In light of falling revenues for the current fiscal year, LCMS World Mission expects to make "substantial reductions" in programs and in the size of its staff -- both in St. Louis and in mission fields worldwide -- before year's end.
Synod mission leaders are faced with trimming between $2 and $3 million from the mission board's $29 million budget because of a shortfall of some $1.6 million in income during the first quarter of the fiscal year that began July 1.
The entire national LCMS budget saw a revenue shortfall of some $3.1 million.
"There's no way we can have reductions like this without substantial reductions in personnel, both at the International Center and in our missionary force around the world," said Dr. Daniel Mattson, associate executive director of LCMS World Mission.
LCMS World Mission leaders are contemplating "the possibility of closing mission work ahead of schedule in some fields," according to Mattson, with the expectation that local leaders will continue worship and outreach activities on their own.
LCMS World Mission currently supports work -- either directly through its missionary force, or indirectly through "partner" churches -- in 68 countries. The Synod's mission force includes more than 400 people, including 177 career missionaries.
Mission leaders are attributing the drop in mission funding to economic and political factors: With the current U.S. economy, individuals -- as well as foundations and other major donors -- just don't have as much to contribute; and controversy within the Synod has distracted people from the church body's mission focus.
Whatever the reasons, Synod income from "restricted" funding has fallen sharply, according to Brad Hewitt, the Synod's chief administrative officer. At the same time, "unrestricted" funding has remained steady so far this year, says Hewitt, although at lower levels than in past years.
"Unrestricted" funding is money that the Synod's districts choose to forward to the Synod's national budget from the amount they receive from congregations. For the most part, it is money the congregations receive as Sunday-morning offerings. And, as its name implies, it can be used for any purpose.
"Restricted" funding, on the other hand, is money that people have stipulated is to be used for a specific purpose -- such as "mission work in Thailand" or "buying hymnals for a mission congregation." The money cannot be used for any other purpose.
Over the years, contribution patterns have changed, with less and less unrestricted giving being forwarded to the Synod's national level each year as people in congregations and districts have elected, instead, to keep an increasing amount of money at those levels. As a result, national-level departments at the International Center -- including LCMS World Mission -- have increasingly had to rely on restricted giving in order to provide services to both congregations and the unchurched.
LCMS World Mission is not the only department affected.
The LCMS Foundation took in approximately $120,000 less than it had projected for the first quarter of the fiscal year for Synod-owned radio station KFUO. The Board for Communication Services, which oversees KFUO, responded by eliminating one position on the communications staff, halting KFUO's contract with a sales consultant, accepting the retirement of one employee on the communications staff and one at KFUO, and eliminating several part-time positions at KFUO.
Other Synod departments are choosing not to fill vacant positions created by early retirements and other natural attrition, according to Hewitt.
"If revenue projections don't change, department executives will have to take dramatic actions because they'll have no choice," he said. "We simply don't have the financial flexibility to miss the budget this year."
This lack of flexibility has been caused by changes in giving patterns, according to Hewitt. With the amount of unrestricted funding decreasing each year, the national Synod ministries are simply more dependent on fund-raising activities that vary from year to year.
And, the more it relies on restricted money, the more the Synod will find it necessary to react to ever-changing giving patterns, he said.
Hewitt said a group of leaders, including the president's office, district presidents and a few board members, will be proposing to the LCMS Board of Directors a "systematic approach" to funding.
Hewitt said he hopes this plan will be taken before the Synod convention in 2004, and by that point will have been approved by the Synod's president, first vice president, Board of Directors and district presidents through the Council of Presidents.
In spite of budget and staff reductions, LCMS World Mission is continuing with plans to share the Gospel with 100 million people within the next 15 years, according to Mattson.
"In a time of reduced monetary resources, how do we still get the Gospel spread among 100 million people?" he asked. "I don't have any doubt that we will figure that out. There are a lot of people in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod who want to see this work done, and they will provide the resources that we need to get the work accomplished."
Mattson asked Synod members to pray "that God will direct the people who have to make these very painful decisions and that He will be with the people affected by these decisions.
"And that He'll pour out His Spirit and bring about renewal in The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod so that the focus will be on getting the Gospel to 100 million people."
By Paula Schlueter Ross