The IMB’s primary sources of funding are the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (LMCO) and the Cooperative Program (CP), though many churches choose to designate certain other monies for the IMB. LMCO offerings remain robust year by year, but CP giving has dropped and with that dip, the IMB has faced some difficult reductions in staffing and missionary appointments. Since the organization is primarily a missionary-sending agency, IMB leaders place a tremendous emphasis on finding new ways to fund new missionaries while maintaining support for the current missionary force.
Lost in noise surrounding Dr. Platt’s elevation to the IMB president’s office was the announcement of a plan to alter funding patterns for short-term field personnel (ISC, Journeymen, Masters).
“IMB leaders briefed trustees on a pilot funding program that will allow the organization to send greater numbers of short-term missionaries (who serve two- to three-year terms) while forging deeper partnerships with churches. Under the pilot, based on the model established in 1977 by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Mission Service Corps, more than 50 percent of short-term missionaries’ financial support will continue to be provided by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The remainder, set at $15,000 per person per year for the pilot, will be raised by the missionaries themselves.” (see full story here.)
Jay Wolf, of the administration committee, commented that, “The objective is simple: we want to put more people on the field. We want to attack lostness, and right now we don’t have the financial resources to do that. So we need to be creative and do more with less.”
The announced plan represents a tremendous philosophical shift for the organization. Well-known policies forbid missionaries from requesting funds for personal support. Field workers usually ask churches to continue their support through the CP and the LMCO, though the IMB does accept special gifts to for specific types of work and specific missionaries. Missionaries who mention special funds to their colleagues often throw in the disclaimer, “But hey – they volunteered. We didn’t ask!” This new plan, therefore, is an amazing change in perspective.
IMB leaders deserve a round of applause for questioning some long-held standards and making some sort of modification. I’ve heard numbers tossed around about how many more years the IMB can continue with its current rate of expenditure and level. Eight years seems to be the rumor mill-inspired consensus. By changing a long-standing rule regarding funding, the IMB is taking a significant step towards working within the way our society views donations, especially to institutions.
Of course, this only applies to newly-appointed short-term workers, and only for the amount needed. Current missionaries will follow the usual policy of soliciting funds on behalf of the entire organization and not for themselves or their work.
Let’s consider some of the implications here:
1. Churches that want to increase their hands-on involvement with missionary support will get their wish. According to the stories out there, many churches have pulled back from CP giving because they desire a more personal involvement in the work. The new policy allows for exactly that level of involvement.
2. Missionary applicants with pending appointments can now personally work to acquire the needed funds in order to go to the field. Over the last few years, stories have filtered through the blogosphere about applicants who were approved but lacked funding. The gloves are off, it seems, and the reins loosened.
3. The personal touch on this alternate giving route potentially pounds another nail in the CP’s coffin. When churches realize they can give directly to the IMB and to the missionary of their choice, highly designated giving just might end up being the wave of the future.
4. The LMCO, always the vehicle of choice for direct missions giving, just might start losing ground to the personal involvement donation approach. This frightens me just a bit.
5. While the IMB’s goal is to increase the size of the workforce, the potential exists for fewer applications. If LMOC and CP receipts go down, less money will exist for the IMB’s contribution to a short-term worker’s pay and support. As well, if the average applicant cannot find sufficient funds, this plan doesn’t solve that problem. There exists a very real possibility that instead of gaining applicants, the IMB will accidentally reduce the number of financially-qualified folks.
6. While most short-term workers are fairly young (Journeymen, ISCers), older applicants most likely have the contacts and relationships necessary for acquiring the needed support. This could mean an older workforce. We might be talking about eliminating jobs that younger, short-term workers have traditionally filled. Many media-oriented jobs attract younger, media-savvy college grads who are more likely to possess the necessary skills. Physically-difficult jobs far from modern cities have also attracted younger applicants, especially young, single men. If they cannot raise their own support, then the jobs are either eliminated or filled by those less able to accomplish the task.
7. Applicants from the lower economic strata in the United States potentially stand a lesser chance of garnering sufficient funding. This perhaps has implications for minority applicants and blue-collar workers who feel called to missions. Applicants from pioneer states and non-legacy regions also risk remaining on the outside, looking in through the glass.
As the first step towards a reworking of the organization’s finances, I like it. We’ve got to think differently, remembering how our society as a whole has changed since the inception of CP. Due to all the questions raised here, I think this cannot be the last step, though. Considering Dr. Platt’s reputation as a creative visionary, I cannot envision this being anything other than Phase One.
One final note: As I’ve had my ear to the ground on this, I’ve learned that this has been a long time coming. Details have been hashed and debated and rejected and all those things. As a result, this is not a result of Dr. Platt’s appointment, nor of his supposed rejection of the Cooperative Program. If you want his opinion on those matters, sufficient interviews exist for him to address your concerns. Just don’t view this pilot program necessarily as a reflection of Dr. Platt’s influence.