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Church budget tightens around four areas of focus


The Rev. R. Randy Day discusses the initial impact of the proposed budget on the
work of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. Agency chiefs reported
on their budget progress at a joint meeting of the Connectional Table and the governing board of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
UMNS photos by Marta W. Aldrich.

By Marta W. Aldrich*
Sept. 13, 2007 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

The United Methodist Church is facing the "very hard, very painful" work of cutting ministries and shifting resources while building its denominational budget around four newly named areas of focus.

After months of reviewing a proposed budget that does not keep pace with inflation, the chief executives of the denomination's program agencies pledged to preserve ministries that address those four areas — leadership development, congregational growth, global health and poverty.


Deborah McLeod and Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor listen to the discussion.  

However, programs and ministries outside those initiatives will be reviewed for possible adjustments and cuts if the church's top legislative assembly approves the $642 million four-year spending plan next spring, the executives said. The General Conference, which meets every four years, will gather in Fort Worth, Texas.

Agency leaders reported on their budget work Sept. 7 during a joint meeting of the Connectional Table and the governing board of the General Council on Finance and Administration, the two leadership entities that voted in May to send the spending proposal to General Conference.

"The agencies have worked very hard to protect the monies allocated for these major cooperative initiatives," said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, chief executive for the Board of Discipleship.

The church's four areas of emphasis are an attempt to focus the mission and ministry of the church at the dawn of the 21st century and have been affirmed by church leadership at all levels — from the Council of Bishops to the Connectional Table to agency boards and many annual (regional) conferences.
"These initiatives are moving forward as projected, with some minor changes" based on the proposed budget, Greenwaldt reported. If General Conference approves the spending plan as proposed, "we will be about the hard work of making very specific internal adjustments."

Feeling the squeeze

The proposed budget for the 2009-2012 period gives an average spending increase of 6.6 percent to the church's nine program agencies, which had asked for an average of 16.6 percent more for the next four years. The increases range from 5.37 percent for the Board of Discipleship to 9.6 percent for the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and 10 percent for the Commission on United Methodist Men. (See details .)

“The fact is, we lost a lot of dollars we were hoping to have.”–The Rev. R. Randy Day

The budget was developed around projected payouts of apportionments, the United Methodist system of receiving contributions from local churches to support denominational ministries. In recent decades, congregations have spent more on local ministries and needs, resulting in a decreasing share of total funds for the denomination.

While agency heads said they are reviewing their spending options, several named specific planned ministries that would not be funded if the budget is approved as proposed.

The Board of Global Ministries is targeting a new pilot project aimed at addressing poverty in rural areas of the United States and also is reprioritizing its missionary ministry, said the Rev. R. Randy Day, the agency's chief executive. The board had asked for a funding increase of almost 23 percent but would receive a 6 percent hike under the proposal.

"The fact is, we lost a lot of dollars we were hoping to have," Day told the joint gathering.


A Connectional Table member poses a question to the Revs. Karen Greenwaldt
and Larry Hollon.

The agency intends to place missionaries first with skills that address the church's new areas of focus — for instance, those with medical training to fight killer diseases and promote global health. "Every time missionaries come up for renewal, we are coordinating and looking at that through the lenses of all four areas of collaboration," Day said. "We can't cover everything, and sometimes we make those painful decisions that these missionaries will not be reassigned and doing what they were doing."

The rural poverty project in the United States is one of six major pilot projects planned by Global Ministries to comprehensively address worldwide poverty, including projects that focus on Latin America and Africa and urban poverty in the United States.

"Many of these countries have just come out of war and fighting, and (there's) disease and unclean water and housing (issues)," Day told United Methodist News Service. "There are immense, immense life-threatening issues around poverty. So as a global church, we have to pay attention to all of those. … It's very, very hard, very painful to let go part of it, but we can only go so far without the dollars."

Shifting resources

As the result of trimming its budget request, the Board of Church and Society will not fund initiatives to advocate for mental health and against human trafficking, said Jim Winkler, who oversees the denomination's social action agency. The human trafficking initiative was in response to an unfunded mandate of the 2004 General Conference, and the mental health initiative was in response to requests from leaders in annual conferences for resources related to mental health. About $481,000 of the agency's budget proposal was earmarked to fund both initiatives over four years.

“We understand that, as United Methodists, we can't do it all.”
–The Rev. Beverly Wilkes Null

"We have two staff people who have huge portfolios on health care and on women and children, and they are able to give frankly a fraction of their time to human trafficking and sex trafficking and mental health advocacy," Winkler said, explaining that the board had wanted to hire additional staff to focus on the issues. "They will continue to give that fraction of time."

United Methodist Communications, slated to receive an increase of just more than 6 percent after asking for almost 8 percent, will adjust its communications assets to support the four areas of emphasis, according to the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive. The agency plans to reduce the number of communicator training events in Africa from 12 to six. It also will shift some advertising dollars in its Igniting Ministry media campaign budget from traditional media avenues to less expensive online advertising outlets, he said.

Hard choices

Greenwaldt called it premature to give specifics about changes at the Board of Discipleship before a final budget is approved by General Conference. Her agency — charged with the responsibility for overseeing the area of focus on congregational growth — would receive a 5.4 percent spending increase after asking for 8.7 percent.


Church leaders worship together before hearing from agency executives. The two church leadership entities voted in May to send the proposed budget to General Conference.


"We have to identify what specific items we can no longer address deeply and well," she said. "… How do we hand those off? How do we develop partnerships? Which ones simply have to go away?"

Church representatives attending the joint session expressed concern that some cuts would impact poor and powerless people who depend on the church to speak in their behalf.

"When you consider some of our rural communities, the only light left on in town is The United Methodist Church," said the Rev. Beverly Wilkes Null, a district superintendent in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and a member of the Connectional Table.

"We understand that, as United Methodists, we can't do it all," she told United Methodist News Service. "… But the reality is that human trafficking and sex trafficking is a hot-button issue and we need to be invested in it, and perhaps there are some other things we ought to divest in. Let's not sacrifice our ministry to the poor and the disadvantaged."

The Rev. Carl Schenck, pastor of Manchester (Mo.) United Methodist Church and a member of the Connectional Table, told the agency executives that their work on the budget "must have been both extremely wearying and painful."
"But the preservation of the coordinated initiatives and their potential to sweep the imagination of the church is so incredibly great … and holds such incredible possibility," Schenck said. "… Fruit can be borne out of this weariness and pain. It can be large."

*Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org .

Related Audio

The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt on how agencies are responding to the budget

The Rev. R. Randy Day on reprioritizing the church's missionary program

Jim Winkler on eliminating funding to advocate against human trafficking

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Details of Proposed Budget

Connectional Table

Council on Finance and Administration

2008 General Conference

Celebrating a Generous Church

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