By Wade Paschal
I want to start a conversation about the potential budget savings and what should/could be done with these savings. I do think this is an important decision on many levels—and at least for me not an easy one.
I recognize, as was said at the meeting, that this is an opportunity. It sounds like we are talking about somewhere between 1.0-1.5 million dollars in potential budget savings if it all comes together in time. That is significant as a lump sum.
This is somewhere around 6-7 percent of the total conference budget—which means a similar percentage of the local church apportionments are at stake. If we figure that the average church pays about 15% of its budget in apportionments, that means that we are only talking about 1% of a local church budget. In aggregate it is a big number—locally it is a fairly small proportion of the local church budget.
So the question is—is it better to keep the money for significant projects through the conference? Or is it better to return the money to the local churches for their use?
There are a couple of points I would make.
We do need to remember that it is the local church’s money. The money does not “belong” to the conference. The conference has it because local churches agreed to fund clergy benefits and district costs as they were needed. If the conference has a claim to the money, it is because we have urgent ministry that can only be done at the conference level. Otherwise, the money comes from and belongs to the local church that raised it and sent it in.
In that respect we have to know that what we are spending the money on. At this point we have a vague idea in front of us. The “New people/new places” concept came up because people on this committee wanted to support the development of new congregations. We wanted to do this because we have been told that studies support the fact that new congregations are better at winning people to Christ and bringing new people into the church than established congregations. In other words we were willing to put money into something that we believed would grow the Kingdom of God better than established churches.
But now this original idea has already been changed into something less defined. Some group of yet unnamed people with as yet undefined goals are going to do things that will reach “new people/new places.”
The idea depends on a conviction that the conference can decide better than local churches how to reach new people. I think the conference has created some excellent ministries (VIM, CJAMM, Circle of Care) and I am grateful for that.
But, I don’t know that the conference has shown any great ability to reach new people for Christ outside of the establishment of new congregations. I don’t know that we have much of a track record as a conference for evangelism or outreach. It seems to me where that happens, it happens in and through local congregations.
How can we justify the idea that a conference program deserves this kind of money taken out of local churches? If we had a proven track record of doing something that actually added faithful members to local church, then it would be easier. I don’t think we have that track record.
It’s probably worth remembering that the 30 largest congregations pay about 45% of all apportionments. That means that 45% of this savings if it went back to the local church, would go back to our largest churches. And, I would suggest, these churches have a pretty good track record on their own for outreach and innovation. We could say that, “They don’t need help from the conference to be innovative” but that forgets the salient fact that the money comes from these churches in the first place. Why should these churches have to apply to the conference for the permission to use their own money for innovation and outreach? Doesn’t it make more sense simply to let them have more of their own money and let them do what they do anyway? There would be some exceptions of top 30 churches that are not that innovative, and some churches outside of the top 30 that are innovative. But on the whole giving back to the top thirty churches makes a lot of sense.
Here’s the main argument for keeping the money: Wouldn’t it be great if we had a significant fund of money that would allow to do innovate and efficient things that would bring new people into the Kingdom of God and the United Methodist Church? The main argument against that idea is this: do we have the right to take money out of the local church for ideas that are as yet unproven and untried—can we assure the local church that the conference can decide better than they can how to spend this money?
I raise this so that we talk about the issues. I’m really not sure what I think at this point and I would love to have other perspectives.