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Debate looming on how low budget should go

A graphic depicts how giving flows from local churches to annual conferences to the denomination-wide ministries of the global United Methodist Church. In a time of mounting church disaffiliations, the denomination’s financial leaders are trying to develop a church-wide budget that keeps in mind needs at all levels of the denomination. Graphic courtesy of the Connectional Table.
A graphic depicts how giving flows from local churches to annual conferences to the denomination-wide ministries of the global United Methodist Church. In a time of mounting church disaffiliations, the denomination’s financial leaders are trying to develop a church-wide budget that keeps in mind needs at all levels of the denomination. Graphic courtesy of the Connectional Table.

Steep cuts are coming to the 2025-2028 budget that supports The United Methodist Church’s denomination-wide ministries.

The question remains just how significant those cuts should be as the denomination deals with mounting church disaffiliations.

Back-to-back online meetings of the Connectional Table (CT) and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) board in October indicate that disagreements are brewing on how best to financially sustain ministry at all levels of the denomination.

In The United Methodist Church, local churches provide a share of church giving — called apportionments — to church annual conferences, which in turn pay apportionments to general-church ministries.

“We recognize that the setting of budgets is not just about numbers,” said the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, the Connectional Table’s chief connectional ministries officer, during the leadership body’s meeting. The Connectional Table is a 65-member board of lay and clergy that coordinates the denomination’s mission and ministry, including general agency work.

“Now often what we hear in these conversations is about keeping funds at the local church level, and that is vitally important. But again, we have some decisions to make. Do we value connectional ministry?”

At this point, the CT budget advisory team members and their counterparts on the GCFA board are not seeing eye to eye.

At issue is the proposed four-year budget that will go before General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative assembly, which is scheduled for 2024. The budget supports connectional ministries that individual churches and even annual conferences can’t do on their own.

Your support of The General Administration Fund apportionment implements trustworthy administrative oversight like the General Conference sessions.

Based on surveys of annual conference leaders, the General Council on Finance and Administration is projecting that because of church disaffiliations and closures, there will be at least a 21.3% drop in total local church net expenditures by 2025.

In addition to shrinking net expenditures, both the Connectional Table and the GCFA board expect to reduce the base percentage. But not everybody agrees by how much.

The Connectional Table passed a motion recommending that the base percentage be reduced by 18%. Meanwhile GCFA recommended a 25% drop in 2018 and again this past July.

The Conectional Table noted that agencies already have been looking to collaborate more. Agencies also have reduced staff through layoffs or lack of replacements in recent years in anticipation of budget cuts.

Put another way: Church agencies can spend less if receipts don’t come in as hoped between General Conference sessions, but without General Conference action, they can’t ask for more.

Under either recommendation, the denomination-wide budget will be dramatically smaller.

Connectional Table members are concerned that GCFA will shrink the financial pie so much that some smaller denomination-wide ministries will have too small a slice to last over four years.

“By 2029, we’ll be putting some agencies out of business it would seem, which is not a decision we are comfortable making without General Conference,” Dave Nuckols told the GCFA board. Nuckols is the Connectional Table’s treasurer and a member from the Minnesota Conference.

The Rev. Steve Wood chairs the GCFA board’s General Agency and Episcopal Matters committee, which will bring a budgetary recommendation for the full board to consider in November.

“I think, for all of us, it’s sobering, to see the (25%) reduction,” said The Rev. Steve Wood who chairs the GCFA board’s General Agency and Episcopal Matters committee.

“This is why we wanted to give you this information now,” Wood said. “So you can prayerfully discern as we move forward how you would like to proceed when we meet again in November.”

Ultimately, action on the recommendations from both the GCFA board and Connectional Table will be in the hands of General Conference.

“This is fundamentally a question about identity,” Bigham-Tsai told the Connectional Table. “Those of us who have been looking at that believe that those who are staying within The United Methodist Church are committed to our identity as a connectional church.”

excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNews

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the General Administration Fund implements trustworthy administrative oversight, supports the legislative processes of the church and curates The United Methodist Church’s rich history. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the General Administration Fund apportionment at 100 percent.