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Grappling with mixed news on giving, church exits

The General Council on Finance and Administration board at its online meeting Aug. 19 designated how to use proceeds from the sale of the agency’s headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. The agency staff members are moving into the nearby Harry Denman Building, which is also home to Discipleship Ministries and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.
The General Council on Finance and Administration board at its online meeting Aug. 19 designated how to use proceeds from the sale of the agency’s headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. The agency staff members are moving into the nearby Harry Denman Building, which is also home to Discipleship Ministries and the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

The United Methodist Church has seen a slight uptick in denominational giving so far this year.

Still, that somewhat counterintuitive development comes as an increasing number of congregations are exiting the denomination.

At its online meeting Aug. 19, the General Council on Finance and Administration board heard an update on giving as well as the potential impact of rising church departures on the denomination’s bottom line.

The board also designated proceeds from the $12.7 million sale of the finance agency’s building with an eye toward sustaining the agency’s mission of stewardship and helping stressed church leaders in uncertain times.

With General Conference now postponed to 2024, the process of developing a four-year denominational budget that goes before the lawmaking assembly has started over.

After the General Council on Finance and Administration finalizes 2021 statistics, next up is a multistep process to recommend a base percentage to the coming General Conference. The agency will multiply the approved base percentage by local church expenditures to determine the amount of apportionments to request from U.S. annual conferences.

The giving in the U.S. also helps determine the apportionments GCFA requests from central conferences, church regions in Europe, Africa and the Philippines. The U.S. pays the lion’s share of funds that support denomination-wide ministries. Central conferences support funding for bishops and general administration.

For now, the Judicial Council — the denomination’s top court — has ruled that until General Conference can adopt a new budget, the one passed in 2016 remains in effect. That means GCFA is still asking for apportionments based on the same formula General Conference approved six years ago.

Every year, the finance agency asks for apportionments — shares of church giving — to support denomination-wide ministries. The overall U.S. collection rate for those apportionments was 32.5% as of the end of July, compared to 30.6% at the same time last year. That translates to about $48 million for the first seven months of 2022, compared to $45.3 million over the same period last year.

In July alone, receipts were up 5%, compared to last year, and up 2%, compared to July 2017. In most years, apportionment collections are highest at the end of the year.

Agency staff and board members are trying to get a clearer picture of what the denomination’s financial base will look like in the near future. But a fog of unknowns clouds their view. Chief among those is just how many churches will soon no longer be part of that financial base.

With the lag in official data, the agency is surveying U.S. conference leaders to get their best sense of the financial impact of congregational disaffiliations.

Based on this year’s survey, the finance agency now estimates the denomination stands to lose about 21.3% of U.S. local church net expenditures by 2025. Still, that marks an improvement from last year’s survey, which projected a loss of 25.5% of U.S. local church net expenditures by 2025.

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

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.