News and Views

CFA bring faith to finance with 2024 budget

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By Melissa Lauber

This spring, the Baltimore-Washington Conference Council on Finance and Administration gathered, via Zoom and in-person at the Mission Center, to vote on a proposed budget for 2024. That meeting was like most of their other meetings as the 11 council members, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, and the stewardship staff came together under the leadership of Chairperson Phil Potter, a retired attorney and lobbyist from National UMC in Washington, D.C., and Paul Eichelberger, a former Naval officer and corporate executive and member of Mt. Carmel UMC in Frederick, who serves as the BWC’s Chief Financial Officer.

The members of the CFA were chosen for their financial acumen and willingness to use their expertise to create a thriving connectional church. Each person takes their responsibility to tend to the household and bank accounts of God seriously. Potter opened the meeting with a simple prayer: “We’re going to be working on your budget today, Lord,” and asking for God’s blessing on their work.

Equation sets churches’ future

Each year, CFA members call upon Scripture, reason, tradition, experience, and sound stewardship principles, to discern the best numbers to insert into an “apportionment formula.” That formula is crafted by CFA using an interesting mixture of mathematics and theology. When the members’ work is completed, congregations know how deeply they can participate in supporting the mission and ministries of God that reach beyond the local church.

This is the equation that grounds their work:

Mission share base x benevolence factor x collection rate = mission share income

Every local church in this region also has a formula:

Local church base x benevolence factor = mission share payment

For example: If a church spent $114,613 on itself, and the benevolence factor was 17.45 percent, the church would contribute $20,000 in mission shares (114,613 x 17.45% = $20,000).

But this math can obscure a Gospel truth: when this formula is lived out, the kin-dom of God unfolds as churches unite to do more together than they ever could alone. One church’s payments might enable migrants to find safe sanctuary, provide retirees with quality medical care, give assistance to local churches that suffer from natural and man-made disasters, and support missionaries around the globe. Another church’s payments could build new faith communities, comfort and enliven people living with HIV/AIDS, lend a voice for justice in the halls of legislation and place well-trained, faithful pastors in pulpits.

The interconnected web of good and life-transforming things paid for by mission shares is staggering. It reaches into the heart of who we are as children of God. It also takes CFA servant leaders to figure out how to build this connection, while also honoring and empowering the distinct and contextual ministries of each of the BWC’s 1,025 clergy and 135,000 lay members in 603 local churches.

What the numbers mean

So here it is again:

Mission share base x benevolence factor x collection rate = mission share income 

The mission share base is determined by the statistics every congregation submits in the fall. The money the church spends on itself, on keeping the doors open, (but not the funds it spends on outreach and mission) is added up.

 For those with an eye for detail, the costs included in the mission share formula include the pastor’s compensation and housing allowance, pastor’s reimbursements, church staff and benefits, church program, church operating expenses; it does not include the pastor’s pension and benefits, mission giving, capital expenditures or church utility expenses due to community outreach.

Shared wisdom said the mission share base might rise a bit, perhaps 1 percent, in 2022, given that churches were recovering from the pandemic and beginning to reenter the mission field. However, CFA members were astonished to learn that the mission share base in the BWC rose by 4.71 percent to $82,763,421.

The benevolence factor is the percentage of a local church’s mission share base that CFA members ask churches to pay. It is the prayer of many CFA members that one day, this figure might equal a tithe – that churches might give 10 percent of the money they spend on themselves to the connection. This prayer is a work in progress as they seek to balance their wishes with the financial needs of the denominational and conference budgets.

For 2024, they are proposing a 17.45 percent benevolence factor. That’s a reduction from last year’s 17.5 percent – not a huge reduction, but members hope it makes a difference.

The collection rate is defined by how much of their apportioned mission shares churches pay. In financially healthier days, the money collected was routinely 90 percent or more of what was asked of churches. For 2024, CFA members are expecting to receive 87 percent of money that churches have covenanted to give.

It’s important to note that most local congregations give 100 percent of their mission shares.

Budget as ministry portrait

The mission share formula allows CFA members to create a proposed budget, which will be voted on by clergy and lay members from every church at the June Annual Conference meeting.

This year, the equation – $82.8M x 17.45% x 87% = $12.6M – creates a budget of $12.6 million. Other funds will be added from grants, event registration and other sources, bringing the BWC’s proposed total budget to $18,107,147, which will fund personnel and ministries in the areas of leadership, discipleship and stewardship. (See the proposed budget.)

When one adds in revenue from other sources, like grants and registration fees, the income portion of the proposed 2024 budget totals $18,107,147.

CFA members crafted this budget carefully – balancing needs, vision and challenges. They are on a strategic “flightpath” to decrease conference spending to address the effects of potential disaffiliations – churches leaving the denomination because they disagree with its stance on human sexuality.

At their budget meeting, CFA members were made aware that, to date, 13 BWC churches have spoken with their district superintendents and are scheduling meetings to vote on disaffiliation. For planning purposes, they made calculations as if there might be as many as 20. This is good news for many of the more tenured members of CFA who remember a few years ago doing financial modeling and forecasting as many as 90 churches leaving.

The CFA members also are constantly monitoring the effect that COVID had on giving in local churches and how congregations have responded, and continue to respond, to the effects of the pandemic.

Jean Lee of Back River UMC in Essex is a relatively new member to CFA. She is one of several people on the council learning the depths of the budget process.  She is proud of how stewardship and ministry merge as CFA “directs the conference how to spend in a manner that enables our conference to equip, teach, send, and support disciples and leaders.”

 Ken Ow of North Bethesda UMC has worked in finance for decades and serves on both the Conference and denomination’s Council on Finance and Administration.  His experience has taught him that The United Methodist Church, working through CFA, “strives to do great things in forwarding God’s Kin-dom on earth, much more than we can do on our own.  … Our budgets tell the story of how individual churches, through their mission shares, reach throughout the world,” he said, “not just small local projects, but global efforts to provide projects like Methodist schools and disaster relief projects, as well as large projects such as Africa University.  CFA makes sure that your mission dollars are spent in areas that will have the greatest impact."

Janie Stevenson, St.John's of Baltimore UMC Apr 17, 2023 11:52am

Thank you for the details of how the apportionment is established and who faithfully works it all out for us.