3:00 P.M. EST Mar. 12, 2010
Generous giving is not easy in a recession.
It takes commitment, reaching beyond the local congregation, and the faith and courage to make hard choices. It requires emotional, spiritual and financial investment.
Some of the biggest miracles in The United Methodist Church happen because committed congregations pay their apportionments in full. One-hundred percent giving to United Methodism’s seven apportioned funds paves the way for African students to pursue higher education, enriches 11 historically black colleges, supports our bishops in their ministry, provides the financial backbone for General Conference, strengthens cooperation with people of other faiths and nurtures seminarians in their spiritual journey.
In looking at conferences and churches that meet their financial commitments, a common theme is their belief in mission beyond their local congregation and regional bodies.
“The ‘for the transformation of the world’ part of the denominational mission is far more than an appendage to the ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ’ phrase,” says the Rev. Arthur McClanahan, Iowa Annual (regional) Conference director of communications.
“When people experience the spiritually strengthened, worshipful work that goes on in the smallest hamlets, our suburban communities and our inner cities, the opportunity for connectional giving is understood as an extension of ministry. When people are involved, they’re invested. When there’s emotional investment, there’s spiritual investment—and financial investment, too.”
“The Peninsula Delaware Conference,” says Bishop Peggy Johnson, “has a great sense of loyalty to The United Methodist Church. They support our missionaries, Advance Specials and special offerings as well as paying apportionments 100 percent. It is part of their DNA.”
Focusing on stewardship, telling the stories, challenging givers to stretch and celebrating success are vital.
“Stewardship is taught well here, and churches believe it is a sign of their devotion to God to pay their apportionments,” Johnson adds. “Paying it is non-negotiable. When the budget is tight, other things get cut, but not the apportionments. The leadership has a strong commitment to this and always has.”
Tell the story “as frequently as possible,” advises the Rev. Carol Goehring, connectional ministries executive, North Carolina Conference, “to illustrate the ministries provided through the apportionments.”
“Each year,” Wisconsin Conference’s communications director Michele Virnig says, “our conference leaders ask if (full payment) will remain a priority. So far, the answer has always been ‘yes.’ We cannot expect congregations to keep faith with the conference in its pursuit of 100-percent apportionments if the annual conference doesn’t keep faith with its commitment to the general church and the world.”
Saying “thank you” and celebrating are also important, adds Carolyn Stephens, Central Texas Conference communications director. “We celebrate even small accomplishments because sometimes that is a major accomplishment at that time for that congregation. Beyond the bishop’s commitment to connectional giving, the motivator for a congregation is a pastor who shares his or her excitement about what their dollars are doing in the world — locally and beyond.”
When congregations are outwardly focused, generous giving follows naturally, say United Methodists for whom 100-percent giving to churchwide mission and ministry is a way of life.
“My experience is that churches that are involved in mission and outreach (have fewer) problems paying apportionments,” says the Rev. Richard Van Giesen, Illinois Great Rivers Conference treasurer. “If a congregation is struggling, I would advise them to get involved in a Habitat project, a soup kitchen, a food pantry or other local ministry.
“Churches that get into financial trouble have a tendency to withdraw, become ingrown and spend all of their money on themselves. This is the exact opposite of what they should do, and it is a certain prescription for death. The only method for reviving a church that I have seen actually work is to get out of the pews and reach out to the community in need.”
Setting realistic expectations is essential for congregations striving for 100 percent, notes Bishop John R. Schol, Baltimore-Washington Conference. “Do not try to achieve 100 percent in one year. Set a goal each year so that in three to five years, you are paying 100 percent.”
Yellowstone Conference—at 95 percent payment last year—is doing just that. Two years ago, the conference determined to pay general and jurisdictional apportionments at 90 percent and incrementally increase giving by 5 percent until they reached full payment. They renamed apportionments “Mission Shares” and hired a half-time mission coordinator.
“We run our conference budget much like a family would,” treasurer Anita Saas notes, “making the sacrificial choices so we can do what is important."
She advises struggling congregations to “make a plan and be ready to keep working to reach your goal, even in the tough times.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or firstname.lastname@example.org.