By Rich Peck
General Conference 2012 approved a budget of $603.1 million for seven general church funds during the 2013-2016 period; that total is 6.03 percent less than the amount apportioned for the 2009-2012 quadrennium –– the first time the assembly has accepted a lower budget than the amount set for the preceding four-year period.
That sounds like a whopping amount, but local churches should not count on huge savings since only 2 cents out of every dollar in the collection plates goes to support general church ministries. Also, costs of annual conference operations, clergy pension benefits and inflationary costs are likely to increase local church costs.
Two new line items
Delegates approved two new line items in the World Service Fund. They established a new $5 million fund for theological education in central conferences and $7 million to recruit and train young clergy in the United States.
That action, combined with earlier recommendations to reduce agency budgets by 6 percent, means general agencies will receive nearly 10 percent less money in the 2013-2016 period then they received in 2009-2012.
Costs of new structure
The General Council on Finance and Administration and the Connectional Table had the nearly impossible task of estimating the cost of forming the new Council on Strategy and Oversight and other costs of the new structure, including adding additional central conference members to agency boards, a new program audit, an adaptive Challenge Fund and costs of research.
Based on early estimates, the assembly approved reducing the Episcopal Fund by $3 million to cover costs in the World Service Fund related to Call to Action recommendations and the new structure.
Affect on agencies
While agencies may experience some savings in a reduced number of agency board members, those savings will be less than the 10 percent reduction in funds and the rate of inflation over the next four years.
Since all local churches do not pay the full apportionments, the amount received by all funds is less than the amount budgeted. In the past, receipts have hovered around 90 percent of the goal amount.
The delegates called for the Advance Edition of the Daily Christian Advocate to be translated into Kiswahili, and increased the size of the Commission on General Conference, thus adding some $600,000 to the cost of the General Conference.
The Commission on General Conference will struggle to find ways to reduce costs. For instance, it could decrease the number of delegates from 1,000 to 600 or decrease the number of days the assembly meets. It also could make greater use of technology and consider other cost-saving measures.
For the first time, delegates agreed (504-406) to save money by eliminating the right of individuals to petition General Conference. All petitions now must be submitted by a local church council or a larger unit of The United Methodist Church.
Apportionment fund formula
Delegates continued the present apportionment formula that provides a percentage adjustment based on the economic strength in a conference, which is based on per-capita income in the area, and local church costs divided by the number of people in attendance.
They also approved a requirement that general agencies receiving general church funds provide an annual report on the names of people receiving funds as outside contractors and the amounts paid.