DULUTH, Ga. (BP) – Another round of layoffs along with other budget cuts are part of an ongoing effort “to right-size our organization so that we will be able to continue to live within our means,” Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director Thomas Hammond told Baptist Press today.
The announcement came throughout the day Tuesday (Sept. 15). Georgia Baptist Executive Committee members received word during their meeting at the Missions and Ministry Center, and the news was relayed shortly thereafter through The Christian Index, the state convention’s news journal. That afternoon, Hammond said, a letter was released to pastors throughout the state.
State convention staff officially received the news from Hammond at a 3 p.m. Zoom call. Individuals who were impacted had received notification earlier in the day.
A continued lag in Cooperative Program giving in the state forced the changes, according to Hammond. Since 2007, when total CP funds received by the state convention reached $49.5 million, that number has dropped by $11.7 million, to $37.8 million in 2020.
The Index article cited “a variety of external reasons” as to why CP giving has suffered in Georgia.
“Most of [those reasons] are outside of our state,” Hammond told BP. When asked for clarification, he said that a negative perception of the direction of the SBC among many Georgia Baptists has negatively impacted CP giving in the state.
“When we have conversations with pastors whose churches have decreased or stopped giving, most of their comments are, ‘We’re concerned with the SBC. We don’t feel like we have a voice,’” he said.
Year-to-date figures through the end of August show a 4.27 percent decrease in national CP receipts from Georgia, which joins Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee as the only southern states dipping more than one percent. However, national Cooperative Program giving is 4.44 percent above budget and .47 percent above giving for the same time period last year.
That said, Georgia remains one of the stronger CP-giving states in terms of dollars. Only Alabama (reporting a 3.32 percent increase in giving YTD last month) and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (reporting a 8.23 percent YTD increase) give more.
Declining to get into specifics on the number of positions eliminated, Hammond said layoffs occurred “across the board” and “will touch every department on our team.”
Those receiving notices yesterday will receive three months’ severance as well as unused vacation pay. A healthcare supplement for retirees has also been eliminated, but will carry through the end of 2022. “We were as generous as we could be,” he said.
The layoffs are the third round since Hammond received a unanimous vote by the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee to lead the state convention in September 2018. The first came in January 2019 when 20 staffers were affected by a near-$1.2 million budget shortfall. Last year, as many as 50 employees were offered an early retirement incentive package two months after Hammond addressed a “pattern of overspending” that had stretched back 20 years and contributed to the convention’s financial predicament.
Twenty-six individuals accepted the early retirement incentive, Hammond confirmed.
Early into the COVID-19 pandemic, the GBMB anticipated an impact on CP and took several steps including furloughing staff, reducing salaries and suspending retirement benefits. Last fall its Toccoa, Ga., conference center in the northeast part of the state was put up for sale. It was purchased in January by Texas-based Pine Cove, a family Christian camp that already had a location in South Carolina, just 12 minutes from the property.
April brought the announcement that the Georgia Baptist Missions and Ministry Center had received a buyer, nine years after the state’s Executive Committee first voted to entertain offers and 15 years after the building was completed. The expected closing date is April 2022.
Hammond declined to share a purchase price for the building but said that 75 percent of those funds have been earmarked to provide “ministry and assistance” for pastors, a decision made by messengers to the Georgia Baptist Convention annual meeting in 2019. The remainder will go toward a new working location for GBMB staff within a 10-mile radius of the current building, according to an April 27 Index article.
The Index also reported yesterday that the number of GBMB staff has now fallen to fewer than 90 from 171 members in 2018.
“We’re having to make extremely difficult decisions,” Hammond said. “These decisions are difficult because they affect the lives of very talented and godly people.”
However difficult those decisions may be, he insisted they are providing a positive foothold.
“Progress has been made. We are currently debt free. We’ve been able to forward on Cooperative Program and designated gifts on schedule,” he said. “We’ve begun replenishing designated accounts and building toward appropriate operating reserves. And we’ll soon be in a position to build back stronger.”