1,132 missionaries, staff opt to leave IMB

Platt confident board has "sustainable financial future," "positioned to go forward"

UPDATE — Feb. 26, 2016 — This story has been expanded from it’s original version with comments from David Platt’s press conference with Southern Baptist state newspaper editors following the IMB trustee meeting


ROCKVILLE, Va.—The largest mission organization in the world is “positioned to go forward” with a balanced budget in 2017 after receiving voluntary retirements and resignations from nearly 21 percent of field personnel and a third of its stateside office staff in Richmond.

International Mission Board President David Platt told trustees meeting Feb. 24, “It is high time for the IMB to turn our collective Southern Baptist sights away from all these financial struggles to the billions of people who haven’t heard the gospel and the missionaries from Southern Baptist churches who are taking that gospel.”

Hoping to reduce personnel by 600-900 people, trustees learned that the actual number taking advantage of incentives to leave the IMB totaled 1,132.  Platt reported that the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) yielded decisions from 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff, while a later “hand-raising opportunity” for all personnel was accepted by 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff.

“It is high time for the IMB to turn our collective Southern Baptist sights away from all these financial struggles to the billions of people who haven’t heard the gospel and the missionaries from Southern Baptist churches who are taking that gospel.”

The number of missionaries on the field is now around 3,800, according to IMB figures. The last time the number of missionaries was below 4,000, according to SBC Annual reports, was in 1993 at 3,954.

“There have been days when the heaviness has been really hard,” Platt said of the process, recalling an instance when he felt he might collapse under the weight. An IMB employee who had decided to accept the Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) encouraged him to view the transition as a time when 5,250 people were all seeking the Lord and his will for their lives. “He said, ‘This is like revival, and nothing but good can come from this,'” Platt recalled.

“I’ve rested in that reality the last six months as people have made decisions,” he told trustees. “And I rest in that today as I share numbers with you that have surprised me for which I don’t have human explanation.”

/ / / READ: Texas trustees analyze IMB ‘reset’ / / / 


Anxious to focus on future IMB strategy for the missionaries who remain and the “limitless number” who will be serving in new pathways in the future, Platt spoke of significant changes to infrastructures and systems that will efficiently increase the IMB’s effectiveness.

Platt envisioned clusters of professionals, students and retirees serving alongside existing personnel to further advance the gospel.

Clyde Meador told trustees, “We’re not seeing limitless yet, but we will.” The veteran missionary and administrator who serves as executive advisor to the president, reminded, “At the core of those limitless missionary teams around the world will be fully supported language and culturally competent missionaries who remain on the field and there will be others who follow after them.”

Meador went so far as to express gratitude for “the untold numbers of new believers and churches that came into being during the five years when we spent $210 million more than came in,” and quickly added, “I’m thankful for the realization we couldn’t keep doing that.”

Platt said, “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,” He thanked Southern Baptist churches for increased giving to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, both of which are “trending upward.”

/ / / READ: IMB talking points from recent board meeting / / / 


In the first trustee meeting to be livestreamed via the internet, Platt said the last thing he wanted to see when he stepped into the role of president in the fall of 2014 was hundreds of fewer missionaries serving on the field.

“Could it be that God has designed the globalization of the marketplace for the spread of his gospel?” he asked. Instead of attempting to “grow back” to 4,500 or 5,000 missionaries, Platt encouraged Southern Baptists to lift their eyes to see the billions who have never heard the gospel. “Surely this God is calling more than just 500 or 1,000 people to go, but tens of thousands.”

During a subsequent news conference, Platt said, “I’m under no presumption our work won’t be affected by over 900 people not on the field.” Critical needs are being addressed first, making sure changes do not jeopardize the security and stability of remaining staff, he explained.

“We want to make sure people are not serving in isolation or in ways that are unhealthy for them,” Platt said, raising the possibility of relocation of personnel where necessary.

IBM is strengthening the network of former missionaries with conferences planned for those who recently retired. Platt expressed gratitude for North Carolina Baptists and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention in funding opportunities for them to take the gospel to unreached people groups in those states.

Asked what the larger than anticipated number of missionaries leaving says about current leadership, Platt said he wants Southern Baptists to be confident in the faithful stewardship of the resources they contribute. “It’s not going to be good leadership in the days to come to let the IMB operate in a position where we cannot sustain ourselves financially and have to start pulling people involuntarily. If we had waited, we would not have been able to be as generous.”

Reasons missionaries chose to leave vary with each situation, he said, noting efforts to solicit feedback from returning personnel to help the IMB improve its effectiveness.

Thousands of years of collective experience still remain on the field, with each one receiving clear affirmation from God, Platt said. With significant changes to the infrastructure and systems, he said the stage is set to send thousands more by leveraging God-given opportunities.

“We must think through as Southern Baptists how to mobilize as many missionaries as possible without in any way undercutting the foundation on which we stand in the cooperative approach to missions. I want to strengthen that, and I think we can by involving more churches in what we’re doing.”

–with additional reporting by Baptist Press

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