The International Mission Board (IMB) announced in a Jan. 14 press release that it is closing its Richmond Communication Center and reducing on-site communication staff from 40 employees to 10. IMB will continue to use its “existing global network of communication teams and other trusted partners” for certain responsibilities normally assumed by the Communication Center.
No missionaries are affected by the new changes. Thirty affected staff will continue in their roles until April 29.
This personnel reduction comes as part of the organizational “reset” announced Aug. 27, 2015, in an effort to balance the budget and manage the resources given to the IMB by Southern Baptist churches.
“These are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond [Va.] office,” said IMB President David Platt. “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.”
Social media became active with speculation about the changes the day before as staff began posting information online about the layoffs. The press release clarifies some confusion generated on social media, but questions remain.
The roles and functions of the remaining 10 employees on the communication team remain unclear. Anonymous sources said a new, smaller public relations department may be formed.
The organization’s budget fell $21 million short in 2014, raising total deficits to more than $210 million in the last six years. To remedy the continuing financial problems, IMB outlined a plan in August 2015 to reduce personnel expenses, which made up more than 80 percent of the total budget.
A two-phase personnel reduction plan was set in motion to lower employee numbers by 600-800, including missionaries and other staff. Phase one included a voluntary retirement incentive for qualifying employees that was in effect through the end of 2015. Phase two, which is a “hand raising opportunity” for all other staff, is effective until the end of February 2016. It allows employees to voluntarily resign and receive a moderate severance package.
IMB leaders project the voluntary phases of the plan to reduce personnel by at least 600, meaning no missionary layoffs will be required. Final personnel numbers are scheduled for release when phase two is completed.
See the full text of the press release below.
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, Virginia. 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.”
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.
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.
(EDITOR'S NOTE – K. Allan Blume, editor of the Biblical Recorder, contributed to this story.)