Methodist Giving

Analyzing the Uneven Decline of UMC Finances

on March 3, 2020

With a split within the United Methodist Church (UMC) a real possibility on the horizon, the financial future of the church is already on shaky ground, which could make any possible unity based on the current denominational structure difficult and complicated. High tensions across the connection combined with continued drops in attendance and membership across the US led to expectations of greatly decreased giving, and a recent giving summary and memo from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), previously reported on by UMNS and by Mark Tooley, project a difficult next quadrennium for the denomination. While a decline in giving to the church in 2019 comes as no surprise, the differences in giving varied across the board, so it is worth examining the most dramatic drops and the few rises that occurred.

Total giving to all UMC “General Funds” – denomination-wide apportionments, Special Sunday offerings, and General Advance Special gifts (including much of UMCOR’s income), plus a couple denomination-wide “outreach funds” – plummeted just shy of 11 percent from 2018 to 2019, as seen at the bottom of the first page of the giving summary. But this is actually a less dramatic change than many expected. All general-church apportionment giving combined, which generally receives the most attention, dropped 7.6 percent. These figures do not include regional apportionments or local-church giving apart from any apportionments.  [NOTE: This paragraph has been updated to make clear that these figures apply only to denomination-wide “general-church” funds and not other categories of local funds. We regret any confusion.]

In small glimmers of positive trends bucking the overall pattern, three US annual conferences saw increased general-church apportionment giving rates last year. New Mexico moved from 65 percent to 75 percent, Northwest Texas jumped from 55 percent to 65 percent, and Memphis saw a modest increase of 83 percent to 86 percent. Northwest Texas is one of the most conservative conferences in the United States, some would say the most conservative, and had consistently been one of the lowest apportionment givers in recent years.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, four conferences saw dramatic drops in the proportion of requested general-church apportionments they gave, three in the North Central Jurisdiction. In Indiana, where there has been mistrust stemming from the aggressive liberalism of the bishop and other conference leaders, this giving went down from 100 percent to 80 percent, or just over $1 million. After giving 100 percent of apportionments in 2018 year, liberal-leaning Michigan (where over two-thirds of 2019 conference session voting members expressed support for liberalizing church standards on sexual morality) went down all the way to 78 percent. Similarly, the Western Jurisdiction’s Mountain Sky conference, led by controversial same-sex married Karen Oliveto (whose occupancy of the bishop’s office remains contested), saw a decrease from 100 percent to 78.5 percent giving to general-church funds.

However, none of these compare to Northern Illinois, which plummeted from an already below-average 72 percent general-church apportionment giving in 2018 to a US-low 35 percent last year. Last year, Chicago Area resident bishop Sally Dyck, known for supporting resistance to the Discipline, oversaw the ordination of the UMC’s first openly “non-binary trans person,” M Barclay, as a deacon, as well as commissioned two more openly LGBTQ individuals as provisional deacons. At their 2019 annual conference gathering, a straw poll revealed in a vote of 441 to 79 a preference for a future of full LGBTQ affirmation over following the Discipline as amended in 2019. The conference also approved its Consent Calendar, which included several pieces of legislation to be sent to General Conference in support of the Simple Plan, which would remove all prohibitions on the marriage or ordination of LGBTQ persons. As John Lomperis reported last year, the Simple Plan is also notable in that it would “remove official church teaching and some related standards for clergy that premarital sex and adultery are wrong.” Their lowest-in-the-country giving levels were in part a result of the annual conference voting to suspend payments to the General Administration Fund “until changes are made to the structure and practices of the General Conference.” You can read more about that decision on the conference’s webpage here. Only Northern Illinois’ giving the World Service Fund was anywhere near normal levels.

A few conservative-leaning conferences showed continued high-levels of paying apportionments. South Carolina stayed at an above average rate, dropping only slightly from 91 percent to 90 percent of requested general-church funds paid. Impressively, the Susquehanna Conference, located in central Pennsylvania, and the West Virginia Annual Conference both remained at 100 percent giving, serving as good examples of conservative conferences pulling their own full weight.

