From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist giving dips slightly, trails U.S. recovery

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 19 Feb 2004 14:12:09 -0600

Feb. 19, 2004 News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 7
E-mail: 7 ALL{066}

A UMNS Report
By Joretta Purdue*

Giving during 2003 by United Methodists was down but only slightly, as
contributions lagged behind an improving U.S. economy.

The denomination's seven apportioned mission and administrative funds, which
had a combined income of $112.4 million, experienced a decrease of less than
0.6 percent compared to 2002, when their total dipped 1.4 percent. Those
funds represent the bulk of the general church's budget. 

Six special Sunday offerings, totaling $6.2 million, ended down only 0.2
percent from the year before. Earlier during 2003, the dollar decline had
been almost 6 percent for the special Sunday offerings and apportioned funds

"The economy appears to be turning around," observed Sandra Kelley Lackore,
treasurer of the denomination and top staff executive of the church's General
Council on Finance and Administration in Evanston, Ill. "As demonstrated in
the past, there appears to be a lag in church giving patterns reflecting
economic improvement."

The finance agency received a total of $148.7 million in churchwide funds
last year. That figure represents the apportioned giving, special Sunday
collections and other amounts, including appeals for disaster relief. Because
the appeals for disaster relief vary from year to year, the finance agency
doesn't use the total giving figure for comparison purposes.

Church giving to the apportioned funds and special Sunday offerings had
increased 2.1 percent in 2001, despite the downward skid already present in
the U.S. economy. 

Lackore finds that the expectation of recovery is especially important as the
denomination approaches General Conference, April 27- May 7. Gathering in
Pittsburgh, the church's highest legislative assembly will make budget
decisions for the coming four-year period.

"After extensive consultation across the church, the council in their budget
deliberations made a faith decision to propose a 7 percent increase in
connectional ministry funding at a time when the economic recovery had just
begun," she said. "This step, along with immediate and long-range actions by
our agencies and bishops to cut institutional administrative costs, will free
more funding for ministry."

She noted that in approaching the current year, the bishops had asked that
the 8 percent salary increase contained in the church's formula be cut in
half. Bishops, spouses and retirees have taken on a portion of the cost of
health insurance premiums in 2004. The allowance for the bishops' offices has
been held down, and church agencies are looking at collaboration of
ministries and consolidation of staff functions and offices.
"The income report for 2003 demonstrates continued support for connectional
ministries in the face of local church financial challenges," Lackore said.  

In 2003, World Service, the largest of the churchwide funds, received $60.4
million, a decline of 2 percent. This fund supports the church's worldwide
mission and ministry.

World Service and six other funds are apportioned by formula to the annual
(regional) conferences to support the denomination's work and administration.
The six funds include designated support for Africa University, $2.2 million
in 2003; black colleges related to the denomination, $9.5 million; and
ministerial education, almost $18 million. These amounts had declined 2, 1
and 0.6 percent, respectively, from 2002.

Giving to the apportioned administrative funds grew during 2003. Year-end
totals were up 2.4 percent, at $14.8 million, for the Episcopal Fund, used by
the Council of Bishops; 8.3 percent, at nearly $5.6 million, for the General
Administration Fund; and 2.7 percent, to almost $1.9 million, for the
Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.

Half of the churchwide special Sunday offerings returned more money in 2003
than in 2002. Peace with Justice Sunday, traditionally the smallest of the
six offerings, received $267,589, an increase of 10.1 percent. Human
Relations Day increased 4 percent to $631,726. The One Great Hour of Sharing,
which supports the work of the denomination's relief and development agency,
received almost $3.4 million, up 2.2 percent from the preceding year.

Giving to Native American Ministries Sunday ($328,106) and to United
Methodist Student Day ($538,613) declined 9.7 percent each. World Communion
Sunday netted almost $1.1 million, a drop of $38,818 or 3.5 percent.

The total churchwide giving also included slightly more than $29 million in
general Advance Special gifts. This area includes the Council of Bishops'
appeals, mission program Advance Specials and specials administered by the
United Methodist Committee on Relief. Administrative costs associated with
these programs are borne by other parts of the church structure, so 100
percent of the contributions go to the designated project or program. 

In addition, the World Service Special Gifts and the Youth Service Fund
together received almost $1 million. Like the Advance Specials, these funds
are not compared year to year by the agency because contributions can vary

In recent years, the total amount received for distribution by the finance
agency has represented about 4 percent of the giving at the congregational
level, according to agency officials. Much of that congregational giving
supports local churches' ministries and operating expenses. 

However, in the United Methodist system, each annual conference is
apportioned by formula an amount it is asked to contribute to the churchwide
efforts. Each annual conference apportions various amounts to its
congregations for the support of the annual conference ministries as well as
general church programs and administration.

Last year, 11 of the 63 annual conferences in the United States gave 100
percent of their apportionments to support the churchwide budget, as did the
Puerto Rican Methodist Church, which voluntarily contributes to the
denominational ministry of the parent church. That number was two more than
the previous year. 

Over the past 10 years, the number of conferences that gave 100 percent of
their apportionment rose from just six in 1994, 1995 and 1996 to 17
conferences in 1999. In 2000 and 2001, 16 conferences met this goal. 

Conferences that contributed 100 percent of their apportionment in 2003 were
Baltimore-Washington, Central Pennsylvania, Desert Southwest, Detroit,
Illinois Great Rivers, Minnesota, Oklahoma Indian Missionary,
Peninsula-Delaware, Red Bird Missionary, West Michigan and Wisconsin. 

In addition, three more conferences paid 100 percent of their apportionment
for World Service in 2003. Those were Troy, Wyoming and Rio Grande, a
Spanish-language conference that overlaps several geographic conferences. 

Giving 100 percent of its apportionment is an accomplishment for an annual
conference, but the Rev. Robert Fishel, an executive with the General Council
on Finance and Administration, notes that of the about 35,000 United
Methodist churches in the United States, 26,000 paid 90 percent or more of
their conference apportionment in 2002. In fact, that same year - the latest
for which all congregation figures are available and a bad period for the
U.S. economy - more than two-thirds, or 24,000, paid the full 100 percent of

# # #

*Purdue, a retired news director for United Methodist News Service, is a
freelance writer residing in Colorado.


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