Conference Finance Committee is 'Cautiously Optimistic'

9/16/2009

By Glenn Hannigan
Editor
North Georgia Advocate

The prevailing mood is one of cautious optimism.

But for churches that have been hit hard by the ongoing economic downturn, any indication that the worst may be over is more than welcome news.

But the key word is "cautious."

"Perhaps we’ve reached a point where, economically, things are stabilizing," said Keith Cox, treasurer of the North Georgia Conference. "There are some indicators that the recession may have bottomed out. We are hopeful, but still concerned."

Cox says that his concern is based primarily on the continuing high unemployment rate, which has affected churches of all sizes. He says he knows several people in his own church who have lost their jobs and that situation, repeated across North Georgia, takes a toll on the conference.

Over the past year, with the crash of the real estate market, the failure of numerous banks and the rising unemployment rate, many churches and charitable organizations have seen a marked decrease in giving.

Various churches in the North Georgia conference have been forced to make tough decisions. Budgets have been trimmed, salaries frozen and, in some cases, staff positions eliminated.

In 2008, the North Georgia Conference received 88.3 percent of apportionments, the lowest percentage in many years. Of the conference’s 928 churches, 78 percent paid their full apportionments.

"We could see various signs that the economy was starting to struggle early last summer," Cox said. "By early fall it was clearly unraveling. We didn’t wait to begin making adjustments. We began trimming expenditures across departments."

The Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) recommended, and the Annual Conference approved, a revised spending plan for 2009, based on collecting 85 percent of the budgeted $26.3 million in apportionments. Cox remains optimistic the new budget will be reached.

"Over the last two months we’ve seen some hopeful signs," Cox said. "But December is the most critical month. We typically receive twice as much in December as we do the average of the other 11 months of the year."

Cox said that any funds received over and above the 85 percent level will be added to a "badly-needed" reserve account.

Of course, there continue to be many uncertainties in both the national and global economies which, inevitably, have an impact at the local church level.

"We will continue to monitor the situation closely," Cox said. "But we might finally be seeing some signs of a slowly reviving economy. Home sales are up, the stock market is up, and many of our financial institutions have stabilized, though they remain fragile. So, we remain cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on "cautiously". CFA will continue to carefully monitor our expenditures, and the program directors will be working with CFA to assure that we remain financially stable."

This article ran in the September 18 edition of the North Gergia Advocate. To subscribe or renew, visit www.ngumc.org/advocate.


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