Taking a wider view, overall apportionment giving went down across the US and globally. The clear domestic trend among the five U.S. jurisdictions is that each of them saw a decrease in giving. The generally liberal-leaning Northeastern Jurisdiction had the highest percentage of general-church apportionments paid in both of the past two years, and was far ahead of all others in 2019 with 96 percent paid, only slightly below its 2018 rate of 98 percent. No other jurisdiction even reached 85 percent in 2019. However, these jurisdictional patterns did not cleanly follow any pattern along ideological or theological lines. For example, in contrast to the Northeastern Jurisdiction, the liberal-leaning North Central Jurisdiction and radically progressive Western Jurisdiction both saw large drops of about 11 percent from 2018 to 2019. The South Central Jurisdiction and Southeastern Jurisdiction, known to be comparatively more conservative, particularly the latter, saw their giving to general-church funds drop 6 percent and 3 percent, respectively. On the whole, giving from the Central Conferences dropped 7 percent, from 65 percent in 2018 to 58 percent last year.

It is worth noting that the highly progressive and very small-in-membership Western Jurisdiction is asked to carry a much lighter financial load than the other jurisdictions in one key area, contributing to the Episcopal Fund. This jurisdiction has long been not only the only one that pays nothing to support Central Conference bishops, it also relies on the other four U.S. jurisdictions to cover for its oversupply of five bishops, which have given a region with few churches and members disproportionate influence in the UMC.

In light of the GCFA memo stating that US bishops cost $1.4 million per quadrennium (see the bottom of page 2), or $350,000 per year, it’s noteworthy that a number of episcopal areas did not give enough to cover the expenses of even their own bishop last year, much less to help offset costs for central conferences.

None of the Western Jurisdiction annual conferences gave their episcopal areas at least $350,000 last year, however that is in large part due to the system setting apportionment budgets below that figure, with the exception of California-Pacific. California-Pacific paid roughly $328K, California-Nevada paid $312K (100 percent), the three conferences of the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area paid $297K (100 percent), Desert-Southwest paid $129K, and Mountain Sky $311K (100 percent). Though the WJ has relatively few members, their five bishops, whose salaries and other expenses are simply not covered by those they serve, give the jurisdiction an oversized influence in the denomination.

A very similar pattern emerges in the liberal-leaning Northeast Jurisdiction, whose conferences are also not all asked to support costs of even their own bishops. Four episcopal areas in this jurisdiction were not self-funding, however they all gave 100 percent of the apportioned amount. The first two listed are some of the most liberal outside of the WJ: New England gave $245K (100 percent), New York $282K (100 percent), Upper New York $321K (100 percent), and West Virginia $246K (100 percent). This second-most-liberal jurisdiction has also been privileged with a disproportionately high number of bishops, more than its numbers can justify, and consequently has gained influence in the denomination.

In the North Central Jurisdiction, the combined giving of the Dakotas and Minnesota annual conferences did not reach $350K for their episcopal area, combining to give about $216K. Northern Illinois gave only $71K to the Episcopal Fund, falling significantly short, and paid less into episcopal fund than overall apportionments. Lastly, Wisconsin gave just $206K in 2019.

In the South Central Jurisdiction, Northwest Texas and New Mexico combined to give $293K for their episcopal area, even though New Mexico gave 100 percent, while Central Texas gave $331K and Louisiana gave $302K.

Finally, in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, Kentucky and Red Bird combined to give $300K to the Episcopal Fund, and South Georgia $283K.

Beneath the numbers it is important to remember that numerous congregations across the spectrum have experienced losses for various reasons, and so non-payment of apportionments is for many primarily a matter of financial pressures or even necessity. Walter Fenton, Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association, reminded the United Methodist world last year that low apportionment giving can come from a variety of reasons, and it’s impossible to know each church’s decision from this macro-level data: “The reasons they do not do so run from a simple lack of funds, the need to direct dollars to a major physical plant repair, the desire to prioritize a new children’s ministry program, and yes, as a message to the general church regarding their displeasure with its direction.”

Particularly in the past few years, a number of conservative congregations big and small have withheld giving because of how trust has been broken by bishops and agencies actively working to undermine the church’s faithfulness and to encourage “resistance” to the very standards they are charged with upholding. The sentiment is perhaps best explained in the Faithful UMC clergy letter:

“Many of us struggle every year to defend to our members why we should pay apportionments that support boards such as the General Board of Church and Society that regularly lobbies and writes legislation to change the church’s position regarding the practice of homosexuality. If we ever come to the point that we are having to explain why the church is not holding those who break the Discipline accountable in a real way, we may no longer be able to convince our members of the wisdom of contributing to the general ministries of a church that seems bent on its own destruction.”

