RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The financial outlook for the International Mission Board is optimistic but “tempered with caution,” the board’s vice president for finance told the trustees during their May 17-18 meeting in Atlanta.
Trustees named leaders for two regions of overseas work during the meeting, tightened oversight on the selection of non-Southern Baptists to serve in volunteer projects through the IMB and elected their officers for 2004-05.
The business session was held in conjunction with an historic May 19 joint meeting with trustees of the North America Mission Board. Leaders from all levels of Southern Baptist life joined the two mission boards that evening to launch “The Acts 1:8 Challenge,” a call for each Southern Baptist church to focus on advancing the Great Commission at every level — locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.
Major cutbacks in board spending in 2003 succeeded in restoring positive financial operating trends while still allowing the agency to sustain significant growth in the missionary force, David Steverson, the board’s finance officer, said.
Though painful, the cutbacks also served to wake up Southern Baptists to the need to keep up financially with the movement of God’s spirit to call out ever-larger numbers of new missionaries, Steverson said.
The IMB was forced to limit appointments and cut stateside staff in June 2003 because income from churches was not keeping pace with strong growth in the number of new missionaries coming forward for overseas service.
“The adjustments we made paid off, but — more importantly — when Southern Baptists were informed about the changes we were forced to make, they responded in a marvelous way,” Steverson said. “We are blessed to serve a Lord and work with a denomination that makes missions a priority. Southern Baptists have spoken, not just verbally, but with their pocketbooks as well — and they have spoken loudly.”
Receipts for the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering were running about $20.5 million ahead of the previous year’s pace, and Steverson said he is anticipating a final total of more than $135 million — a 17.4 percent increase over 2002 — when the books close May 31.
Cutting $8 million out of the board’s stateside budget in 2003 played a major role in getting IMB finances back on track, though “at considerable expense to what we do in Richmond,” Steverson said. “I am optimistic about our financial outlook, but that optimism is tempered with a great deal of caution. While we made some good progress last year, we still have a long way to go.”
He noted that the board has seen an increase in cash flow of 2 percent and an increase in net assets of 9 percent. Net assets, however, will have to increase another 29 percent to return the agency to the financial position it held in 2000 before it began using unrestricted assets to fill the gap between the cost of supporting new missionaries and income from the churches.
Trustees elected Phil Templin, former leader of the board’s Middle America region, to lead the newly formed Middle America and Caribbean region. They also named Dickie Nelson, former leader of the board’s Caribbean Basin region, to lead the new South America region.
Trustees created those regions during their April meeting in Nashville, Tenn., by consolidating the Middle America, Caribbean Basin, Western South America and Eastern South America regions. The regional leader position in Eastern South America was vacant. Larry Gay, leader of the Western South America region, is considering other opportunities offered him by IMB leadership.
Consolidation of those four regions into two — along with a similar action at the April meeting — reduced the number of overseas administrative areas from 15 to 11. The moves are intended to streamline and sharpen the focus of the IMB’s overseas structure.
During 2003, the number of long-term missionary personnel rose above 4,000 for the first time, in spite of restrictions placed on appointments for financial reasons, Executive Vice President Clyde Meador told the trustees. The IMB ended the year with 5,370 missionaries in service.
An analysis of personnel trends in 2003 also indicated an attrition rate of 5.2 percent, a rate identical to 2002 and squarely within the pattern since 1999, Meador said. The rate held in spite of the resignation of 64 missionaries and the termination of 13 others who refused to affirm the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement of beliefs.
The leading factors cited by missionaries in decisions to resign were issues related to IMB organization, children, spouses, work, calling, stateside job opportunities, interpersonal relationships and adjustment to the field. The attrition rate was highest among missionaries who had served between 13 and 16 years.
The trustees’ overseas committee also expressed concern about an increase in the number of non-Southern Baptists participating in short-term volunteer projects through the IMB. The trustees approved three actions proposed by the committee:
— Enforcing a requirement that all volunteers submit information about their denominational affiliation prior to acceptance for service and maintaining a record-keeping system to track that information.
— Clarifying and possibly redefining the policy that governs participation of non-Southern Baptist volunteers to ensure the integrity of witness and ministry efforts.
— Clearly communicating that policy to staff and field personnel on a regular basis and asking IMB staff to regularly report to the overseas committee on non-SBC volunteer participation in IMB projects.
In electing officers for 2004-05, trustees elected Tom Hatley, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., in a ballot vote over Randy Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn.
Board members re-elected their other officers by acclamation: Mike Barrett of Pleasant Garden, N.C., first vice chairman; Bill Duncan of Honolulu, Hawaii, second vice chairman; and Nedra Jackson of Social Circle, Ga., recording secretary.
The next trustee meeting is scheduled for July 12-14 in Tyler, Texas. A missionary appointment service will be held July 12 at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler (http://www.gabc.org).
No missionary appointment service was held in conjunction with the Atlanta meeting.