United Methodism is increasingly likely to divide into separate traditional and liberal denominations. But even absent this division, the church was already heading towards sharp drops in funding for denominational structures, reflecting United Methodism’s ongoing drop in membership and resources. A recent memo from the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) outlined this reality.
GCFA is submitting to General Conference 2020 a quadrennial budget for United Methodism’s structures of $494 million, an 18% reduction from the 2017-2020 budget. These cuts include 35% for United Methodist Communications (UMCOM), 20% for General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), 20% for General Board of Higher Education, 15.5% for Discipleship Ministries (DM), 30% for Central Conference (overseas) Theological Education Fund, .5% for Commissions on the Status and Role of Women and Religion and Race, plus 87% for Interdenominational Fund, which contributes to National and World Councils of Churches.
Although not specifically in this GCFA memo, there’s a 33% proposed drop in funding for United Methodism’s 13 official seminaries. Another church documents admits this drop “should spur a needed conversation about whether or not we can continue to support 13 seminaries and all of our current licensing schools given declining resources.”
The GCFA memo notes that any denominational division will entail additional proportionate reductions. If 20% of USA membership joins a new traditional Methodist denomination, there would be a 20% decline for denominational structures, or an additional $99 million. Every one percent drop in membership potentially means a $5 million quadrennial drop in funding for the denomination.
I believe that at least 2 million USA United Methodists will join a new traditional denomination. Every year United Methodism loses nearly 100,000 members in the USA. During the chaos of the division, this decline will at least double, meaning at least 800,000 likely quite Methodism altogether over the next four years. These combined loses could equal or surpass over 40% of United Methodism’s current 6.7 million USA members. So by 2024 United Methodism’s national bureaucracy could face funding cuts of 60%.
GCFA notes that the proposed Protocol for division calls for United Methodism to pay $25 million to a new traditional denomination, and potentially $2 million to a new progressive denomination. Since GCFA’s proposed budget entails no cuts for the bishops and Africa University, among other projects, the cumulative cut for remaining church structures could be as much as $241 (49%) reduction, assuming a 20% membership drop. A 40% membership drop could ultimately entail a 70% funding drop for denominational structures.
Amid sharp budget cuts for United Methodist agencies, GCFA suggests bureaucratic consolidation, noting church agencies are currently in 5 cities and 10 separate buildings. Sale of some buildings and moving away from downtown “would realize a significant influx of cash” and “reduce overall cost of operation.” It also notes that their proposed budget sets $154 million (31% of total budget) for educational ministries and wonders if a “smaller denomination” should reduce this support.
GCFA notes that proposed funding for bishops in 2021-2024 is $98 million (20% of current proposed budget), up from $92 million (15% of the budget) in 2017-2020. If United Methodism loses 20% of membership, the Episcopal Fund then accounts for 25% of total proposed budget. It says current quadrennial costs for each USA bishop is $1.4 million in 46 Episcopal areas. Each of 5 USA jurisdictions is entitled to at least 5 bishops. Reducing that minimum by 1, or 5 bishops, would save $7 million per quadrennium. Europe has 4 bishops, each of which costs $1.5. African bishops, of whom there are currently 13 with 5 new Episcopal areas planned, cost $800,000 each. There are 3 Filipino bishops, each costing $800,000.
Salaries and benefits for bishops including retirees are $56 million per quadrennium, office support is $21 million, travel and other support is $5 million. Support for the Council of Bishops is $11 million per quadrennium, with their meetings costing $5 million.
Regarding the $25 million proposed for payment to a new traditional Methodist church and possibly $2 million for new progressive denomination, GCFA suggested these funds could come from increasing apportionments on local churches. Or they could come from reducing payments to church agencies, which would reduce their already scheduled reductions by an additional 7%. It also noted there’s real estate income from buildings owned by church agencies.
My prediction is that GCFA likely underestimates the sharp drop in funding for United Methodist structures over the next four years, with dramatic consequences for the United Methodist bureaucracy.