Financial Leadership Forum

This week along with a team of folks from the Central Texas Conference, I attended the Financial Leadership Forum.  This was a nation-wide gathering of leaders with conference finances (Chairs of Pension, The Council on Finance and Administration, Treasurers, Lay Leaders, Board of Ministry Chairs etc. – from CTC Harvey Ozmer, Randy Wild, Frank Briggs, Steve McIver, Georgia Adamson, Mike McKee & I).  The purpose of the Forum was to “better understand the current financial realities and challenges facing The United Methodist Church.” Lead by an interagency team from the General Board of Pensions and the General Council on Finance and Administration, there was much talk about “right sizing” the churches fiscal obligations and aspirations.  “Since the formation of the UMC in 1868: 1) giving and spending (per capita and total) and net assets have increased dramatically; and 2) membership, attendance, professions of faith, and number of children and youth have decreased.”  You don’t need to be a genius to see that those two trends cannot simultaneously continue.  Accordingly we must change.  We can either engage in directed change now while we have the strength or later have the change direct us because we failed to face realities and act when the opportunity was still available.  “Time is short,” the Forum reported.  “There is urgency in moving forward.” We examined the increasing fixed operational cost in things like pension and health benefits, growing congregational debt, and ministerial obligations (think guaranteed appointment).  Without deep change, the way we are doing business is unsustainable.  By way of analogy, the UMC is in the same position as General Motors and/or Ford.  We are doing great ministry!  We can’t continue to operate the same way we have been.
  • Consider:  In the Central Texas Conference raising cost of health insurance, and especially health insurance for retired pastors is growing far faster than inflation.  CTC pays up to 50% of retires health insurance premium based on a graduated formula tied to years of service.
  • Consider: It takes about an average worship attendance of 125 to support the health and pension side of clergy compensation (for an elder).  “In 2007, fewer than 8,700 churches (of approximately 33,000) reported an average attendance of 100 or more.
  • Consider: “The UMC incurs costs of $2.1 million if the person has a full career (entering ministry at age 25) and $1.6 million if the person has a partial career (entering ministry at age 45).
In business terms, we need to right size our work force. We spent considerable time looking at the strategic change “levers” which need to be employed.  Some of those levers we in the Central Texas Conference are already engaged in – restricting, moving into mission field appointments, etc.  Others will become a part of our ongoing conversation. It is important to remember that even while we have been declining, we have been and are doing great ministry!  God is moving in our midst.  “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) This link will take you to the majority of program materials used during the forum.