Editor’s note: International Mission Board leaders have outlined a plan to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability.
Q: What is the status of IMB finances?
A: Despite increased giving to the IMB over the last four years, the organization has consistently spent more money than it has received. For example, looking at the Lottie MoonChristmas Offering, a 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 in 2014, the organization spent $39 million more than it received. Since 2010, the organization has spent $210 million more than it has received. Fortunately, with contingency reserves and global property sales, the organization has been able to cover these shortfalls each year.
Q: What is the IMB’s budget for 2016?
A: The IMB projects expenditures in 2016 will be $278,755,000. The IMB projects receipts will be $256,175,000. This leaves a deficit of $22,580,000, which the IMB plans to cover from reserves.
Q: How does the IMB project receipts from Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in the 2016 budget?
A: IMB leadership projects LMCO giving based on a historical projection of the past four years.
Q: Does the IMB’s 2016 budget include proceeds from property sales?
A: IMB leadership decided not to factor in proceeds from property sales in 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: How will the Voluntary Retirement Incentive impact IMB’s 2016 budget?
A: Based on projections, IMB leadership projects cost savings in 2016 of $38.6 million. IMB projects a one-time cost for payouts to those who accept the VRI in 2016 to be about $23.1 million. Therefore, the budget deficit in 2016 is explained by one-time VRI costs.
Q: Hasn’t Southern Baptists’ giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program increased in recent years?
A: Yes. Over the last four years, Southern Baptists have seen increases in both the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as well as Cooperative Program giving to the IMB.
Q: What has the IMB been doing to cover budgetary shortfalls? Could the same solution work for the 2016 budget?
A: IMB has been able to cover costs through reserves and property sales in the past. But this is not a long-term solution because IMB does not have an endless supply of properties, and there are many complexities involved with selling overseas property and repatriating the funds. Moreover, IMB is now close to depleting its reserves and must work to restore them to a more responsible level.
Q: Has the recent decline in missionary numbers helped cover the shortfall?
A: Yes. In 2009 the IMB hit a high mark of 5,600 missionaries on the field. Since then, missionary numbers have decreased to about 4,800. To address budgetary shortfalls, 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.
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, is no longer sufficient to address IMB’s immediate needs. Simply put, IMB cannot continue to overspend as we have. Furthermore, IMB cannot continue to deplete its reserves.
Q: What is a financially sound level of contingency reserves for an organization like the IMB?
A: IMB leaders believe the organization needs to restore it contingency reserves to six months of its annual operating budget. By the end of 2015, the IMB will only have approximately four months of contingency reserves.
Q: How do IMB financials basically work?
A: When we think about financials, we think about 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 and emergency circumstances. The two main sources of income for the IMB are the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program, but was also have some income through investments.
Q: What is IMB’s goal in making financial changes?
A: We were projecting that our 2016 budget would call for us to spend $31 million more than we bring in — and that trend would actually increase year after year into the future. The goal is not simply trying to get a budget that works for one year, but to identify structural changes that need to be made so IMB remains a healthy organization into the future. Overall, our goal is to align our cost structure with the amount of money given to us, so that we link our spending to the amount of money entrusted to us.
Q: How serious is the drain on IMB contingency reserves?
A: One month of contingency reserves is spent every six months that we take no action. IMB is at just over four months of contingency reserves. If we spend one month of contingency reserves every six months, IMB is placed in an extremely dangerous position. Contingency reserves could be completely depleted in two years.
Q: What is the projected financial outlook for IMB in 2017? (Added 2/26/16)
A: Because of this 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: What is the projected giving totals for the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering going into 2016? (Added 2/26/16)
A: Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are trending slightly upward. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering runs from June through May annually, so actual totals will be available mid-year.
Q: What options for change did you consider?
A: We considered many options — and combination of options — and to simplify, they group together 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 you 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’ve asked that question is: “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 love to increase giving to missions, and we are working hard to do just that! However, bringing about a $40 million increase in 2015 giving is not something that can be done very quickly. We already have effective promotional resources for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. We already are receiving a very generous portion of Cooperative Program receipts. We can see incremental changes in giving — we want to and we need to — but to make meaningful changes at the level we’re talking about will just take time.
Q: How much would Lottie Moon giving have to increase?
