Conference paying close attention to finances

4/26/2011

The economy and its impact on every aspect of society are on the forefront of almost everyone’s mind.  Individuals, families, government agencies, businesses, non-profit institutions and local churches are in a heightened state of awareness around finances.

The South Georgia Conference’s Council on Finance and Administration is keenly aware of the economic climate.  The Council is composed of 10 lay persons and eight clergy, each of whom comes from a South Georgia local church and has personal awareness of financial challenges.

“We are paying attention,” said Rev. Jimmy Cason, new chairperson for the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA).  “Our council members gathered recently to study anecdotal and detailed written financial reports from our local churches and for the Annual Conference.”

CFA members celebrated that South Georgia’s local church members gave more than $108.6 million in 2010 for all aspects of their local ministries and their outreach ministries beyond the walls of their churches. 

“This is a terrific response on so many levels given the economic climate in which we find ourselves,” Rev. Cason said.

But local churches are experiencing more financial strain because of the instability in so many aspects of the national economy.  This has translated into reduced offerings from church members.  The end result was an almost $8 million reduction in local church spending in 2010 as compared to 2009.

“Local churches have been significantly impacted by reduced financial support.  Difficult decisions have been made by many congregations to decrease real and anticipated expenses,” Rev. Cason said. “While many have used this as an opportunity to do much-needed evaluation around the effectiveness of various programs and ministries, painful choices have been made to eliminate appreciated ministry options and even staff members.”

Giving to missional causes and extended ministries through the Annual Conference also decreased in 2010.  Where giving toward apportioned items was at 85.3 percent in 2009, the giving level fell to 80 percent in 2010.  This represented a real cash decrease of $481,946, or 5.3 percent less in revenues.

Expenses for Annual Conference ministries were well below the proposed budget level, but were higher than the revenue that arrived by year’s end.  A total of $911,413 was taken from investment income and unrestricted reserves to make up this difference.

The CFA budget committee has worked with conference staff and other leaders to identify places where 2011 expenses can be reduced. 

 “We will be bringing a recommendation to amend and reduce the 2011 budget by $500,700 to this June’s Annual Conference session,” said Rev. Michael Huling, budget committee chairperson.

Additionally, CFA is working on a significantly reduced 2012 budget to present at the upcoming Annual Conference session in Tifton.

“The budget committee presented a first draft budget to CFA that includes a $951,000 reduction in 2012 expenses for ministries within the bounds of the South Georgia Annual Conference,” said Rev. Huling.

“Some of the reductions came from the group of staff who worked on finding the $500,700 reductions to this current year’s budget.  Additionally, the committee looked carefully at each section of the budget. 

“As you can imagine, every budget area is taking a share in the reduction.  Some items are projected for elimination.  CFA will notify leaders of the most impacted areas in the coming days.   Representatives of these ministries will be invited to meet with CFA on May 9, if they feel the need to appeal,” he said.

A few items in the budget assume an increase in participation fees to offset some budget expenses associated with various activities.  Once a proposed budget is finalized, the document will be posted on the conference website, www.sgaumc.org/ac2011, and will be available in the packets at Annual Conference.

“We are working up to the last minute to create a budget that reflects the most thoughtful and prayerful decisions possible,” Rev. Cason said.  “Once the final document is ready, we want wide distribution, and we will try to answer many questions about the rationale in a frequently asked questions document posted on the web and in the packets.”

It is anticipated that CFA will have agenda time at the Annual Conference session on Tuesday, June 7 to educate conference members about the current financial climate and the interconnectedness of issues that makes decision making even more challenging.  The conference will take action on the proposed budget and other CFA items at the Annual Conference session on Wednesday, June 8.

“We have been immersed these last few months in adjusting the 2011 budget and in preparing the 2012 budgets,” Rev. Cason said.  “We are all mindful that this look at the expense side is the first of a two pronged effort to fund the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”

An informal task group has been formed to look for ways to increasingly put our ministries on solid financial footing.  This group, called the “Mission Sustainability Task Group,” will follow these important budget adjustments with an intentional effort to grow the stewardship capacity of our local churches and conference ministries.

“God is always blessing us in great abundance and all the resources needed to do what God is calling us to do are available,” said Bishop James R. King, Jr., who has participated in some of the financial conversations.

“I am confident that as we grow in our personal discipleship and as we keep our eyes on our common mission to join God in making disciples of Jesus Christ, that we will see miraculous things happen in our local churches and in the Annual Conference and resources for God-glorifying ministries will flow in great abundance.”