United Methodist Church experienced higher than expected giving at end of 2020: report

View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. | United Methodist News Service/Kathleen Barry

The United Methodist Church ended 2020 with a higher rate of giving than was previously projected, given the COVID-19 lockdowns, though it still remains in financial uncertainty.

The UMC General Council on Finance and Administration collected around 79.3% of 2020 U.S. apportionments, or the requested shares of giving that support churchwide ministries, according to UM News.

While that is the lowest collection rate in more than a decade for the UMC, it's also higher than the 70% collection rate previously projected by the GCFA.

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“We had almost $40 million in collections in December of 2020,” said Rick King, chief financial officer for GCFA, as reported by UM News. “As far as I can go back, that is the most dollars we have received in any month ever.”

However, UMC officials are still expressing caution when it comes to budget issues, due to ongoing complications spurred by the pandemic and a possible schism occurring over theological differences.

Over the past several years, the UMC has had a divisive internal debate over its biblical stance on homosexuality, marriage, and prohibiting the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals.

Last November, the GCFA Board of Directors held a virtual quarterly meeting in which they reported that most agency spending plans for 2021 would be based on a 50% collection rate.

During the same meeting, the board received a report in which jurisdictional giving to the seven general church apportioned funds were down 8.1% and central conference giving was down 10%, both compared to 2019.

Since the pandemic began, many churches have struggled financially due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdowns, which curbed in-person giving to congregations.

Last October, the Seventh-day Adventist Church released a report estimating that it will see a decline of about $26 million in tithes and offerings due to the pandemic's economic impact.

Juan Prestol-Puesán, treasurer for the Adventist Church, stated at the time that he believed “the year 2020 is a survival year, and that normality may return sometime in 2021.”

However, other churches and Christian organizations have reported donations as being steady or even growing during the pandemic, even during the initial strict lockdowns of early 2020.  

A survey by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, released last June, found that 66% of churches and 59% of “Christ-centered nonprofits” reported either the same or greater donations in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

Drawing from a sample of 1,341 leaders of evangelical churches and nonprofits and conducted between May 12 and May 27, the ECFA also found that between April and January of last year, 72% of churches and 61% of nonprofits said giving was higher than or the same in April 2020 as in January 2020.

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