Methodists boost giving by more than 50 percent


By Linda Green
United Methodist News Service

NASHVILLE — Amid a year of natural disasters, United Methodists reached deep into their pockets and increased their total giving to the church’s ministries by more than 50 percent over the previous year.

The denomination has much to celebrate in “the overwhelming generosity of the people of The United Methodist Church, who increased giving by 53.6 percent compared to 2004,” said Sandra K. Lackore, top executive of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration. She spoke to United Methodist media by telephone and Web conferencing Feb. 15.

Total giving in 2005 was $244.7 million, which is $85 million more than in 2004, she said. Of that, $80 million was for tsunami and hurricane relief efforts. Total giving in 2004 was $159.3 million.

The conferences highlighted for having a 100 percent commitment to the church’s seven funds were Alaska Missionary, Baltimore-Washington, Central Pennsylvania, Desert Southwest, Detroit, Illinois Great Rivers, New York, North Carolina, Northern Illinois, Oklahoma Indian Missionary, Peninsula-Delaware, Red Bird Missionary, Rio Grande, Texas and Wisconsin.

The seven conferences contributing 90 percent or more for apportioned giving were Arkansas, Holston, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Central Texas, North Texas and Southwest Texas.

The Louisiana and Mississippi annual conferences, significantly damaged by Hurricane Katrina, were acknowledged as examples of faithfulness in honoring their financial commitments to the denomination. These two conferences, “in the midst of extreme devastation and hardship,” maintained their apportioned giving at or slightly above their 2004 contributions, Lackore said.

Three additional conferences affected by last year’s hurricanes — Alabama-West Florida, Florida and Texas — maintained or “slightly” increased their level of giving for all seven of the church’s apportioned funds.

Individuals, churches and organizations contributed significantly to the United Methodist Committee on Relief for immediate and long-term hurricane recovery efforts, and initiatives are being developed with assistance by local people in both Mississippi and Louisiana, she said. “It is not being driven by UMCOR’s design but being driven by local design.”

What does the more than 50 percent increase in overall giving mean? Lackore said it reflects that within the last two years, the church has given people new and different ways to contribute.

“The connectional covenant is present in the faithfulness of so many local congregations and conferences in meeting their commitment to the apportioned general funds in 2005. These funds drive the financial mission statement of our denomination,” Lackore said. “By working together and fully participating in the general apportioned funds, we make possible the mission and ministry of Christ.”

Through the end of 2005, she said, 30 percent of the giving was done by online contributions or direct giving - “giving that did not come through annual conference treasuries.” That, she said, is “significant in the life of our denomination.”

The council is researching donor identities “to discern whether that giving is coming all from United Methodists, whether it is coming from persons interested in what the United Methodist Church is doing, whether it is coming from persons excited by what we are doing, especially in our relief efforts, and could … want to be part of United Methodist congregations,” she said.

In the last 10 years, the level of giving to church-related causes has been “steady,” she said. “The blip has been online giving.” The council is trying to determine what that means for the financial health of the denomination, which is tied to local church and annual conference giving. She defined the health of the denomination as “good” but said membership loss is a continuing concern.

Membership in the United Methodist Church in the United States for 2004 was 8.1 million, a loss of 66,402 people, or 0.82 percent, over 2003, according to GCFA statistics.