The downsizing at the GBC Missions and Ministry Center continues the reductions first set in place nearly two years ago when the effects of the recession began to be felt.
The first round of staff cuts occurred in February 2009, when 13 positions were eliminated, followed by another 14 last November. Reductions in October 2010 resulted in 12 positions being eliminated as the state convention works to bring expenses in line with income levels.
Staff positions eliminated during the nearly two-year period now stand at 39, placing the headcount at the GBC headquarters building in Duluth at a record low 103. That is down from a high of 163 employees in 2008 before the recession hit, said Mike Williams, assistant executive director and vice president of operations.
The new budget will bring state convention ministries back to the year 2000 funding levels as churches struggle to meet their budgets and forward fewer funds to the Cooperative Program. Georgia continues to struggle with an unemployment rate of 10 percent, almost half a percent higher than the 9.6 national rate, according to the Georgia Department of Labor website.
Some parts of the state are harder hit than others. Northwest Georgia, for example, is reporting that unemployment increased to 10.7 percent in August while the metro Dalton area is trending at 12 percent. September's state figures are the 35th consecutive month that Georgia has reported a higher unemployment rate than the nation as a whole.
In addition to the 12 positions removed from the GBC headcount this fall, another 10 staff may take early retirement before the end of the year as the convention reduces post-retirement medical benefits and Guidestone cuts annuity funding rates nearly in half to 3.75 percent.
The largest area affected by the downsizing is the state regional missionary program, formerly known as ministry resource consultants. In February 2009 their nine offices were consolidated into two physical locations (one in GBC building in Duluth and one field office) and seven of their administrative assistant positions were eliminated. This October, six of the consultant positions were eliminated, with the program now divided into three regions: North Georgia, Central Georgia and South Georgia.
Executive Director J. Robert White described the current economic climate as "a perfect storm" due to the nation's economic crisis and turmoil within the national denomination.
"We are living through the toughest economy we have ever experienced," White told staff in a special chapel service on Oct. 13. "Many of our church members have been terminated from their jobs or have had their incomes reduced. This has significantly impacted our churches, which in turn has affected what our churches have been able to send on through the Cooperative Program."
White noted, "With reduced Cooperative Program resources and accompanying cash flow challenges, we have had to make the difficult decision to remove employees in order to meet our stewardship responsibilities. The employees who were terminated from their positions were excellent employees; these decisions were made not on performance, but of necessity."
White said the Georgia convention provided "excellent separation benefits" to the employees and where it was feasible, allowed employees to retire with full benefits -- before such benefits are trimmed after Dec. 31.
White also said the GBC is doing "all in our power to assist these employees by recommending them to other positions. The spirit of these employees has been excellent. I have truly been inspired by the graciousness with which these individuals have treated the eliminations of their positions.
"For now, we have completed the layoffs necessary for us to move forward. I sincerely hope, as does every member of our executive leadership team, that no further layoffs will be necessary."
A plan to reduce staff salaries by 3.5 percent with fewer staff reductions was among options considered to reduce overhead. Staff furloughs next year may be an option if Cooperative Program income continues to slide. As is being experienced in many churches, GBC employees are entering their third year with no salary raises due to the harsh economic conditions.
Messengers to the GBC annual meeting will vote to approve the reduced budget for 2011 when they meet Nov. 15-16 at Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany. The $45-million budget represents a decrease of 1.10 percent from the previous year.
At last November's meeting messengers approved a $45.5 million budget for 2010, which was down 8.2 percent -- or $4.1 million -- from the previous year (2009). When that amount is added to the previous year's decrease (2008 budget year) of 5.16 percent, the 2011 budget will be a cumulative 14.46 below that of three years ago.
Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index (www.christianindex.org), newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
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