Prayer, persistence, patience pay off for local churches

3/16/2015

It took prayer, persistence, and patience, but last year, for the first time since 2006, Ashburn First United Methodist Church paid 100 percent of its apportionments.

It was one of a handful of South Georgia congregations that had not paid 100 percent of their apportionments in several years and then paid them in full in 2014.

For Ashburn First UMC, understanding, education, and developing a long-term plan were critical to their success.

“They wanted to do the right thing,” Rev. Alan Miller said of his Ashburn First UMC congregation. But finances aren’t flowing like they once did for the small church in a county-seat town. “It’s easy to see some things as non-essentials.”

When Rev. Miller was appointed to Ashburn First UMC in June 2010 the church was paying little more than 20 percent of its apportionments. With a focus on education and understanding – and a look toward the future – the finance team, backed by church leaders and the congregation, developed a plan to slowly increase giving each year. They also took a hard look at expenses, lowered them, and managed their resources well, all while maintaining an aging property.

“I felt like if I would have pushed it too soon I might have lost the battle – people would have been too pressured. So every year we incrementally upped our giving and last year I saw that it was within reach and that we could do this,” Rev. Miller said.

He credits former District Superintendent Dr. Wayne Moseley’s and current District Superintendent Dr. Nita Crump’s gentle guidance and supportive spirits for helping the congregation. He also says that Sycamore UMC, which is a member of a two-point charge with Ashburn First UMC, was an encouragement to the congregation.

“Sycamore, with its 15 or so members, pays its apportionments and has for years and years, and we’re grateful for that and their inspiration,” he said.

Being a fully connectional church is important to Rev. Miller and the Ashburn First UMC congregation, and they are proud of the hard work they have done.

“The UMC is a connectional partnership and apportionments are our share of the total weight and responsibility of doing the work and ministry we have been called to do,” Rev. Miller said. “This is a great accomplishment by a great group of people at Ashburn First UMC. I’m proud of them, I’m proud of what they’ve done, and I’m proud of the open hearts they’ve kept about it all.”

Forest Hills United Methodist didn’t have a funding problem, they had a budgeting problem.

The Macon church – one of the largest in the conference – hadn’t fully paid its apportionments since 2007 and hadn’t fully budgeted for them in years, either.

Prior to Rev. Baxter Hurley’s June 2013 appointment to Forest Hills UMC, Bishop King strongly encouraged pastors of the conference’s largest churches to increase their apportionment giving to 100 percent.

“We realized that the problem wasn’t with a lack of funds in the church,” Rev. Hurley said when he and church leaders looked at the finances. “We weren’t budgeting for apportionments. We were only budgeting for 70 percent and we weren’t even paying 70 percent. So I said the next year we had to budget 100 percent, and they agreed.”

But since the church carries some debt, reallocating funds was a matter of trust and reprioritization, he said. Funds that had been earmarked in the past for debt reduction have now been budgeted for apportionment giving. The debt will be paid, Rev. Hurley said, but the refocusing was important.

“I bought into the Methodist system when I became a UM pastor,” Rev. Hurley said. “I believe in the apportionment system and where the money goes, so I want to make sure my church fully funds those.”

Forest Hills UMC is unique in that it has several United Methodist clergy who are affiliated with the congregation but not appointed to the church. A few are retired clergy and others are extension minsters, but all understand the importance of apportionment giving. Several long-standing laity also advocated for the increase in apportionment giving.

“It was a quiet and strong witness that helped bolster the argument that I was making,” Rev. Hurley said.

Ashburn First UMC and Forest Hills UMC are just two of 10 South Georgia UM churches that in 2014 fully paid their apportionments for the first time in several years. The others were Adrian UMC (for the first time since 2010), Andrew UMC (for the first time since 2010), Attapulgus (for the first time since 2009), Bloomfield UMC (for the first time since 2010), Grace UMC – Savannah (for the first time since since 2010), Hand Memorial UMC (for the first time since 2010), Hilton UMC (for the first time since 2011), and Nepsey-Warren UMC (for the first time since 2010).

Of the 621 local churches in the South Georgia Conference, 428 paid 100 percent of their apportionments and an additional 21 churches paid more than 100 percent.

“That’s 72 percent of our congregations at or over the 100 percent mark,” said Dr. Derek McAleer, Director of Administrative Services. “It is also gratifying to see that 93 congregations increased the percentage they paid in 2014 over 2013. This is a wonderful sign of their generous spirit.”

Balancing the mission of the church with the needs of a large and well-used facility has been a challenge for Leesburg United Methodist Church.

The congregation paid their pension and insurance benefits cost in full in 2014, which was a great step forward, and now have set their sights on paying their 2015 apportionments in full. They are on track to do so and have already mailed in their first payment.

“Apportionments have been a shadow on the church, like a dark cloud … they have not been paying apportionments like they have wanted to,” said Tim Hunter, a certified public accountant and Leesburg UMC’s finance committee chairman.

With a focus on prayer, education and transparency, the congregation has had a pretty remarkable turnaround in its finances.

“Constant prayer is driving this,” he said. “We kind of have to step out in faith, too, and make that payment each month even if we’re kind of short on something else or if the tithes didn’t come in like we expected it. It’s a step in faith and an expectation that God will do what we know He can do.”

A few insights into how each dollar given in a local church is spent:

  • 90 cents of every dollar given to a local church in South Georgia were used by that local church (in 2013)
  • 8 cents were paid for Conference apportionments
  • 1 cent was paid for district apportionments
  • A little less than a penny (.008) was given to general and Conference advance specials
Dr. McAleer is available to help local churches interpret apportionments and budget to pay them in full. Contact him at derek@sgaumcadmin.com.