A Look At Year-End Finances
In the last two years the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference has struggled to make expenses and income balance. Conference leaders have worked to keep expenses as low as possible and the position of Director of Connectional Ministries was eliminated. The Conference Council on Finance and Administration crafted a 2011 budget that was nearly $500,000 lower than 2010 in an effort to reduce apportionment pressure on local churches and allow them to focus on ministry in the community.
As the end of 2011 approaches, UMOI Editor, Greg Nelson sat down with Bill Mullette-Bauer, Director of Stewardship and Finance to see where we are, what may be ahead for the conference, and how the power of connection can affect the future.
UMOI: As we come to the close of 2011 what is the financial state of the conference? How does that compare to last year?
Mullette-Bauer: At the end of November we have received $2,541,178 toward the total 2011 apportionment of $4,165,090. At this time last year, we had received $2,777,364 of $4,638,462. The Council on Finance and Administration has been diligent about monitoring expenses after creating a rather austere spending plan in February. In that plan we anticipated spending about $175,000 of the General Reserve Fund. If the current trend continues through the end of the year, that projection will be close.
UMOI: The conference reduced its budget for 2011 by nearly $500,000. Has that lowered apportionments for 2011 and allowed churches to increase their percentage of payment?
Mullette-Bauer: A reduction of some $472,000 means that most churches saw a reduction in apportionment for 2011. However, a church with a growing ministry and budget may have seen an increase.
While the total amount received so far this year is about $235,000 less than a year ago, the percentage received is about the same, 61.0% this year versus 59.9% last year. It would be simplistic to conclude that churches are paying the same percentage of a lower apportionment. That’s one of the problems with looking just at averages. The data from individual churches does not indicate that to be true. Some churches have been able to pay more than previous years while others are facing new challenges.
UMOI : So less money coming in for a smaller budget gives us the same percentage. What key factors are you seeing that cause churches to hold back payment?
Mullette-Bauer: I don’t like using the term “hold back”. I don’t believe there are many, if any, United Methodist congregations who “hold back” their apportionments support.
There are a number of factors that are in play here. One of them is the current economic climate. It’s a time marked by fear, and fear says to be cautious, and cautious says be careful what you give away. Another factor is that we have many churches that are too small to support the ministry they wish to have. A recent study concluded that a congregation needs an average attendance of 125 to support a full-time pastor. A third factor seems to be a lack of understanding about the connectional system and what the connection does. And, a fourth is the poor job we’ve done in teaching generosity as an element of discipleship.
UMOI: But if local churches are on the front line, shouldn’t their local needs come first? How do they balance that?
Mullette-Bauer: I’m delighted that we’ve become clear that discipleship-making happens primarily in local congregations. I want to do everything I can to make sure that we have healthy vital congregations in every setting, changing lives and transforming communities. So, I’m not an advocate of killing the ministry of the local congregation so it can pay apportionments. As a pastor I was appointed to churches that were not paying 100% of their apportionments. Our strategy in those situations was to develop our ministry as we grew our apportionment giving. That’s what I want to help our congregations do.
UMOI: So the balance is to value both local ministry AND the connectional support?
Mullette-Bauer: That’s right. We shouldn’t think of these things in opposition. Actually they support each other. The apportionment, or “Shared Ministry,” includes ministries that help churches make disciples in the US and across the country.
UMOI: What impacts does having a budget that isn’t funded have on the Conference? How do you deal with that uncertainty?
Mullette-Bauer: From my perspective, one of the greatest impacts has been the uncertainty that has limited our ability to develop long-term strategies. In these uncertain economic times, it feels like the pressure is always to make cuts. This has a negative effect on morale, both with the staff and with the wonderful volunteers who desire to be more involved in various ministries. Since 2008 the question each year seems to have been “what can we not do?”
UMOI: What’s in your crystal ball for 2012?
Mullette-Bauer: I’m smart enough to know that being at 61.0% rather than 59.9% isn’t statistically significant. But, as a person of faith, I’m also confident that we’re moving in the right direction. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we’ll suddenly move from the 73% apportionment payment we saw in 2010 to 100%. But I do believe that we can keep making great strides toward that goal.
UMOI: What have I forgotten to ask you?
Mullette-Bauer: A key thing I want to share is that the notion of the connection is critical to me. It means we function as a covenant community. It means we work together on things that are too great for any one of us to do alone. It means we support one another and help when one of us is having a hard time. In all probability we’ll never reach 100% apportionment payment. That’s because in any given year the odds are that one or more of our churches will need a little bit of help. When we do our ministry at 73% of the total apportioned, that means that any church paying more than 73% of their share is helping out the churches that pay less than 73%. Some of our churches might say that’s a lot to ask of them year after year. We’ve done an incredible job of controlling costs – the resolution of this gap is to increase the percent paid.
The 2012 budget is only a slight increase (less than 1.2%) over 2011.I think we’re seeing the beginning of a trend to close our income gap.
Bill Mullette-Bauer can be contacted at Bill@umoi.org
A full report of local church contributions to shared ministires is available on the conference website.