News Archives

Budget still a work in progress for United Methodist agencies

7/15/2003

DETROIT (UMNS) -The group charged with recommending the operational program and missions budget for the United Methodist Church applauded the progress denominationwide agencies have made so far to streamline their budgets and suggest ways to work together more efficiently in the coming 2005-08 quadrennium.

Still, finance officers and program agency executives left a July 11 Program and Budget Consultation without a final meeting of the minds on how critical ministries of the church could be done within the budget constraints posed by a tight world economy and a slump in giving by United Methodist congregations.

At issue during the consultation was the proposed distribution of World Service Funds to the denomination's eight program agencies for 2005-08. (World Service Funds, which come from offerings taken in local United Methodist congregations, fund the bulk of the denomination's national and international missions.) Challenged by a sluggish economy, the agencies were asked two months ago to look for ways to trim their budgets, reduce duplication of efforts, consolidate similar tasks and staff responsibilities and still accomplish the church's worldwide missions.

The consultation included staff executives and financial officers of the program agencies, members of the General Council on Ministries, which coordinates churchwide programs, and the General Council on Finance and Administration (GFCA), which must recommend the entire denominational budget to the United Methodist legislative assembly, the 2004 General Conference, next spring.

In the daylong meeting, Sue Sherbrooke of Seattle, a GCFA voting member, affirmed the agencies' work toward meeting the goal laid out in May. "You took seriously our request," she said. "There is a lot to like and a lot to build on" in what was submitted.

Questions about specific agency plans for the next four years and beyond were directed to the top executives after GCFA members first reviewed agency reports and recommendations.

Many of their queries had to do with how the agency proposals relate to better serving United Methodist congregations. The Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the churchwide Board of Discipleship, said hers is the only church agency focused exclusively on equipping local churches.

Others, however, urged the group to think of service to congregations in broad terms, not just on the nuts and bolts of operating a single church. "We are not a congregational church; we are a connectional church," observed the Rev. Bruce Robbins, staff head of the agency charged with relating to other denominations and faiths. He reminded the group that the United Methodist Council of Bishops had lamented "creeping congregationalism" among some groups in the denomination and urged caution in thinking about what it means to serve a local church or annual conference.

GCFA member Don House of Bryan, Texas, urged the group to consider the needs of the church beyond mere dollars and cents, especially in an era when membership is declining in a growing population, giving among United Methodists is below the average for Protestants, 43 percent of United Methodist congregations took in no new members on profession of faith in 2001 and when the Sunday schools are deteriorating.

"We're all in this together," said the Rev. Don Avery, a GCFA member from Baton Rouge, La. "I have confidence in the agencies. I have confidence in the people around the table (at this meeting)." But he went on to say he wanted more information from the agencies before making a final budget recommendation.

Collectively, GCFA members participating in the July 11 consultation were not satisfied with all the agency reports. The agencies were asked again to address the concerns about fulfilling the church's mission objectives, to reduce administrative costs and to develop a four-year plan as part of a longer-range strategy to address program priorities. These were the criteria laid out by GCFA for determining whether the recommended program portion of the World Service budget would total $222 million for the next four-year period or drop back to $186 million

At the end of the day, the task was not complete. The work will be taken up again when the two councils meet simultaneously in September. After the members of the Program and Budget Consultation complete their review of that that part of the budget, the GCFA voting members will consider the entire financial proposal for 2005-08. They will then recommend a denominationwide budget to the 2004 General Conference, April 27-May 7, in Pittsburgh.

GCFA participants at the July meeting said they need the new material in their hands by Aug. 15 in order to study it adequately. Translation and printing deadlines for General Conference are looming this fall, putting time pressure on the church's boards and agencies.

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