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Southern Religion

Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board (IMB) member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that the IMB has its cost-cutting strategy upside down.

In a Dec. 2 blog entry A Recommendation to IMB Administrators and Trustees in the Midst of a Financial Shortfall, he reviews the IMB plans to cut as many as 600 missionaries “in 2010 if the current 8% to 10% decline in revenues through the Lottie Moon Offering and Cooperative Program gifts continue.” And make cuts in benefits to those already in the field:

The IMB administration in Richmond has informed all International Service Corp, Journeymen, and Masters missionaries that they will no longer be reimbursed by the IMB for dryers, cell phones, or air conditioning while on the field. These missionaries will be allowed to have heat in the winter, but the IMB will no longer be able to pay for air conditioning. Phones for communication (an essential in foreign countries) will now be paid for by the aforementioned missionaries themselves. Clothes will need to be dried by air or the missionaries will pay the cost for drying their own clothes. This information has not been publicized except through emails sent to the supervisors of the ISC’ers, Journeymen, and Masters affected. It is hoped by Richmond that these cost saving measures among the front-line staff will allow for more missionaries to be appointed in the short term.

The natural consequence of making those cuts without making equivalent cuts back at the home office, where career administrators are well-paid and board members enjoy meetings under unnecessarily privileged circumstances, will be a crash in missionary morale. As a result, he proposes equivalent cuts for board members and among staff in the Richmond, Va., headquarters offices. Along with curtailments in travel and other sensible adjustments.

Reading down his list of recommendations you will come to:

(4). Let the missionaries ON THE FIELD determine the kind of ministry that is needed. Allow for the creation and adoption of reports that count “conversions” and “church planting” in the various countries by reflecting the different cultural and demographic make-ups of those respective countries. We must resist the cookie cutter approach that forces every missionary in every country to do the same thing the same way. Resisting perpetual world-wide reorganization of the IMB (every five years) will save huge amounts of money in the long term.

True, and his passing reference to reports is of much more than passing interest, because this year’s IMB numbers look a lot like previous years’ (padded, inflated, manufactured) numbers. In a Dec. 1 story on the 2008 IMB numbers, the Biblical Recorder reports:

Bershi’s baptism is among the more than 506,000 recorded by the International Mission Board in 2008 — an average of one baptism per minute. Southern Baptist missionaries and their partners also reported starting more than 24,650 new churches last year. (Baptisms were 10.6 percent below the 2007 total; new churches, 8.6 percent below.) Meanwhile, the total number of overseas churches topped 204,000, up from 111,000 just five years ago.

Those are very much like the 2007 numbers, which Burleson found to be essentially made up. On Jan. 2 he wrote:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

Burleson explained that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process. Just as the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is complex and time-consuming.

Yet those IMB numbers suggested that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

Those numbers defied belief in January, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested.

The most recent numbers are little changed, you can see from the table below. Absent compelling explanation with documented answers to the questions raised in January, the latest figures are also difficult to accept.

Year 2007 2008
Church Starts 25,497 24,650
Baptisms 609,968 506,000
Missionaries 5,551 5,512

Read January’s Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist Mission numbers for the full, thorough dissection.

Publishing another set of numbers so similar as to be similarly questionable, and doing so without compelling explanation, seems to suggest to the folks in the pews that they are regarded as numbskulls.

Watch. It is they from whom cometh the contributions.

They are as acutely aware of being taken for granted as are the missionaries in the field.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Is IMB taking missionaries in the field and people in the pews for granted?

IMB trustees refused money-saving reform

Enid, Okla., Southern Baptist Pastor Wade Burleson argues that the International Mission Board (IMB) system of trustee oversight is unnecessarily expensive in structure and process.