While many progressive churches have withheld apportionment giving because they see a lack of concrete progressive action in the US church, some liberal leaders have called for defunding support for Central Conferences, who tend to have more traditional views and who sent a vast majority of traditional delegates to General Conference 2019. Bruce Birch, Dean Emeritus of Wesley Theological Seminary, wrote an open letter to non-US delegates that voted for the Traditional plan, and said that he “must withdraw at this time from further partnership in ministry with your conferences.” You can read the rest of his letter here. Bishop Grant Hagiya acknowledged in a public letter posted on the California-Pacific Annual Conference website last April that many in his conference “want to demonstrate their rejection of what happened at General Conference is through withholding or redirecting their apportionment contributions” and endorsed such action as “an important act of resistance.” In the letter he also announced he was advising the conference’s council on finance and administration to create an alternate World Service Fund that would allow local churches to steer funds to areas of the church that are pro-LGBTQ.

However, this has not been a uniform belief among progressives, as the Bishop’s Extended Cabinet of the California-Nevada Annual Conference asserted publicly last July that withholding general and jurisdictional apportionments “lacks integrity and courage” as a form of resistance and is “manipulative and coercive” towards Central Conferences.

Last year’s financial numbers show that likely more than ever many United Methodists across the theological spectrum are displeased with how the denomination is being run at present and that they are voicing their displeasure by redirecting their giving.

(MARCH 22, 2021 UPDATE: We have recently been informed by GCFA that, contrary to the expectations in their memo cited above, the cost per U.S. bishop in 2019 ended up being $335,000 rather than $350,000. However, each of the 17 U.S. episcopal areas noted above as paying less than $350,000 also paid less than $335,000 into the Episcopal Fund in 2019.  So the fact remains that these areas did not fully pay for their own bishops or make any net contributions to support bishops outside of the USA.)

  1. Comment by John Smith on March 3, 2020 at 7:00 am

    The finances are a mess, reflecting the denomination. No one knows what either is going to do, except decline. There really aren’t even general trends from which to draw usable lessons. About the only real lesson I see is if the conservatives leave the UMC won’t have to argue about defunding the Central Conferences because they won’t have any money. The CC that elected to support the proposed split are going to be disappointed once the financials of the new denominations solidify.

    Although the discussion about the Bishops and the Episcopal fund I kept wondering how you can keep them if you can’t pay for them. Surely there must be a return policy? Given how much the Bishops have initiated/created, supported and sustained the turmoil within the UMC wouldn’t that be the best policy? If the people don’t want to pay for them maybe its time to do away with them?

  2. Comment by Patrick98 on March 3, 2020 at 9:03 am

    Dan, thankyou for acknowledging that some of the drop in giving is due to congregational loss. The small town in North Dakota where I grew up in the 1960s and 70s had a population then of about 1000 people, and four churches (one United Methodist). The population now is 700, and alas, the Methodist church has closed, leaving a Lutheran, Catholic, and Church of the Nazarene.

    One example does not explain it all, but thankyou for acknowledging that there are many reasons for what is happening.

  3. Comment by JR on March 3, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    You mention that 2 jurisdictions have an oversupply of Bishops. Is that based on overall membership, number of churches, or other criteria? Just curious.

  4. Comment by Vivian Hiestand on March 3, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    JR – as I understand it, the WJ has more bishops per capita (based on membership), especially when compared to African Central Conferences.

  5. Comment by JR on March 4, 2020 at 12:28 pm

    I would think that’s true, if only because the African explosion across the last decade or two – we’ve seen growth and there is a natural lag in the administration. Similarly, I think that the WJ has probably has some shrinkage (NE as well), but I think that there is probably similar lag. I wonder if the WJ higher proportion is due to a hope that more growth can be found.

  6. Comment by Rick on March 26, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    The large number of bishops in the WJ has been justified because the low population density in the 8 conferences (or 13 states plus territories in the Pacific region) requires significant travel and other budgetary necessities not required in more population rich areas.

    The unfortunate side effect of this (need?) is that a VERY SMALL jurisdiction (by membership) has a VERY LARGE ability to influence how the church operates when compared with the other US jurisdictions in the UMC.

    As an example: each bishop in the WJ only represents ~40K members, while each bishop in the SEJ represents ~ 213K members, each bishop in the SCJ represents ~165K members, each bishop in the NCJ represents ~120K members, and each bishop in the NEJ represents ~ 120K members.

    As a comparison note, the average numbers of members each bishop in the African region supports is 324K, or 8 times the number supported by each WJ bishop.

