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UMC faces financial, structural realities

Giving a budget presentation

On the final day of the 2024 General Conference, delegates passed a general budget for the next quadrennia with a bottom line that could change depending on how high collections are over the next two years.

Content Editor, Michigan Conference

Assistant News Editor, UM News

As the denomination comes to grips with a smaller church, General Conference delegates on May 3 approved a denominational budget with a bottom line that will vary by about $20 million, depending on giving collection rates over the next two years.

However, no matter what happens, the total budget will be significantly smaller than what the General Conference approved in 2016, and annual conferences will be asked to pay less to support denomination-wide ministries.

By a vote of 647 to 31 (95%), the General Conference approved a 2025-2028 denominational budget of $373.4 million. That total is contingent on collection rates being at 90% or more for the next two years. If giving is below that percentage, the total budget will be $363.6 million.

What that means is the budget will be between 38% and 41%, compared to the $604 million budget the 2016 General Conference approved.

The budget cuts come after a quarter of U.S. churches have withdrawn during the previous four years. Disaffiliation, in addition to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on worship attendance and giving, has brought substantial revenue losses, which will likely have a long-term impact.

The ultimate bottom line is contingent on giving rates in 2025 and 2026. The base rate for the first two years of the quadrennium is 2.6%. The base rate is one piece of the formula determining how much each annual conference pays the general church in apportionments.

Jen Peters, lay delegate, was a member of the Financial Administration Legislative Committee during General Conference, and Rev. Brad Bartelmay, clergy reserve delegate, observed the committee and provided support.

“The key thing,” said Bartelmay, “for Michigan United Methodists to pay attention to is that the 2.6% base rate, part of the formula of what determines how much we give to the general church, is pretty much what we’re already paying now, so there’s no significant impact on the Michigan Conference at this time.”

Peters added, “Right now, the Michigan Conference is paying about 3.2%. So, both of those rates — 2.6% and 2.9% — are below where it currently is. The reduction is because we’re a smaller church, and fewer people are paying to support our connectional ministries. So, the bills have gone up, even as the base rate has come down.”

For the 2025 budget that will be voted on at the 2024 Michigan Annual Conference, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration has already considered this 2.6% base rate when determining the apportionments due.

If the pay-in rate, the amount actually paid by annual conferences compared to the amount apportioned, is greater than 90% in the first two years, then the base rate increases to 2.9%.

“That’s aspirational,” said Bartelmay. “Currently, the pay-in rate is just over 68% for the denomination. This was unusually low compared to historical pay-in rates. This was due to the impact of some now-disaffiliated churches not paying apportionments the last few years and the pandemic.”

Peters said this budgetary news is great, on the one hand, because there’s no change to churches and what the general church asks of them. “We are going through a very tough time, and there’s a lot in the air right now. But the hard part for me is that our connectional ministries funded through the general church are taking a huge cut to give churches a break.”

United Methodist connectional ministries are our denomination-wide ministries, such as the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), our United Methodist missionaries all over the world, Discipleship Ministries who hosted last year’s YOUTH 2023 event, our witness in Washington, D.C. through the General Board of Church and Society, and so many more.

There’s a financial and organizational reckoning within the United Methodist Church as these connectional ministries funded through our general church boards and agencies work on adapting to an environment with tighter resources.

Bartelmay says these denominational boards and agencies have been cutting back for some time, such as doing hiring freezes and consolidating and selling properties. “They have known this was coming for eight years, so it’s not unexpected, but it’s still painful.”

He continued, “To be honest, we’re living through the deconstruction of The United Methodist Church. And that doesn’t mean it’s going away, but deconstruction is about fundamentally rethinking values and priorities and reforming, reformatting, and redirecting based on that. It’s an awkward, messy process. It inevitably has some pain to it. There’s grief in it, but it’s an essential process, and we’re at that moment.”

Peters said that some out-of-the-box ideas about how to create a financially viable denominational structure are coming in the near future. “We’re asking which of the general boards and agencies are most needed. Can we consolidate? That’s going to be reflective connectional work. Some of these agencies may be able to stand on their own. The United Methodist Church has done that, where we started a ministry and sent it out into the world.”

Both Bartelmay and Peters believe this is an opportunity for Michigan United Methodist churches to understand the value of our United Methodist connection and commit to it. The United Methodist Church has a beautiful network of life-giving ministries that churches can support financially through our gifts.

Peters said, “There’s a reason we have a connection, but sometimes we’re so wrapped up in our immediate issues in our local church, whether it’s a broken air conditioner or a leaky roof, that it’s hard to see them in action. Why are we connected? Let me tell you. I live in Flint. The United Methodist connection came to Flint when we had the water crisis. The United Methodist connection takes us to Liberia to drill wells for those who don’t have clean water. That’s what the connection does, and it’s time to explain that to people. The money you put in the plate — yes, we need that to support the things you do locally, but we need that money to be there for everyone else as well.”

Editor’s note: This article includes content from a UM News article by Heather Hahn.

Last Updated on May 7, 2024

The Michigan Conference