A: Our Lottie Moon giving averages a little bit more than $150 million. To make up the shortfall would require a 25 percent increase overnight in Lottie Moon giving.
Q: How much would Cooperative Program giving have to increase?
A: For every dollar given through the Cooperative Program, about 25 cents of that flows to IMB. The other 75 cents is going 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 to go up by $160 million in order for it to impact our current shortfall — which is 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 have already been sold. In addition, selling properties is not a long-term solution. At some point, we run out of properties to sell.
Q: One concern raised in social media is that IMB’s restructuring plan could result in a substantive shift in the theological landscape of IMB field personnel. Some suspect that seasoned missionaries (believed to be non-Calvinists) will be replaced with younger candidates who have Reformed beliefs. Is this accurate?
A: The IMB is reducing the number of our personnel for clear and evident financial reasons. This reduction has absolutely nothing to do with theological, philosophical, ideological or any other differences that may exist among IMB missionaries. The entire IMB missionary force is unified together under the authority of the Bible and the banner of the Baptist Faith and Message that unites all Southern Baptists on mission.
Q: Why would 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 is 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 is asking all IMB personnel to consider what God is leading them to do.
2.) Initial steps are absolutely voluntary. Everyone working at IMB has been asked to voluntarily decide whether God is leading him or her to a new phase of involvement in mission outside the IMB, and the voluntary retirement incentive provides an avenue for some people to voluntarily leave the IMB if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.
3.) Sending people through the IMB is necessary. This factor is 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 approximately 300 new missionaries IMB has planned to send in 2015 and 2016, respectively, more than half of that number includes short-term missionaries. If IMB were to freeze sending new missionaries, within three years IMB would have zero apprentices or journeyman on the field. Among 300 new missionaries in 2016, only 135 of them will be long-term. That number is approximately one-third of the people IMB sent a decade ago.
4.) Cutting or freezing new missionary sending doesn’t address IMB’s immediate need to fix its long-term cost structure. IMB must 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 will not solve that problem. However, IMB leaders have considered they may need to make adjustments in the number of new missionaries sent in the future.
Q: How is IMB leadership considering the spiritual foundations of this practical issue?
A: IMB leadership stated that while the issue at hand is obviously financial, it is ultimately spiritual. God is not surprised by these financial realities. He has reigned sovereign over the IMB for 170 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 encourages all of its personnel to seek Him, and ask Him how and where He is guiding each of them for the sake of His name. IMB leadership believes that, without question, God will continue to lead every one of its personnel on mission. It is expected that the 600-800 people who step aside from the IMB in the next six months will not be stepping “onto the sidelines of mission,” but instead will be moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.
Q: What is 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: The next six months will involve two primary phases: 1) offering a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI), and 2) concluding the reset of the organization, which involves 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 does a “major adjustment” to missionary and staff numbers mean?
A: The IMB plans to reduce the total number of missionaries and staff by 600-800 people — or approximately 15 percent of its total personnel. Currently, approximately 4,800 personnel serve as missionaries and 450 as staff.
Q: There’s a big difference between 600 and 800 people. Which is it?
A: The “600” number represents the change IMB leadership has known the organization needs to make to reduce missionaries from 4,800 to 4,200. The “600” number is most likely a minimum, with the larger “800” number representing a more realistic picture of the reduction of missionaries and staff necessary to put IMB in a responsible and sustainable financial position.
Q: Will IMB continue to send new missionaries?
A: Yes. In 2015, approximately 300 will be sent, and in 2016, we anticipate sending a comparable number.
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 is eligible for the voluntary retirement incentive (VRI)?
A: The IMB has 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 is required to meet the qualifications.
Q: How many are eligible?
A: IMB leadership has asked all personnel, both missionary and staff, to consider how God is leading them in their future involvement in missional service. Currently the IMB has approximately 4,800 missionaries and 450 staff.
Q: How many missionaries and staff are taking the Voluntary Retirement Incentive and the Hand-Raising Opportunity? (Updated 2/26/16)
A: The VRI and HRO have resulted in 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff transitioning outside the IMB over the past six months. Of those, 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the voluntary retirement incentive, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the hand raising opportunity. It is possible the number of missionaries who have taken the HRO may decrease, since missionaries can rescind their decisions through April 2016.
