel redeployed and/or relocated, either within the IMB or beyond the IMB.

Q: How did the Voluntary Retirement Incentive impact IMB’s 2016 budget?

A: Based on projections, IMB leadership projects cost savings in 2016 of $38.6 million with a one-time cost of $23.1 million for payouts to those who accepted the Voluntary Retirement Incentive in 2016.  Therefore, the budget deficit in 2016 is explained by one-time VRI costs.

Q: What was Phase 2?

A: Phase 2 was a “Hand-Raising Opportunity” (HRO) which offered missionaries and stateside staff members the opportunity to transition outside the IMB if they believed God was leading them to a new place of involvement in mission.

Q: What happened between the announcement of Phase 1 (the Voluntary Retirement Incentive) and Phase 2 (HRO)?

A: While the VRI took place Fall 2015, IMB leadership simultaneously worked toward Phase 2, “concluding the reset” of the organization that was begun over the last year with the aim of bringing the reset to a conclusion by making necessary announcements regarding the structure of Support Services and Mobilization, as well as any updates concerning Global Engagement and Training. IMB leadership worked through other personnel adjustments needing to be made based on the number of personnel who responded to the VRI, any structural changes emerging out of the reset and any additional information available concerning IMB’s budget and reserves.

Q: Why did you eliminate the former Richmond Communications Center?

A:  IMB takes seriously its stewardship of the resources Southern Baptist churches have entrusted to us for the spread of the gospel to the nations. Over the course of many months of evaluation, leaders made the difficult decision to eliminate the Richmond Communications Center as it formerly existed. The functions of the Richmond Communications Center, including Lottie Moon Christmas Offering promotion, continue to be performed by IMB’s existing global network of communication teams, including fully funded, full-time missionaries on the field who are professional communicators, and other trusted partners.

Q: Who was eligible to participate in the Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO)?

A: Active, long-term and short-term missionaries were eligible for the HRO. All full-time and regular part-time staff were also eligible for the HRO.

Q: What was the timeframe for Phase 2’s HRO?

A: IMB leadership announced details of a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) during town hall meetings with personnel Thursday, January 14. Personnel who elected to accept the incentive finalized their decisions February 22.  Missionaries who accepted the HRO were given a longer period of time to make their transition.  The final day in the office for staff electing the HRO was February 24, 2016.

Q: Was the HRO voluntary?

A: Yes, all missionaries and staff could make a voluntary decision to take the HRO package.

Q:  Could those offered the HRO speak with their leaders and managers as they considered their decision?

A: Yes. Leaders and managers were encouraged to speak with any individuals on their team advising them of their role on that team, and how their future role fit into the leader’s future vision for that team. To the extent an individual’s job position and/or responsibilities were changing, leaders could use this opportunity to advise them of these changes. This information could assist missionaries and staff as they made personal HRO decisions.

Q:  If someone elected the HRO, did they retire or resign from IMB?

A:  The HRO was a voluntary resignation program. Anyone who elected the HRO resigned from IMB.

Q: When was the organizational reset completed?

A: February 25 marked the conclusion of the two-phased VRI and HRO process. IMB leaders anticipate a future of innovation, evaluation and devotion, all aimed toward getting the gospel to people who have never heard it.

Q: How many missionaries and staff took the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) and the Hand-Raising Opportunity (HRO)?

A: The VRI and HRO resulted in 947 missionaries and 149 stateside staff transitioning outside the IMB. Of those, 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the voluntary retirement incentive, and 245 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the hand raising opportunity.

Q: Why did the IMB wait to release the number of people taking the VRI and the HRO?

A: Until February 22, 2016, the IMB did not have a final number. November. 2, 2015 marked a milestone when eligible personnel indicated whether or not they wished to receive or reject the VRI. The November 2 decision was not official until personnel signed an agreement the first week of December — and that decision could still be rescinded up to December 11, 2015. A second phase began in January 2016 — called a “Hand Raising Opportunity” — which provided the opportunity for all personnel and staff to pray about whether the Lord was leading them to a new place of involvement in mission outside the IMB. That phase concluded February 22, 2016.

Q: How many years of missionary service qualify for the emeritus status for those who elect to take the VRI?

Those with more than 15 years of service were given emeritus status to honor their years of service.

Q: Did missionaries who take the VRI have to return to the U.S.?

A: No. Not all missionaries chose to transition to the U.S. Some have decided to remain on the field as volunteers through alternative pathways or other employment options.

Q: What is IMB currently doing to support former field personnel who took the Voluntary Retirement Incentive?

A:  IMB is committed to helping retiring field personnel transition to new seasons of life and ministry. IMB has hosted conferences for retirees to help them in this transition, and IMB has worked with various churches and entities across the Southern Baptist Convention to provide resources (housing, cars, job opportunities) for them. In addition, IMB maintains a strong network of retired missionaries, continually working to connect them with churches and ministry opportunities here and around the world.

Q: Will IMB continue to send new missionaries?

A: Yes. In 2015, 403 long- and short-term personnel were sent, and in 2016, we anticipate sending 340.

Q: With LMCO being the largest offering total ever, will you send some people back who left the field through the voluntary retirement incentive or hand raising opportunity?

A: The process of reducing the number of IMB personnel over the last year has been completely voluntary for all IMB field personnel. We encouraged every missionary to seek the Lord in order discern whether or not He was leading them to make a transition during this time. We trust that all of our personnel did indeed seek Him, and that He did indeed lead them, and for that matter will continue to lead them in the future for the spread of His gospel in the world.

Q: How did IMB measure if this two-phase plan is successful?

A: Ultimately, the goal was to put the IMB in a position to thrive in the future. With constant dependence on God’s Word and continual desperation for God’s Spirit, IMB leadership wanted the organization to move forward with innovative vision, aggressively exploring how to best mobilize, train and support limitless missionary teams from churches in North America and the nations to reach the unreached with the gospel. IMB must be a wise steward of its resources, represented most clearly by a balanced budget with responsible reserves. And IMB must operate with a high sense of accountability to the churches we serve, the peoples we reach and the God we worship.

This page will continue to be updated as new information is available. 

Other content that may be helpful:

Frequently asked questions about Going: apprentice/career, Journeyman, ISC, Masters and volunteer service
Frequently asked Journeyman questions
Frequently asked questions about Hands On
Frequently asked questions about Fusion
Frequently asked questions by parents of students
Frequently asked questions about Global Research
Frequently asked questions about Lottie Moon
Resources related to the financial plan updates


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