The financial outlook for the International Mission Board is optimistic but “tempered with caution,” the board’s vice president for finance told trustees during their May 17-18 meeting in Atlanta. The session was held in conjunction with the historic May 19 joint meeting with trustees of the North America Mission Board.
Receipts for the 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, used to support missionaries and their ministries, were running about $20.5 million ahead of the previous year’s pace. Steverson said he is anticipating the final total to reach over $135 million when the books close May 31. This total would show for a 17.4 percent increase over the 2002 Offering.
“I am optimistic about our financial outlook, but that optimism is tempered with a great deal of caution,” Steverson commented. “While we made some good progress last year, we still have a long way to go.”
Major cutbacks in board spending in 2003 succeeded in restoring positive financial operating trends while still allowing the agency to sustain significant growth in the missionary force, said David Steverson, the board’s finance officer.
Because income from churches was not keeping pace with the strong growth in the number of new volunteers coming forward for overseas missions, the IMB was forced to limit appointments and cut stateside staff in June 2003. Though painful, the cutbacks also served to wake up Southern Baptists to the need to keep up financially with the movement of God’s Spirit to call out ever-larger numbers of new missionaries, Steverson said. “The adjustments we made paid off, but more importantly when Southern Baptists were informed about the changes we were forced to make, they responded in a marvelous way.”
Steverson added, “We are blessed to serve a Lord and work with a denomination that makes missions a priority. Southern Baptists have spoken, not just verbally, but with their pocketbooks as well—and they have spoken loudly.”
In 2003, the number of long-term missionary personnel rose above 4,000 for the first time, in spite of restrictions placed on appointments for financial reasons. The IMB ended the year with 5,370 missionaries in service.
The next trustee meeting is scheduled for July 12-14 in Tyler, Texas, during which a missionary appointment service will be held.