Q: Why has the IMB waited to release the number of people taking the VRI and the HRO? (Added 2/26/16)
A: Until Feb. 22, 2016, the IMB did not have a final number. Nov. 2, 2015 marked a milestone when eligible personnel indicated whether or not they wish to receive or reject the VRI. The Nov. 2 decision was not official until personnel signed an agreement the first week of December — and that decision could still be rescinded up to Dec. 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 is leading them to a new place of involvement in mission outside the IMB. That phase concluded Feb. 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 will be given emeritus status to honor their years of service.
Q: What is the timeline for VRI?
A: Eligible missionaries and staff will receive personalized VRI packets the week of Sept. 14. And then all eligible missionaries and staff must respond with their answers Nov. 2. Service will conclude by the end of 2015.
Q: Do missionaries who take the VRI have to return to the U.S.?
A: No. Not all missionaries will choose to transition to the U.S. Some may choose to stay on the field as volunteers, through alternative pathways or through other employment options.
Q: Is 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 acknowledges this is not an ideal step — but also that there are no “ideal” steps at this 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: Is the VRI really voluntary?
A: Yes. This VRI is indeed voluntary. IMB leadership will not in any way encourage or influence any personnel to elect or reject the VRI. It is totally up to the discretion of an individual (or missionary family) who is eligible for the VRI to decide whether or not to elect or reject it. To help ensure that this decision is truly voluntary, supervisors across the organization will not even discuss with any individual personnel whether he or she should take the incentive. IMB leadership has designated people available to talk with personnel to help them understand what the VRI entails, but beyond this, the IMB will not point personnel toward a particular decision. IMB leadership’s aim is to eliminate any possibility of pressure or coercion in a certain direction, but to ensure that this program is indeed voluntary in every way.
Q: Why did IMB choose to make the staff reductions voluntary? (Added 2/26/16)
A: Even though a more 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 that 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 been required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sense the Lord leading them to do so. The same voluntary nature of this process has applied to all staff with the exception of approximately 30 personnel in our Richmond communications office, whose positions were eliminated in IMB’s new mobilization structure.
Q: What will the VRI include?
A: IMB leadership wants to make this VRI as generous as possible, so they are working to use every possible means available to provide for the men and women who take this incentive. The details of eligibility and the incentive are still being finalized. Those details will be disclosed to personnel on September 10 in a Town Hall meeting. In the few days following that meeting, all eligible personnel will receive a packet of information that includes the specific details of how this incentive would affect them. The IMB’s tight financial position creates more urgency for this program now, because the longer the organization waits, the less generous it can be. This VRI will be the best option that can be offered.
Q: How quickly will the VRI take place?
A: Once individual details have been sent to eligible personnel in September, those personnel will have at least 45 days to decide whether or not to accept the VRI. Beyond the date IMB sets as a decision deadline, all personnel who take the VRI will continue on payroll through December, providing additional time to work through potential transition plans. For mission-field personnel with remaining stateside assignment, IMB leadership will work with those individuals through the ramifications of what that means for their retirement.
Q: What is Phase 2? (updated 1/14/16)
A: Phase 2 is a “Hand-Raising Opportunity” which 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.
Q: Who is eligible to participate in the Hand-Raising Opportunity (HRO)? (added 1/14/16)
A: 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.
Q: Is the HRO voluntary? (added 1/14/16)
A: Yes, all missionaries and staff may make a voluntary decision to take the HRO package.
Q: May those considering the HRO speak with their leaders and managers as they consider this decision? (added 1/14/16)
A: Yes. Leaders and managers are encouraged to speak with any individuals on their team advising them of their role on that team, and how their future role fits into the leader’s future vision for that team. To the extent an individual’s job position and/or responsibilities are changing, leaders can use this opportunity to advise them of these changes. This information sharing can assist missionaries and staff as they make personal HRO decisions.
Q: If someone elects the HRO, are they retiring or resigning from IMB?
A: The HRO is a voluntary resignation program. Anyone who elects the HRO is resigning from IMB.
Q: What is the timeframe for Phase 2’s HRO? (updated 1/14/16)
A: IMB leadership announced details of a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) during town hall meetings with personnel Thursday, Jan. 14. Personnel who elect to accept the incentive will finalize their decisions Feb. 22. Missionaries who accept the HRO will transition from the field during the next several months. The final day in the office for staff electing the HRO will be Feb. 24, 2016.