Frink summarizes:

The 89 IMB Trustees who are ultimately responsible for the statistics serve, Burleson reports, eight-year terms rich in expense-paid travel whose “costs are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

Burleson, a vocal former IMB trustee who has blogged about the Southern Baptist Convention agency for years, recently wrote that during his tenure:

The waste associated with such an archaic system of oversight caused me and a handful of other trustees to advocate the reduction of trustees meetings to two a year; the first would be in January and held in Richmond and the second would be in June in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention. I further argued that the “commissioning” service for each missionary should be held at missionary’s “home” church, and that the “selection” of qualified Southern Baptist applicants should be up to the professional missiologists at the IMB who are paid to interview, train, and support missionaries across the Convention.

The money-saving proposals got nowhere:

Trustees opposed to such a radical reduction in trustee meetings and numbers argued against it by spiritualizing, as is the Southern Baptist habit, by saying: “We have such a HUGE ministry at the IMB that we have to constantly meet to provide proper oversight.”

This from a board whose “key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated” as a result of the pressure of a long-standing SBC drive to reverse decline.

With their budget tight and tightening, making such logical changes toward greater efficiency of board operation seems like the least they could do.

January 7, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | Comments Off on IMB trustees refused money-saving reform

Inflated and fabricated Southern Baptist mission numbers

Former Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board member Wade Burleson persuasively argues that key mission numbers are inflated and some are fabricated.

In a Jan. 2 blog entry A Proposed New Year’s Resolution for the Southern Baptist Convention: Integrity in Numbers, he writes:

For example, in the Fast Facts posted on the International Mission Board web site, one reads that 5,551 missionaries were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for 25,497 new church starts in 2007, and 609,968 baptisms.

He explains that "planting" a church is a complex, time-consuming, typically expensive process.

Likewise, the conversion and Christian nurture process which attends baptism is also complex and time-consuming.

Yet IMB numbers suggest that each of the 5,551 missionaries in the field:

  • Plants an average of five new churches per missionary in 2007.
  • Baptises an average of 120 new members per missionary in 2007.

The numbers defy belief, he and some of those who commented on the blog suggested, and are not supported by the documenting data required to answer questions like:

“Where do these churches exist?”, “How many people attend?”, “Who pastors them?”, “How many are still in existence?” etc . . .

He reports having inquired:

I have asked some of our SBC missionary personnel to give me the names of those baptized under their care as reported on the Annual Statistical Report – only to be given a blank stare by many. It seems there is no record of either the names of those baptized or churches they attend. The baptism number is simply that – a number.

How are the numbers padded?

. . . all that IMB field missionary personnel have to do is simply say they started a church, and it is recorded as a “new” church start. Or, sometimes, as reported to me by several field missionaries, they report on some excellent Bible study groups they have started, and “presto” – several new churches are born and wind up being reported by their supervisors on the Annual Statistical Report. Or, as has happened in various regions, statistics are given about “new” church starts that have nothing to do with SBC personnel; they have been started by indigenous people groups that have absolutely no connection with SBC personnel in the area.

He bases his views on confidential reports from those in the field:

I have had missionary personnel from different regions in the world write me with concerns about the reporting process and ask “When is somebody going to challenge the numbers?”

His view is supported by comments from Montgomery, AL., pastor Alan Cross, who wrote:

I wrote a similar post on the now defunct SBC Outpost last May. To back up what you are saying, I communicated with missionaries from 4 different regions before writing my post. None of them were connected but they all told the same story. Pressure from superiors (both administration and trustees) had created an environment where numbers were being exaggerated and sometimes fabricated.

Cross also indicated sweeping problems with the reported numbers. He wrote:

There are CPM’s (church planting movements) that have been reported that do not exist presently, or if they ever did, they are not able to be found now. There are church plants that have been reported that do not exist, or if they do, they are totally the work of indigenous believers. The baptism numbers are totally wrong.

They seem to agree about why numbers are being exaggerated and fabricated. As Burleson wrote:

The fault lies with the system we have constructed that puts such an ungodly emphasis on numbers.

Their desire for simple reform is painfully clear.

Such systems are, unfortunately, rarely self-correcting.

January 6, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment