From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Delegates urged to consider future, not past, as they develop budget

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Thu, 29 Apr 2004 16:56:41 -0500

April 29, 2004	    GC04-016

By Linda Bloom*

PITTSBURGH (UMNS) - United Methodists must consider the future instead of
clinging to the past when they decide on the denomination's budget for the
next four years.

That's the advice of the church's top financial officer to delegates of the
United Methodist General Conference, meeting April 27-May 7.

In her April 29 report, Sandra Kelley Lackore, chief executive of the General
Council on Finance and Administration, held up an offering plate to remind
herself and conference participants that their decisions are "not just about
dollars" but about gifts to God--given by people in the pews.

She acknowledged that the denomination's financial foundation is in "need of
repair," at least partially due to a narrowing base of support. 

Because of membership loss, consolidations and other factors, there were 216
fewer U.S. congregations to contribute funds in 2004, compared to the
previous year. 

General Conference establishes the total amount of money needed to support
all churchwide ministries. That amount is then apportioned to each of the 63
annual (regional) conferences in the United States. Each of those regional
units decides upon ways to request fair-share amounts from individual
churches. The requested amounts are based on several factors including church
budgets and membership. 

Currently, half of the total denominational budget is apportioned to only
3,655 of the 34,780 U.S. congregations, according to Lackore. 

One challenge at the local level, she said in a follow-up press conference,
is to help both clergy and laity realize "the tie that exists between their
spiritual life and their giving life."

According to the council's written report to General Conference, economic
conditions in the United States from 2001-2004 also had "a significant impact
on financial receipts for the general apportioned funds."

Financial demands on local churches have meant fewer dollars to support
general church infrastructure. Statistics from 1998, for example, showed that
83.2 cents of each dollar remains in the congregation, while only 12.8 cents
goes to support district, annual conference and jurisdictional ministries,
and only 4 cents is forwarded for denomination-wide support.

On a more encouraging note, Lackore said that 7 of 10 local congregations
paid 100 percent or more of their apportionments to the general church in
2003. "Since 1995, giving in our local churches has gone up more than family
income," she added.

Lackore said later that she also is more optimistic about the American
economy, citing analysis from Don House, an economist and a United Methodist
who serves on the council's board of directors. "He believes we are on the
other side of this economic recession," she explained.

The issue of declining funds is not confined to the United Methodist Church.
The Presbyterian Church USA will have to slash $9 million from its 2005-06
budget, she reported, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also
must trim several million dollars. The Southern Baptists, she noted, have
experienced a financial decline over the past decade.

General Conference delegates cannot turn their backs on new mission
initiatives or necessities such as pension and benefit plans. But, Lackore
said, "As you look at each dollar to be spent -- each new initiative proposed
-- you will ask, I hope, 'Where we are headed?'"

The GCFA's proposed quadrennial budget of $585 million is "merely a starting
point" for delegates, she said. That figure does not include proposals from
other agencies or groups; those requests total an additional $80 million for
mission initiatives.

Lackore advised delegates to preserve what is worthwhile, eliminate what
isn't and be "innovative" in the process.

The final budget, she said, must reflect what the delegates believe are the
missional and financial priorities of the church. "Do not think of it as a
budget of dollars, think of it as a sacred trust." 

 # # #

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.
After May 10: (615) 742-5470. 


United Methodist News Service
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