By Melissa Lauber & Erik Alsgaard
Because the COVID-19 pandemic caused wide variations in how financial challenges were met by churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, the Council on Finance and Administration (CFA) is making an adjustment to the Mission Share formula to ensure congregations do not experience wide swings in their connectional giving.
The traditional calculation would have taken the 2020 Mission Share Base and multiplied it by the current Benevolence Factor of 17.55 percent. Because of the challenges presented by COVID-19, CFA determined this was not a feasible option.
The Council, led by Phil Potter and the Rev. Daryl Williams, announced earlier this month that the 2022 Mission Share goals will be calculated by taking the average Mission Share base for three years (2018, 2019, and 2020) and then multiplying that number by the BWC’s 17.55 percent Benevolence Factor.
During the pandemic, many “churches overwhelmingly reduced their expenses in 2020. We also found that the data changes between churches were quite erratic as each BWC church navigated a rather unique stewardship path during the pandemic,” said Dave Schoeller, the BWC business analyst.
“As a council, we wanted to ensure that ministry was funded but also be sensitive to the funding fluctuations churches faced in 2020,” said Williams, CFA Vice-Chair. “We believe this approach allows relief for local churches in the short term and stable planning for churches and the conference in the long term. For now, plans are to use this three-year average for 2022 only. However, if it is helpful for churches in the future, this arrangement might be extended.”
“This process honors the fact that churches reduced their expenses by an average of seven percent in 2020,” said Schoeller. “But it also limits the extent to which different church scenarios during the pandemic will influence the distribution of the 2022 Mission Share goals between churches.”
Mission Shares are the lifeblood of The United Methodist Church. Each year, every congregation pays a portion — a percentage — of the funds they spend on themselves to enable life-transforming ministries beyond the local church. In most cases, about 10 to 11 cents of every dollar put in the collection plate or given online go to Mission Shares.
“Because of your faithful Mission Share support in the past, we were able to give relief to churches when this crisis came,” said Williams. He noted that in the early days of the pandemic, the BWC relieved financial strain for churches by taking on pension and benefit payments for three months. Tech grants totaling more than $180,000 were given out to help churches pivot to online worship. The BWC also helped with salary assistance for part-time pastors and the finance staff offered consultation sessions so churches could learn about services and implement them.
In addition, Peace with Justice micro-grants totaling $43,350 empowered 90 churches to assist with COVID-19 related ministries.
The BWC’s finance office, at the start of the pandemic, initiated a program to help churches grow in their online giving capabilities. From May to September 2020, the conference assisted 32 churches get started with accepting gifts online, according to Kayla Spears, Business Data Administrator. More than $74,000 in tithes and offerings were received by those churches as a result. The conference made the program fee-free for the first 60 days.
Training Tuesdays are another resource the BWC provided during the pandemic, made possible by Mission Shares. These online webinars began small in 2019 but became must-see viewing in March 2020, according to the Rev. Bill Brown, director of New Faith Expressions for the BWC. He and the Rev. Rodney Smothers, director of Leadership and Congregational Development, have hosted 34 Training Tuesday’s thus far, all of them free. More than 8,400 people registered for the webinars, and there have been more than 10,000 views.
In compiling the 2022 budget, CFA also suggested that the Benevolence Factor stay at 17.55 percent and that the Collection Rate increase from 87.5 percent to 89 percent. This increase reflects the generous giving churches demonstrated so far this year. When discussing the Benevolence Factor, committee members noted that when the overall Collection Rate recovers to the BWC normal, which is greater than 90 percent, future reductions in the Benevolence Factor are likely.
The approved Mission Share income for 2022 is $13,104,912, a 0.5 percent increase over the 2021 budget. This will be the second year that the budget has been between $13.0-13.1M after the 9 percent reduction from $14.0-14.3M in 2019 and 2020.
All of these changes will be officially approved, along with a 2022 spending budget of $18,145,697, at the Annual Conference Session Oct. 25-27 at the Hilton Hotel in Baltimore.