After the International Mission Board announced it would be closing its Richmond Communications Center, Baptist editors expressed alarm concerning the continued flow of missionary news stories, photos and videos and frustration at a perceived lack of communication with Baptist media, IMB officials agreed to holding a conference call with Baptist journalists on Jan. 20. But, it quickly became obvious to all how miscommunication and misperceptions can plague efforts.
“From the outset, it was apparent the two groups of participants in the call had different goals,” the IMB’s public relations director, Julie McGowan, remarked. The three IMB participants—McGowan, Terry Sharp and Terri Willis—wanted to gather questions and information for IMB President David Platt in advance of an upcoming meeting with Baptist editors.
The journalists, however, were operating under the impression the call was to be a “press conference,” and they wanted to ask questions and receive answers directly from Platt. Baptists, they felted, need more information about the board’s communications strategy, considering it would soon terminate 30 stateside staff members and reassign 10 to other responsibilities. They question the longterm wisdom of dismissing staff members who include career veterans who have deployed around the globe, including in dangerous restricted areas, to get stories of Southern Baptists’ cooperative mission endeavors.
McGowan attempted to reassure Baptist media that they “will be working together to determine” a new communications strategy before April 29, when the office closes. State Baptist newspapers have grown to rely on the IMB’s timely news coverage from the mission field and appreciate the accompanying world-class photography. Key questions, though, have yet to be answered: How will the IMB provide Baptist papers with articles and photographs going forward? Why has Platt not discussed communications cuts and strategy changes with Baptist media? Were IMB trustees informed of the closure? How will this affect promotion of the Lottie Moon offering for international missions?
Despite lingering questions, state editors expressed support for the IMB and its leadership in the face of challenging financial circumstances. To address a series of significant revenue shortfalls—a combined total since 2010 of $210 million more than it has received—the IMB has enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries through attrition and limited appointments, while using reserves—including global property sales—to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible. But the IMB is now close to depleting its reserves and must work to restore them to a responsible level, Platt said.
The decision to close its communications office is part of a two-phase IMB “reset” and comes in the wake of the mission board’s regrettable release of 600 to 800 missionaries who were asked either to take a Voluntary Retirement Incentive or be volunteers in a “Hand-Raising Opportunity,” which offers missionaries and staff members the opportunity to transition outside the IMB if they believe God is leading them to a new place of service
“But amidst inevitable heaviness, I want you to know that I have great hope for every member of the IMB family in the days ahead,” Platt said. And, with him, let’s covenant to pray that God will give the departing IMB staff members and missionaries “new parts to play, including new places of service and new paths for mission, both within and beyond the IMB.”