A proposed modest increase to the general church budget is heading to the 2016 General Conference.
However, a number of United Methodists say that in the wake of the continuing decline in U.S. worship attendance the general church needs to tighten its belt.
The General Council on Finance and Administration board and Connectional Table each reaffirmed a projected budget of $611 million for general church funds in 2017-2020. Both bodies are responsible for developing the general church budget and both previously approved the same proposal during a joint meeting in May 2015.
"This budget reflects a hopeful, reasonable proposal of the resources needed to engage in the mission and ministries around the world," Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce Ough, the Connectional Table chair, said in a statement.
"This budget reflects the faith we have in our leaders to continue the adaptive work in increasing vital congregations across our connection."
The proposal represents about a 1.3 percent increase above the $603.1 million general church budget approved at the 2012 General Conference. The projected bottom line is still below previous general-church budgets approved in 2004 and 2008.
The four-year budget sets the apportionments that support bishops, United Methodist ministerial education and denomination-wide efforts such as the Black College Fund, ecumenical work and Africa University in Zimbabwe. The apportionments also fund 10 of the denomination's 13 general agencies. That includes United Methodist Communications, which encompasses the United Methodist News Service.
The finance agency board on Feb. 19 supported the budget proposal by a vote of 14 to 3. The Connectional Table — which coordinates the denomination's ministry and resources, including the work of agencies — supported the proposal during a Feb. 29 teleconference by a much narrower vote of 16 to 11 with one abstention.
The Connectional Table had to delay its vote by 10 days to get a quorum of its 47 voting members.
Members of both bodies warned against raising the budget when conferences and churches are dealing with fewer worshippers and at least some are considering slashing their own spending plans next year.
"We, too, are cutting our budget, even thinking about going down one more district superintendent," said Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck during the Connectional Table teleconference. "I think it would be well received not to go to the higher number."
The budget debate comes at a seeming paradoxical moment in the life of the church. Even as U.S. worship attendance slides down, overall giving has been going up.
"We have this kind of dichotomy that's going on in many places where many conferences are struggling and yet our overall giving as a denomination continues to be strong for the time being," Ough said during the teleconference.
Ultimately, General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, will determine the projected budget for the next four years when it meets on May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service
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.