United Methodist bishops received a sobering message during their autumn meeting. Without any changes, the fund that supports their work will run out of money in five years.
“Something else is going to have to happen for us to be able to balance the budget,” said Rick King, chief financial officer of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration. “The reserves, at the current collection rate, are essentially gone by the end of 2024.”
The United Methodist Church currently has 66 active bishops supported by the denomination’s Episcopal Fund.
King gave an overview of general church finances at the end of the Nov. 3-6 meeting of the Council of Bishops at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center in North Carolina.
Giving to the general church, King said, is down across the board.
The denomination’s annual conferences — church regional bodies — are each asked to pay apportionments that support the ministries of the general church. The conferences in turn ask for apportionments from their local churches.
General church apportionments go to seven funds that support bishops, ministerial education, most general agencies, general administration, and denomination-wide efforts such as the Black College Fund, ecumenical work and Africa University in Zimbabwe.
Overall, the seven general funds have received about $7.8 million less through October than they had at the same point in 2018. That represents a decrease of about 4 percentage points from last year, King said.
The Episcopal Fund alone is down about $1.1 million compared to the same time last year, he said.
If current trends hold, the General Council on Finance and Administration projects an 86.4% collection rate for the Episcopal Fund and an 82.9% collection rate for the other six funds in 2019.
To put that in perspective, the collection rate for total general church apportionments dropped to 84 percent in 2009, the last low point in United Methodist giving. That was during the recent global economic recession. UM News is supported by the World Service Fund, one of the seven general church funds.
The Episcopal Fund was the focus of King’s presentation to the bishops.
At an 85% collection rate, he said, the fund is essentially out of money by the end of 2024.
The fund covers the costs not only of bishops’ compensation but also their office staff, their ecumenical staff, their travel and their twice yearly meetings such as the one at Lake Junaluska.
Bishops don’t have a lot of ways to cut costs, King said. Some 81% of the fund’s total spending from the Episcopal Fund covers salaries, benefits, offices and housing, he said.
However, he also noted that any increases in giving could have a big impact.
King said every 1% change in the collection rate for the Episcopal Fund equates to about a $1 million over a quadrennium — the four-year period between regularly scheduled General Conference sessions.
General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, sets the general church budget.
Source: United Methodist News