Q: What has happened between the announcement of Phase 1 (the Voluntary Retirement Incentive) and Phase 2? (added 1/14/16)
A: While the VRI took place in fall 2015, IMB leadership simultaneously worked toward Phase 2, “concluding the reset” of the organization that has begun over the last year with the aim to bring 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 is working through any other personnel adjustments that may need to be made based on the number of personnel who respond to the VRI; any structural changes emerging out of the reset; and any additional information available concerning IMB’s budget and reserves.
Q: How does the financial situation affect the structure of IMB Support Services?
A: Rodney Freeman, IMB vice president for Support Services — which includes global logistics, personnel and finances — will begin the process of consolidating these three areas into one team.
Q: How does the financial situation affect the structure of IMB Mobilization?
A: Until a vice president for Mobilization is named, Sebastian Traeger, IMB executive vice president, will lead in recalibrating this area.
Q: How does the financial situation affect the structure of IMB Global Engagement?
A: While IMB leadership does not foresee major structural changes in the area of Global Engagement, Vice President John Brady and his team, including each of IMB’s affinity leaders around the world, will assess the effects of 600-800 fewer personnel in the IMB, including IMB’s ability to place personnel in particular places or among particular people groups.
Q: How does the financial situation affect the structure of IMB Training?
A: Zane Pratt, vice president for Training, and his newly forming Training team will continue to re-envision the training of churches, Christians, missionaries and nationals in the 21st century.
Q: When will the organizational reset be complete? (added 1/14/16)
A: February 25 will mark the conclusion of this two-phase process. IMB leaders anticipate a future of innovation, evaluation and devotion, all aimed toward getting the gospel to people who’ve never heard it.
Q: How will IMB handle additional personnel changes after the VRI?
A: IMB leadership desires to first provide personnel an opportunity to voluntarily transition into work outside of the IMB. In addition, IMB leadership will evaluate 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 will continue with the exact same roles and responsibilities they have now. Other personnel could potentially redeploy and/or relocate, either within the IMB or beyond the IMB.
Q: How will IMB measure if this two-phase plan is successful?
A: Ultimately, the goal is 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 wants 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.
Q: In summary, what is the goal of these actions?
A: “We must get to a healthy place in the present in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability,” Platt said.
Q: What is IMB’s plan moving forward? (Added 2/26/16)
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.
“The stage is now set financially, organizationally and spiritually for IMB to work with Southern Baptist churches to create exponentially more opportunities for disciple making and church planting among unreached peoples around the world,” IMB President David Platt said during the Feb. 22-24, 2016, board of trustees meeting. “IMB is committed to a future marked by faithful stewardship, operational excellence, wise evaluation, ongoing innovation and joyful devotion to making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached.”
Conclusion of Platt’s message to IMB family:
“I realize that all I have shared is a lot to process. And I am sure that the ramifications of all these things will sink in over the days to come in a variety of challenging, painful and difficult ways. But amidst inevitable heaviness, I want you to know that I have great hope for every member of the IMB family in the days ahead. As we know, God is going to make His glory known among all the peoples of the earth, and I am confident that He wants each of us to play a pivotal part in making that happen. Over the months to come, He will give many of us new parts to play, including new places of service and new paths for mission, both within and beyond the IMB. Regardless of where we find ourselves six months from now, of this I am sure: it will be good, and God will be glorified. In my time with the Lord this week, I was reading Psalm 31, where the psalmist cries, ‘You are my rock and my fortress, and for your name’s sake you lead and guide me’ (verse 3). Amidst difficult days in our IMB family, I am clinging to the fact that our Father is a rock and a fortress who always leads and guides us. In Psalm 32:8, He says, ‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. He will counsel you with His eye upon You.’ Please hear that promise from the Lord. Particularly amidst limitations on who we can counsel with about voluntary retirement, know that the Lord stands ready to be your Counselor. His eye is upon you. And as we seek Him, He will instruct and teach each of us individually and all of us collectively in the way we should go. For in the end, ‘our times are in His hands’ (Psalm 31:15).”
IMB leaders announce plan to balance budget, prepare for future