If The United Methodist Church had a "Paid-in-Full" stamp, it would be getting good use around the world.
A record 29 of the 56 U.S. United Methodist conferences — 52 percent — paid 100 percent of requested general-church giving in 2017, the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration reports.
That's the highest number in the 18 years that the church has digital records and marks the fourth consecutive year that a record number of conferences reached the milestone — up from 25 in 2014, 26 in 2015 and 27 in 2016.
This year also marks the first time the finance agency is reporting giving from the central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — under the new central conference apportionment formula. General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, approved the formula as part of the 2017-2020 general church budget.
Nine central conference episcopal areas — most of which contain multiple annual conferences — paid at least 100 percent apportionments.
Those episcopal areas encompass 32 of the 80 annual conferences in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
All told, United Methodists in 2017 gave about $133.2 million to support the general church's national and international ministries — about $1.8 million more than the previous year.
The U.S. payout rate — that is, the percentage of requested apportionments collected — was 91.9 percent, an increase over 91.4 percent in 2016. The central conferences' payout rate was 65 percent overall — 298 percent from Europe, 36 percent from the Philippines and 17 percent from Africa.
Under the new formula, conferences in Europe were actually asked to pay less than they had previously. With that in mind, European United Methodists pledged not to reduce giving. Last year, European United Methodist gave nearly three times what the apportionment formula required.
Apportionments are the share each conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional missions. Some conferences call the offering "ministry shares" to emphasize that the funds are investments in what the church does both at the local and global levels.
United Methodists in central conferences have long financially supported the work of bishops. The new central conference apportionments go toward both the Episcopal and General Administration funds that, respectively, support the work of bishops and the operations of denomination-wide administrative bodies, including General Conference.
In the United States, the finance agency requests apportionments from each annual conference based on a General Conference-approved formula that includes its local church expenditures, local church costs, the economic strength of the conference and a base percentage approved by General Conference.
Annual conferences in the central conferences have a different formula. That formula is based on membership and modified by the gross domestic product of the central conference where an annual conference is located.
"We are blessed to be in ministry with people who support the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church," Kumar said. "Through this faithful giving, ministries of the denomination continue to thrive."
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter for UMNS
United Methodist Church Giving is about people working together to accomplish something bigger than themselves. In so doing, we effect change around the world, all in the name of Jesus Christ. To read stories about the generosity of United Methodists click here.