  7. Comment by Pat on March 3, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    The Methodist church I was raised in where my parents were faithful and Sunday School teachers long ago ceased to exist. My dad’s parents were Methodists for many years and I am glad they did not live long enough to see the decline of the church they loved so much! Responsibility belongs to those with the assignment to enforce the Book of Discipline, preach Christ, as John Wesley preached. Currently I am in a church where our pastor preaches from the Bible each Sunday, leads Bible studies, and truly loves his congregation and all are welcome. I personally believe the lack of Biblical courage by our US Bishops has lead the Methodist church in the USA to this point. They are over paid, focused on politics and I believe supporting a false message with regard to what the Bible says regarding gay marriage and gay ordination. Giving is down and when the church splits giving, I believe, giving will follow those staying in the traditional Methodist churches or those who simply leave and find new churches. Breaks my heart. Praying I am wrong, but I have watched the split develop and a split seems a foregone conclusion. Conference in May will be interesting and probably life changing for our church.

  8. Comment by William on March 3, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    This separation is squarely at the feet of USA bishops. They are the ONLY appointed law enforcers. They miserably failed at this. In fact, too many of them joined the dark side and worked against the church and showed abject contempt for General Conference from their places of detachment and insulation. They did this by taking full advantage of a structure that could not discipline them, and they cashed in on that. They abdicated their responsibility. To this day they continue pretending to be leaders by going through busy looking motions and charades that have little or nothing to do with the mission of the church while refusing to accept any responsibility for this tragedy. There’s not another organization on the planet that would not have outright dismissed a number of them.

  9. Comment by JR on March 4, 2020 at 12:34 pm

    “…what the Bible says regarding gay marriage and gay ordination.”

    I’m not aware that the Bible actually specifically says anything on those two points.

    “I am in a church where our pastor preaches from the Bible each Sunday, leads Bible studies, and truly loves his congregation and all are welcome.”

    Pretty sure your Bible quotes are going to run aground here, just warning you ahead of time.

  10. Comment by Jim on March 4, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    You have apparently never read the Bible.

  11. Comment by Pat on March 4, 2020 at 6:25 pm

    Thank you Jim. The Bible is very specific regarding marriage and homosexuality. I am not judging. But, the Bible is real and God will be the judge. Not concerned what others may say. I know what the Old Testament states and that is all I need to know.

  12. Comment by JR on March 5, 2020 at 9:13 am

    How does the OT exactly say you are to treat homosexuals?

    Do you follow those rules?

    C’mon, this is easy stuff. Next we’ll move on to the other rules that you aren’t obeying.

  13. Comment by JR on March 5, 2020 at 9:12 am

    I have, actually.

    Please give me some references regarding gay marriage and gay ordination.

    Shouldn’t be hard, right?

  14. Comment by William on March 5, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

  15. Comment by David Gingrich on March 7, 2020 at 7:49 am

    No doubt the bishops are a problem. But the UMC’s problems started in the seminaries. I pray that the leaders of the new traditionalist Methodists will have the wisdom to keep seminaries faithful.

  16. Comment by Jim on March 4, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    The exodus of believers from the UMC is accelerating. I know of 3 families that are 25 plus years in a congregation who just made their final decision to leave and worship in a non UMC setting where the scriptures are actually taught. The homosexual issue was just a tipping point for a denomination that has adopted a “be a better person” gospel rather than teaching the whole Bible. If you’re an authentic believer and you know you should leave this religious denomination but tradition and friendships hold you back you’re not heeding the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

  17. Comment by JR on March 5, 2020 at 9:14 am

    Pop quiz:

    1) name the two most important commandments.
    2) explain why.

  18. Comment by Jim on March 5, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    Love is your point Dr. JR
    And as you know the believers’ love is to offer the Good News. Welcome the sinner to hear the Gospel, to repent and turn from their wicked ways (e.g. adultery; pedophilia; drunkenness; wife and child abuse; theft; lying; abortion/infanticide; and oh yes same sex relationships !) You are familiar with Paul’s letters aren’t you professor? You choose to reject the gospel- that’s your decision to make.

  19. Comment by David Gingrich on March 7, 2020 at 7:52 am

    1) You know the answer, JR.
    2) Because God is love and wants what is best for every human. Our job is to lovingly help others reject sin and pursue faithfulness. The Word is clear that homosexuality is sin. We love homosexuals not their sin, as we do not love the sin of all sinners.

