By Erik Alsgaard
Baltimore-Washington Conference churches once again rose to the occasion with robust stewardship efforts as the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) recently reported stronger than expected giving in 2020.
This, of course, despite the pandemic’s effects on in-person worship and a multitude of aspects affecting local church ministry.
For 2020, BWC churches contributed 82.6% of Mission Share giving, a stronger-than-expected number given the realities of earlier in the year, said Paul Eichelberger, Conference Treasurer. In terms of actual dollars, that percentage translates to $12,752,224 for mission and ministry across the conference.
Last December was one of only two months in 2020 that exceeded the monthly mission share budget, Eichelberger said. The other month was last September. Overall, Mission Shares were 9% less than budget.
Giving was also stronger in the last six months of 2020 than in the first six. From July through December, BWC churches contributed 87.8% of Mission Shares.
Still, the Mission Share giving for 2020 was $1.3 million less than budgeted, Eichelberger said. He also explained that the Conference budget was further complicated by the shuttering of the Retreat and Camping Ministries which created a net loss of $636,000 for the year, as the loss of $1.4 million in camping registrations was offset by expense reductions of $782,000.
A large reduction in BWC expenses paved the way for a strong financial picture at the end of the year. Those expense reductions included $859,000 in staff salary (covered by the PPP grant), staff benefits of $476,00 (PPP covered $231,000), camping reductions of $782,000, Discipleship Ministries reductions of $611,000, not holding an in-person Annual Conference Session ($175,000), and withholding Unified Funding Grants ($595,000). The over-all expense reduction came to $3.3 million, Eichelberger said.
That same stewardship strength was seen in the denomination, as United Methodist News reported that the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration collected about 79.3% of 2020 U.S. apportionments — requested shares of giving that support denomination-wide ministries and which, in the BWC, are called Mission Shares.
“We had almost $40 million in collections in December of 2020,” said Rick King, the Chief Financial Officer for the General Council on Finance and Administration. “As far as I can go back, that is the most dollars we have received in any month ever.”
Because of the strong stewardship here at home, monies will be targeted to assist the BWC’s retreat and camping ministry, which is expecting to see a shortfall in 2021 as the pandemic continues. In addition, money will be placed in reserve to help assure payment of conference debt, the “We Rise United” effort, and the clergy COVID-19 Sustentation Fund.
As a result of the pandemic, the BWC took part in the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program, as did many churches in the conference. The conference received about $1.2 million from the PPP. However, CFA recently announced that the conference is not eligible for the second round PPP because it did not see a 25% reduction in gross receipts for any quarter last year.
The 2021 shortfall in camping, Eichelberger said, is expected to be about $670,000. That’s due to the fixed costs associated with running these ministries, such as staff compensation, maintenance, and upkeep of buildings and property. Based on the strength of the 2020 expense reductions, the CFA designated reserves at the end of 2020 to cover the anticipated 2021 camping shortfall.
“Camping did a great job of reducing their expenses last year,” Eichelberger said, “but the fixed costs have to be absorbed.”
Registration for summer and day camping this year is now open, but what effect the pandemic has on this ministry is contingent on how it plays out between now and the warmer months.
Early data from last month indicate that Mission Share giving was the best it’s been in four years. January’s receipts show that $809,790 was contributed, about $72,000 over budget.
Coupled with the strong December 2020 collection rate, the January figure shows the beginning of a positive trend.
“Churches were making a decision in December to do their best to support the connection in 2020 while still providing some protection for 2021,” said Eichelberger, noting that there continues to be many variables in play when it comes to church financial stewardship. Those variables include the pandemic and possible disaffiliation of some churches after the postponed 2020 General Conference meets in late August. “CFA protected camps for 2021, and I think many churches have done the same within their own context. The large December is very optimistic.”
The 2021 budget was set by the 2020 Annual Conference Session at $13,034,887. The expected collection rate is 87.5%. CFA is scheduled to meet later this month to begin working on the 2022 budget.