1:00 P.M. EST May 13, 2011 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
While the U.S. Congress is hammering out a 2012 budget, United Methodists are engaging in a yearlong effort to craft denominational budgets for the years 2013 to 2016.
Unlike protracted budget debates on Capitol Hill, two groups responsible for denominational budgets concluded their scheduled May 9-12 meeting one day early.
The 40-member General Council on Finance and Administration and the 60-member Connectional Table quickly accepted proposed “realistic” overall budget reductions of 6.04 percent presented by a GCFA committee and line-item recommendations for denominational agencies worked out by their top staff executives.
The two bodies voted to reduce World Service, the fund that supports the ministries of the general agencies, by 6.6 percent.
After the two bodies approved the provisional budget of $603 million for all seven general apportionments, they agreed to meet again July 27-29 in Nashville to review the budgets before sending them to the 2012 General Conference, the top legislative body of the 12 million-member denomination.
In the meantime –– in consultation with agency executives –– three GCFA members and three Connectional Table members will consider the financial implications of proposals expected from the Interim Operations Team and the impact on provisional budgets approved at the May meeting in Nashville.
Reductions in the number of members in U.S. congregations and declining revenue already have forced general agencies to eliminate some staff positions and programs. The number of staff positions in 13 general agencies has decreased every year, from 3,139 in 1971 to 1,384 in 2010.
While budgets for the agencies have increased over previous years, the income has not kept pace with inflation. Now, for the first time in the history of the denomination, even the best-case budget projection called for a reduction in the actual dollars available for the seven general church apportionments for the 2013-16 quadrennium.
Agency staffers were asked to prepare detailed budgets for pessimistic, realistic and optimistic amounts.
Factors that go into budget projections include: church membership, inflation, per-capita disposable income, “giving elasticity” (percent of giving from increased revenue), net spending and the U.S. gross domestic product.
During the previous week, a finance committee of the Council of Bishops proposed asking GCFA and the Connectional Table to recommend the most pessimistic projection calling for a 14.8 percent reduction in World Service monies. Some bishops, who struggle to get their churches to pay 100 percent of their apportionments, favored the lower budgets. After considerable debate, the proposal was defeated.
There were also recommendations at the GCFA and Connectional Table meeting to propose the 14.8 percent reduction and to save the balance for emerging ministries. With the understanding that the proposed budget will again be reviewed in July, those recommendations were defeated by a sizeable margin.
Some agencies have already agreed to reduce future costs by: 1) sharing finance and human resources personnel; 2) freezing salaries; 3) reducing staff and programs; 4) asking staff to pay a higher percentage of health-care insurance; 5) holding virtual board meetings; 6) publishing electronic newsletters; 7) printing only on demand; and 8) utilizing online tools and websites.
Agency staff and officers say that proposed budget cuts in the 2013-16 quadrennium will reduce: 1) disaster-recovery funds; 2) diversity and justice ministries; 3) interfaith relations; 4) communications; 5) the number of new churches; 6) revitalization efforts in existing congregations; 7) efforts to improve global health; 8) scholarship and education funds; and 9) leadership training and spiritual-development opportunities.
A Connectional Table review of the agencies found that they have been working together to provide resources to local churches and annual conferences in spite of reduced financial resources.
An Apportionment Structure Study Group asked the two organizations to consider recommending a single United Methodist Fund to replace the present seven apportionments. The group proposes listing all agencies and ministries supported by the one fund and their percentage of the total.
“Giving to multiple funds does not increase transparency or lead to better payouts,” said Andy Langford, secretary of the study group and pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C.
The group also recommends that GCFA be asked to work with other agencies to emphasize “generous financial stewardship” and drop the word “apportionment” in favor of establishing a specific percentage of current income of a local congregation. “This income-based model shifts the discussion from the budget of the general church to the percentage of income coming from each local congregation,” Langford said.
Perhaps the most far-reaching proposal from the study group calls for the right of General Conference to empower a unit of the denomination to make budget adjustments between conference sessions. At present, after General Conference adjourns, no entity can make changes to the allocated budgets.
“The current system cannot adapt to provide flexibility in ministry and mission,” Langford said. This proposal requires two constitutional amendments that must be approved by a two-thirds vote of General Conference delegates and ratification by two-thirds of all voting members of all annual conferences.
In other business, the Connectional Table and GCFA:
*Rich Peck is a retired clergy member of New York Annual (regional) Conference.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.