  20. Comment by Jim on March 5, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    Love is your point Dr. JR
    And as you know the believers’ love is to offer the Good News. Welcome the sinner to hear the Gospel, to repent and turn from their wicked ways (e.g. adultery; pedophilia; drunkenness; wife and child abuse; theft; lying; abortion/infanticide; and oh yes same sex relationships !) You are familiar with Paul’s letters aren’t you professor? You choose to reject the gospel- that’s your decision to make.

  21. Comment by Brother Thom on March 6, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    Based on everything I have read and seen, I forecast there is no way for the post May 2020 UMC to survive under any construct. Following the GCFA announcement that they will be doing a live update to the 2020 budget from the GC 2020 floor, and their admission that they have no clear idea of what’s going to happen, I see a complete collapse of the post May UMC.

    I believe it will be a slow painful death for progressives as they see greater numbers of congregations than expected leave to join the new traditional denomination. At the end of the day this comes down to “how does the new UMC grow.” Well that answer is pretty clear. Families shopping for a new church may be reluctant to the new UMC on their list.

    The UMC brand has been tarnished for decades and now the liberal media has branded the new UMC as the new gay denomination. With only 4.5 percent of the population expressing themselves as LGBQTIA+ the new UMC has a pretty small recruiting pool to begin with.

    Progressives has fought to retain as much of the UMC as they could get, and in reality what whey will have is a debt cash cow they can’t afford to feed.

  22. Comment by William on March 8, 2020 at 7:38 pm

    To Which Methodist Denomination Do You Wish To Belong?
    Please Check ✔️ One

    ——— A Progressive Denomination

    1. LGBTQ identified persons welcomed into full-inclusion with their committed sexual relationships affirmed, thus freeing them from the call of repentance for the forgiveness of previously considered sins —- a revised understanding of love and grace derived from new progressive perspective , contextual, and evolving Biblical interpretations — while having an undefined position regarding the sexual practices and lifestyles of the heterosexual community outside those of a man and a woman in marriage.

    2. Believe in a new understanding of marriage to include same-sex marriage derived from new progressive perspective, contextual, and evolving Biblical interpretations —- accompanied by same-sex marriage ceremonies inside the church sanctuaries, conducted by the church clergy.

    3. Full inclusion of LGBTQ candidates seeking licensing and ordination into the ministry who are in committed LGBTQ sexual relationships while having an undefined position for heterosexual candidates engaged in committed sexual relationships outside those of heterosexual marriage.

    ———- A Traditional Denomination

    1. LGBTQ identified persons and heterosexual identified persons welcomed equally into full-inclusion (Wesleyan Prevenient Grace) in order to partake of repentance preached in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins, including the sins of sexual immorality, and be recipients of salvation (Wesleyan Justifying Grace), thus becoming anew or born again in Jesus in order to pursue, with the help of the Holy Spirit, holiness (Wesleyan Sanctifying Grace) — the historic, universal, and Wesleyan Christian understanding of the Good News Gospel.

    2. Believe in God’s created order for marriage as only that between a man and a woman as Jesus described and emphasized when he said — “haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate”.

    3. Believe in the traditional, historic, universal, and Wesleyan Biblical standards of sexual behavior for candidates seeking licensing and ordination into the ministry as those practicing fidelity in heterosexual marriage and celibacy in singleness.

  23. Comment by Donald on March 7, 2020 at 9:31 am

    As a general principle, Progressives / Liberals in all denominations and in secular politics are very good at spending other peoples money and not so good about spending their own money to support non-profits. The most interesting thing in all of this is that when Progressives / Liberal UMC’s threatened the African / Global South churches to take away their funding, their response appears to be “take your money and go!”

  24. Comment by Carlson on March 10, 2020 at 8:46 pm

    The Lord gave the reproductive system to women . A man and woman are to multiple the earth. The digestive system of a man was not intended by God to be a sexual cavity.

  25. Comment by Paul Rudolph on March 26, 2020 at 7:04 pm

    I have decided not to donate any further to our UMC church. It is clear that the hierarchy of our church does not read or believe the bible. It is embarrassing to even discuss things with those persons because they do not know enough about scripture to even have a coherent argument. Paul is clear about who goes to heaven and who does not. One either believes the inspired word of God or one does not. One cannot have a reasonable conversation with those who not believe the Bible. If the UMC crashes, those who believe and follow the Bible will do fine. The others will not.

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