SHREVEPORT, La. (BP)–In a day of unprecedented global missions opportunity and great harvest, Southern Baptists will be forced to draw down their overseas missions force in 2010 by as many as 600 missionaries, International Mission Board trustees were told Nov. 10.
The trustees, meeting in Shreveport, La., adopted a $317.6 million budget for 2010 and learned that $7.5 million will be needed from contingency reserves to balance the budget. That unprecedented step leaves the organization with only six weeks of available reserves in case of major unexpected expenses. The funds will be needed in 2010 because projected revenue for the year is lower than projected expenses. The 2008 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering came in $9 million short of the previous year’s receipts and $29 million short of its goal of $170 million.
Because of that shortfall, IMB was forced to suspend two short-term missionary programs, send fewer long-term workers and significantly reduce all aspects of its operating expenses. One of those short-term programs, the Masters Program, is being reinstated in a format that asks new personnel to provide part of their own support package. IMB will provide support in areas such as transportation, training and housing. The Masters Program offers those age 50 and older the opportunity to serve two to three years overseas.
The drawdown in the missionary force during 2010 will be accomplished through natural attrition, completion of service, retirements and limiting appointments, not by recalling any personnel, the trustees were told.
Because economic realities are forcing IMB to retrench its efforts, the organization must deliberately plan to have fewer missionaries — with implications for a lost world that should distress Southern Baptist church members, said Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of global strategy.
“When doors are swinging open all over the world, when our work force is finding great harvest in some of the most difficult places in the world, we are drawing our force down from 5,600 to 5,000. It just shouldn’t be,” Fort told trustees. When Southern Baptists collected $11.1 billion in offering plates in 2008, according to the denomination’s Annual Church Profile, and 2.77 percent “finally arrives to support the vision of reaching a lost world, and when [Southern Baptists] are structuring ourselves in a way that guarantees we will fail in our mission, it just shouldn’t be.” (See Editor’s Note below.)
The IMB’s 2010 budget anticipates $100 million in Cooperative Program funding (a decrease of $7.6 million from 2009) and calls for $175 million in Lottie Moon Christmas Offering receipts, said David Steverson, IMB chief financial officer. The operating portion of the 2010 budget is $23.2 million less than 2009, and the total budget represents a decrease of $2.2 million. The plan includes $29 million for capital needs that will not be spent unless the Lottie Moon offering surpasses its $146 million operating budget goal.
The overseas portion of the new budget accounts for 85.3 percent of the total, while the portion for stateside administration and promotion amounts to 14.7 percent. As part of the belt tightening, benefits have been reduced for both missionaries and staff.
A statistical snapshot of work conducted in 2008 by IMB missionaries and their Baptist partners shows God continues to work in dramatic ways to push back spiritual darkness and advance His Kingdom, said Scott Holste, associate vice president for global strategy.
Among the report’s highlights:
— Church-planting strategies were implemented among 1,159 people groups, 886 of which are unreached. Of the 93 people groups newly engaged in 2008, 77 were unreached. Of the 208 urban centers in which church-planting strategies were implemented in 2008, 164 are unreached.
— The number of churches worldwide increased globally to 204,192 — more than twice the 95,383 reported in 2004. Church membership grew more than 390,000 to 10.7 million — an increase of about 3.4 million since 2004. Although baptisms were down worldwide by 59,956 and the number of new churches was down 2,230, the numbers still represented one person being baptized about every minute and a new church every 22 minutes.
— While the number of individuals enrolled in residential leadership training increased by 2,607 to a total of 24,453 — an 11.9 percent annual growth rate — the number of partner home missionaries decreased by 186 (6.5 percent) and the number of partner international missionaries dropped by 128 (6.1 percent). Those declines reflect the same pressure of economically forced strategic retreat IMB is experiencing, Holste said.
Without exception, however, the Gospel is eagerly received when taken to people who have never heard it, Fort said.
Mark Sauter, who along with his wife Vesta, leads work with deaf peoples worldwide for IMB, told trustees about sharing the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ with a man whose culture believes that death imprisons a person in a dark cell for eternity. For the deaf, being in darkness would mean being forever unable to use sign language to communicate with others, Sauter said.
After the man heard Sauter’s witness about how he could spend eternity in a place of heavenly light, in the presence of a God who loves him — instead of being eternally imprisoned in darkness — the man said, “You know, that’s the best news anyone has ever told me. I don’t know why you Americans call it ‘Good News.’ You should call it ‘Best News.'”
Sauter’s story reflects the essence of what Southern Baptist international missions is about, Fort told trustees. Drawing back from the mission, he said, imperils not just organizational advance but the eternal destiny of human souls.
“Those who live in great darkness are seeing the Light,” Fort said. “But you know, the best news that we have is Good News, but Good News is only good when it’s received in time.”
The next trustee meeting will be Jan. 18-19 in Richmond, Va. The next missionary appointment service will be held in conjunction with a March 2010 trustee meeting in Memphis, Tenn.
Mark Kelly, an assistant editor with Baptist Press, wrote this story for the International Mission Board. EDITOR’S NOTE: Southern Baptists’ total tithes, offerings and special gifts of $11.1 billion included such items as Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, world hunger and state missions offerings. Total undesignated receipts amounted to $9,013,807,646. Of that amount, churches retained 94 percent and contributed $548,205,099 through the Cooperative Program, of which $204,385,593 was forwarded by the states to support national causes. The CP Allocation Budget apportions 50 percent to the IMB, 22.79 to the North American Mission Board, 22.16 to theological education, 3.40 percent to facilitating ministries and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The IMB also received $141 million through the 2008 Lottie Moon offering.