American Baptists' global missions agency is facing a $3 million budget shortfall next year and could be forced to recall missionaries if finances don't improve, officials say.
The International Ministries division of American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. issued a news release Monday reporting "a serious financial challenge," brought about because giving by American Baptist churches has not kept up with growth of missionary work.
The statement described "a gap of some $3 million between mission commitments for 2004 and current giving."
Hector Cortez, who took over as International Ministries' executive director in August, blamed losses in the stock market and a decades-long decline in denominational giving as factors behind the agency's financial woes. International Ministries has already trimmed overhead and reduced staff by about 20 percent, he said in an earlier letter, quoted in the news release, to American Baptist regional leaders and pastors.
American Baptists aren't alone in their fiscal struggles. A recent report by a Southern Baptist Convention study committee said that denomination looks forward to a financial crisis unless support from churches increases. The Southern Baptist International Mission Board laid off 37 members of its home staff this summer, left another 24 open jobs unfilled and deferred missionary appointments, all because of a budget shortfall.
The United Church of Christ just announced it is facing the most significant financial crisis in its 47-year history, prompting an unprecedented stewardship and identity campaign.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Church of the Brethren, Episcopal Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Roman Catholic Church and others have all also reported recent financial struggles.
Cortez said American Baptists would recall active missionaries from the field only as a last resort, but emphasized that it must be recognized as a possibility.
"The long-term spiritual and financial sustainability of our work around the world depends on developing more focused and personalized partnerships between International Ministries, missionaries and local congregations," Cortez said in the news release.
He also urged churches to consider dramatic increases in the amount they give to American Baptists' World Mission Offering.
This year's World Mission Offering is budgeted to provide $4 million of a total International Ministries' budget of $15.5 million, according to information on the organization's Web site.
More than half of the agency's annual budgeted income is from investment earnings of monies given to International Missions through wills and bequests. About $1.8 million comes from United Mission and Designated Gifts, year-round support from local churches. Of every dollar given to United Mission, about nine cents goes to International Ministries.
Three-fourths of International Ministries budget is earmarked for support of global missionaries and programs. About $2 million, or 13 percent, funds home office ministries. Another $1.2 million, 7 percent, goes for mission education and communication.
Founded in 1814, American Baptist International Missions currently supports 144 missionaries and mission partners in 31 countries around the world, commissioned either for short-term (2-4 years) or career appointments.
The budget crunch comes three years into a 10-year strategic plan for the agency called "Go Global."
Among goals to be achieved by 2010 are helping at least 500 American Baptist churches establish and maintain "sister church" relationships with international congregations, cooperating with international partners as they send their own cross-cultural missionaries and building on American Baptists' historic strength in rural and tribal work to emphasize urban missions. Other goals call for involving 1,000 churches a year in short-term volunteer missions and increasing awareness of missions through education in local churches.
International Ministries describes its policy as "high sensitivity and low control," emphasizing evangelism and discipleship, human needs, leadership development and missions education.
Cortez, who previously worked as an associate executive director for American Baptist National Ministries, was elected in June to succeed John Sundquist, who retired in August after 14 years as head of the denomination's Board of International Ministries.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.