The United Methodist Church's lowest general church budget proposal in 16 years is now heading for a vote at the 2016 General Conference.
Two denominational leadership bodies have agreed to propose a bottom-line budget of $599 million for general church funds in 2017-2020.
General Conference — the denomination's top policymaking body — establishes the total amount of money needed to support churchwide ministries. That amount is then apportioned mainly to U.S. conferences, which in turn ask for apportionments from local churches.
If General Conference adopts this proposal, U.S. conferences would be asked to pay the lowest general church apportionments since the current apportionment formula began in 2001. General Conference will meet May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.
The Connectional Table, which coordinates the denomination's agencies, and the board of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination's finance agency, each had approved a proposed budget of $611 million in February.
However, after hearing concerns about the financial pressures faced by conferences and local churches, the top executives of the denomination's general agencies urged that figure be dropped by $12 million.
Both leadership bodies, which are responsible for developing the general church budget, called additional meetings to consider the recommendation.
The finance agency board voted 11-2 for the revised budget. The Connectional Table voted 29 in favor with one abstention. Agency top executives have voice but not vote at Connectional Table meetings.
Moses Kumar, the top executive of the General Council of Finance and Administration, told both bodies that the budget revision reflects attentiveness to United Methodists' concerns.
"The key question is: Are we listening?" he said. "Together, we are listening."
"What we're striving for … is a budget that is reflective of the needs and the capacity throughout the connection," said Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce Ough, the Connectional Table chair.
"We're looking for a balance between the capacity of local churches and conferences to generate the apportionments and on the other side, having an adequate budget that allows the mission of the church to move forward."
Funds help with such denomination-wide endeavors as planting new churches, providing resources for evangelism, supporting theological education, advocating for church social teachings, engaging in international development and cultivating new mission fields.
The proposed budget also does not yet include initiatives going before the 2016 General Conference that could have financial impact. Members of the General Council of Finance and Administration and Connectional Table will meet periodically throughout General Conference to adjust the budget to take into account what the legislative body approves.
General Conference delegates will vote on a final budget proposal on the last day of the meeting.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service
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