For four consecutive years, The United Methodist Church kept breaking records in the number of U.S. conferences that paid full apportionments.
That trend came to a halt in 2018.
However, in its annual press release on church giving, the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration on Jan. 24 offered some decidedly mixed news.
Across the oceans, eight central conference episcopal areas — most of which contain multiple annual conferences — paid at least 100 percent apportionments. That is down from nine areas in 2017, the first year the finance agency reported giving from the central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
All told, the overall payout rate of requested giving was down 1.8 percent from what the finance agency tallied the previous year.
But the overall dollar amount was slightly up by $19,473, compared to 2017 when the general church received about $133.2 million in apportionments. Thirty-five of 56 U.S. conferences actually paid more in 2018 than in 2017.
The dollar amount of requested giving fluctuates from year to year, hence the variation.
“It is not always easy for an annual conference to pay its general church apportionment,” said Bishop Michael McKee, president of the finance agency’s board. He also leads the North Texas Conference.
“We appreciate the hard work of each annual conference and episcopal area that contributed to the church reaching the 90 percent collection rate for all apportioned funds. God be praised in our ministry together.”
The report comes a month before a special General Conference meant to deal with the potentially church-splintering dispute over how the denomination regards homosexuality.
But it is unclear if the giving totals reflect the uncertainty ahead of the special session of the denomination’s top lawmaking body.
Apportionments are the share each conference or local church pays to support international, national and regional missions. Some conferences call the offering “ministry shares” to emphasize that the funds are investments in what the church does both at the local and global levels.
General Conference sets the formula for requested apportionments from annual conferences and annual conferences in turn set the apportionment formula for their local churches.
General church apportionments support bishops, ministerial education, most general agencies, general administration, and denomination-wide efforts such as the Black College Fund, ecumenical work and Africa University in Zimbabwe.
In 2018, the Africa University Fund had a 93 percent collection rate — the highest among the seven general-church apportioned funds.
In their 2019 spending plans, most agencies budgeted with the expectation of a payout rate below 90 percent.
The General Council on Finance and Administration board has plans already in the works to reduce requested church giving by about 20 percent, starting in 2021. Agencies and other church organizations are determining now what these budget cuts could mean for their ministries.
In the meantime, finance agency leaders see current giving as an indication of United Methodists’ great generosity and their commitment to ministry that connects congregations around the globe to ministry they can’t do alone.
“The general church apportionments are our message that the United Methodist connectional system is a viable way to be in ministry around the world,” said Moses Kumar, top executive of the General Council on Finance and Administration.
“We praise God for the faithfulness of this commitment. For the past seven years — since 2012 — we’ve been at or over a 90 percent collection rate. I want to thank the people of the United Methodist connection who have faithfully and continually supported the global ministries of the denomination through generous giving.”
Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.