Budget proposal still in flux
As the United States' economy has recovered from the 2008 crash, The United Methodist Church as a whole has seen its financial health improve. At the same time, declines in worship attendance are causing some to advise caution when considering the denominational budget for the 2017-20 quadrennium.
Moses Kumar, top executive of the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), reported at the Pre-General Conference Briefing in January in Portland, Oregon, that a record 26 annual conferences paid 100 percent to the general church apportionments in 2015 — the highest number in at least 16 years. At the general church level, the money supports bishops, United Methodist ministerial education, most general agencies and denomination-wide efforts such as the Black College Fund, ecumenical work and Africa University in Zimbabwe.
Kumar also told briefing participants that GCFA's board and the Connectional Table were proposing a budget of $611 million for general church funds in 2017-20, about a 1.3 percent increase from the $603.1 million general church budget approved at the 2012 General Conference.
Since the briefing, recommendations have come forth to reduce the general budget to $599 million for 2017-20. If adopted by General Conference, it would be the denomination's lowest budget in 16 years. Annual conferences in the United States would pay the lowest percentage of general church apportionments since the current apportionment formula began in 2001.
Discussions about lowering the budget from the $611 million began after the GCFA board and Connectional Table heard recommendations from an advisory group of church economists. They based their advice on decreased church worship attendance in 2014, even though giving was up that year.
Top executives of the church's 13 general agencies unanimously recommended in mid-March adoption of a bottom-line budget of $599 million. GCFA directors approved the same figure on March 28. The Connectional Table had not yet met at Interpreter deadline.
Final action on the budget will come at General Conference when delegates have the option to adopt the proposed budget or to increase or further decrease the bottom-line as well as to designate funding for specific ministries and initiatives.
GCFA's board also is proposing that for the first time United Methodist churches in Africa, Asia and Europe would have a set formula to support the denomination's global ministries. Under the proposal, central conferences would contribute to the Episcopal and General Administration funds.
Heather Hahn is a multi-media reporter for United Methodist News Service, a part of United Methodist Communications.