Financially supporting both the conference and the general church

May 21, 2019
Submitted by the Rev. Dr. C. Dennis Shaw
Statistician, Mountain Sky Conference, UMC

Luke 5: 4 (NRSV): When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

When Jesus told Simon Peter to head out to the deep water, Simon Peter had two comments: we have tried that before but if you say so, sure. I wish Luke had given us some kind of parenthetical remark, like “exasperated, Simon Peter said ‘we have tried that before’ and with a great deal of sarcasm added ‘but if you say so, sure.’” That would have made the interpretation easier.

Graphic for Summary of Proposed Changes to How We Apportion to the Local ChurchYour Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) is looking to put into different, if not deeper, waters.

For many years, it has been the practice of both legacy Yellowstone and legacy Rocky Mountain conferences to combine in the local church apportionment (also called connectional giving and mission shares) the portion that goes to the conferences and the portion that moves on to the general and jurisdictional church.

In 2019, the general and jurisdictional portion of our budget is about a third (32 percent more precisely). For 2018, both legacy conferences reached 100 percent in our general and jurisdictional obligations through reserves. That is not a sustainable model. Last year, what was passed to the local church as the combined conference ministry and mission support and the support for the general and jurisdictional support was paid at a 75 percent rate. This is also not sustainable.

The general and jurisdictional apportionment is actually composed of eight different apportionments. These are shown in table 1 (below) with the 2019 and 2020 amounts apportioned to Mountain Sky.

In a separate article we will lay out what these accounts are. For this particular article, we want to focus on process changes in how we apportion these.

Graphic of Table 1: Our Support to the General and Jurisdictional ChurchCurrently the total general and jurisdictional connectional support, all $2,098,881, is rolled into our 2019 budget. This has been the practice for both legacy conferences for many years. At the 2019 Mountain Sky Annual Conference, we will propose to display this for 2020 more directly for the local church. In short, if our proposal is approved by the annual conference, we will have two apportionments.

The conference ministry and mission budget will be supported as currently accomplished, with a portion of selected income being shared to the conference for ministry and mission by the local church. The proposed rate would move from 13 percent to 10 percent.

The general and jurisdictional support for 2020 will be a second number, and it will be a precise number. The 2020 allocation would be based on 2018 expenses. This would be selected expenses, specifically cost of clergy, staff, operations and programs. Building upkeep, debt retirement, and resources shared with the conference or other ministries will not be a factor in this allocation. That said, details are to follow, for now, focusing on process is our principle here.

The process can best be described in two tiers:
  • Tier one is funded like we are now: the same income based model we are using conference-wide in 2019 and has supported the legacy Rocky Mountain Conference since 2008. The change is the budget supports only the ministry and mission of the conference. No other change except the percentage drops from 13 percent to 10 percent.
  • Tier two is moving the general and jurisdictional portion of what is in the 2019 budget, to a separate apportionment. This number comes to the conference as fair share expenses and the expense model is replicated by the conference and is passed to each local church.
Graphic for Impact on the Local ChurchTo support the connection above the conference, each church in 2020 would, if approved, have the option of paying against a single number or asking that their payment be weighted as they see fit and prefer. This might be understood as a “cafeteria plan.” (Note: It is explicitly understood that we in CF&A need to share how these various apportionments support ministries and will in later articles.)

We see at least two advantages to this: both advantages hinge on the first principle: We believe the proper location for decision making on what is important to the local church at levels beyond the conference is the local church. These advantages are related to shortages and priorities.
  • In a shortage world, the Council on Finance and Administration make this decision when we are short income. Supporting at 100 percent has required us to spend reserves rather than pay less than 100 percent. As we indicated earlier, this is not sustainable.
  • In a priority world, there is not unanimity on this payment at all. Some, not all, believe the general and jurisdictional support must be paid at 100 percent. Others, not all, believe that the general accounts, should not be supported at all. Those two positions are mutually exclusive.
To some extent, we are seeing this played out in our 2019 conference income. “Send the conference nothing because we want none of our money going to the General Boards and Agencies, period” is an appropriate paraphrase from at least one church and echoed in agreement, if not actual withholding by others. Others have reduced their payment from a full 13 percent to 10 percent as a representative proportion of what is perceived as going to the general apportionment.

The details on this change in process are being worked and as soon as we have a more perfected petition, it will be posted where all petitions are located on the conference website.

To return to our scripture opening this article advocating fishing in deeper waters, your Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) is looking to move to deeper waters.

Here deeper is a clearer principle (local church control) combined with a better communication strategy as to what these funds buy.

We encourage you to send us a note and we will gladly share the draft petition as long as all understand that it is still being polished and, like all of us, it is moving on to perfection.

Got questions? Email the Rev. Dr. C. Dennis Shaw