David Platt, the International Mission Board president for the Southern Baptist Convention, has penned an open letter to address cuts in funding to missions worldwide due to financial shortfalls.
Platt said that the IMB plans to cut between 600-800 missionaries around the world over the next six months.
"This is certainly not an announcement that I, in any way, wanted to make," Platt wrote. "At the most recent meeting of the SBC in Columbus, I shared with messengers how IMB spent tens of millions more dollars than we received last year. In our budgeting process over the last couple of months, other leaders and I have recognized that we will have a similar shortfall this year, and we are projecting another shortfall of like magnitude next year."
According to Platt, the high water mark for missionaries and IMB employees in the field was 5,600 in 2009.
During an Aug. 27 town hall meeting in Richmond, Virginia, he noted that currently, there are 4,800 employees representing the agency worldwide in its mission to reach people "for the glory of God."
Following the cuts, Platt said there would be a plan in place for the agency to keep 4,200 workers in the mission field.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Wendy Norvelle, a spokesperson for IMB, explained that there's always a challenge in communicating the need for funds to local churches and pastors.
"Our administrative and promotional budget is about 15 percent," said Norevelle. "We feel like every dollar as possible needs to go to the field. We are very careful in holding down administrative costs."
Norevelle added that every dollar of the SBC's Lottie Moon Christmas offering is directly required to go into the mission field.
Platt said the reason for the decline of at least 600 missionaries is "the ability to financially support that number" in the field.
"The challenge we are addressing, despite increased giving, we have consistently spent more money that has been given to us each year," Platt said.
The IMB had a $21 million shortfall in the 2014 operating budget, according to Platt. The budget shortfall over the past six years reached over $200 million.
He explained that the IMB harnessed the sale of global property to cover some of the expenses of keeping missionaries in the field, but the organization was still spending $39 million more than it was taking in from revenue and donations. Platt defended the agency's selling of property because it was able to keep missionaries in the field, but said that is no longer a "viable option" going forward.
Platt noted that approximately 80 percent of the organization's budget is tied up in personnel costs. He called his plan of action to balance the books would result in "reducing missionaries through normal attrition" and offering an incentive based retirement package for those interested in exploring that option.
"We want to be as generous as possible and the details of eligibility and incentives are still being finalized," Platt said. He called the retirement option "totally voluntarily" and the IMB will not encourage employees to either "accept or reject these steps."
"These are brothers and sisters who have spent their lives in spreading the Gospel," said Platt. "I want to see more people spreading the Gospel in the future along with these people.
"Over the months to come, He will give many of us new parts to play, including new places of service and new paths for mission, both within and beyond the IMB," he added, calling the necessary cuts important for IMB "to be in a healthy place going forward."
Most of the IMB's funding comes from the annual Lottie Moon Christmas offering and funds designated as part of the Southern Baptist's Convention Cooperative Program.
"We have considered many options …" said Platt, "the framework we used to evaluate the different options, consisted of what is the best first step we can take toward short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability."
Platt further emphasized that it's important to act "deliberately and quickly," and said he hopes to partner and engage more with local Southern Baptist churches to support more missionaries overseas. He also explained that as it stands now, the IMB is being forced to turn people away who desire to serve in the mission field.
In addition to serving as president of the International Mission Board, a position he has held since 2014, Platt is the author of The New York Times best-seller, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream.