UMC split may lead to 20% drop in denomination-wide giving to ministries

Members of the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts attend worship at First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. A UMNS photo by Deborah White

The exit of congregations from the United Methodist Church will cost 20% of local churches’ net expenditures and force changes in how they contribute to the denomination’s global ministries, say UMC budget officials.

The board of the General Council on Finance and Administration heard the bad news at its meeting before the Thanksgiving holiday. Council personnel calculated the figure based on surveys returned from 47 UMC conferences nationwide.

“This is a plan that in a year of uncertainty is meant to be conservative because we don’t know what is going to happen,” Council CFO Rick King told the panel, according to United Methodist News.

Historically, the UMC has an apportionment, or assessed donation, from each of the 54 U.S. conferences to go toward denomination-wide ministries. The amount for each has been based on spending by the conference’s local churches, costs those congregations pay, how strong the conference is economically, and a base percentage that the worldwide General Conference approves.

With a split over same-sex marriage and allowing non-celibate LGBT clergy likely to be approved at the next General Conference in 2021 — postponed from earlier this year due to COVID-19 concerns — the finance agency has recommended dropping the economic strength factor. King said in 2018 that U.S. conference treasurers view the multiplier as “not transparent.”

At the same time, the GCFA has planned to lower the base percentage to bolster local churches, which have been losing members and income as well as seeing fewer profess the faith and a drop in worship attendance. The cut would put apportionments at 2.7% of local church spending by conference.

Pre-COVID-19, nationally, the UMC’s giving per member was increasing slightly. However, apportionment giving this year was down nearly $12 million through October. That pace would mean payment of only about 70% of the $151 million in apportionments budgeted for 2020, worse than during the 2008-2010 recession. In comparison, 85% of apportionments were paid in 2019.

The 2021 budget figures just 50% of apportionments will come in based on giving so far this year and the departure of theologically traditional congregations. The denomination is using reserve funds and cutting personnel to try to erase the red ink.

Before the talk of splitting and the pandemic, the UMC was on track to shrink global ministries 17% in the next four years. That percentage is expected to increase substantially with fewer congregations to tap for apportionments and fulfillment of them dropping to nearly half.

The Rev. Steve Court, a GCFA board member from the East Ohio Conference, informed the panel that the largest line-item is for salaries, so “significant” layoffs will be taking place.

The UMC Council of Bishops is not planning on holding elections to replace the 14 prelates retiring or changing roles in the coming year, and the addition of five bishops in Africa is on hold. The council has dipped into the Episcopal Fund for $2 million to $3 million annually since 2017 and would run out of funds within four years at that pace.

“We support the grassroots movements to not elect bishops until the next quadrennium,” Bishops Council head Cynthia Fierro Harvey of Louisiana told United Methodist News. Her fellows want no elections of new bishops through 2024, but General Conference next year would have to ratify the move. Bishoprics might merge and retired prelates put into open positions as interim leaders to save money.

The GCFA board approved a 2021 Episcopal Fund budget keeping the current 66 bishops’ salaries and housing and office allowances the same as this year. It assumes 65% of apportionments will be paid.

The 2021 General Conference will decide on a plan for reorganizing the United Methodist Church, with the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation being the most popular option at this point. It would allow biblically faithful congregations to leave the UMC with their property intact plus give them a share of $25 million. Another $2 million would be reserved for other denominations forming from the UMC. Finally, $39 million would go toward ministries to people of color and Africa University.

UMC budget officials did not return The Christian Post’s calls seeking comment for this article.

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