Let’s Talk: About Per Capita Giving
At the May Conference Council meeting, just over a week ago, Council members reviewed the 2019 budget that will be presented for approval at this year’s Annual Gathering. You may remember that last year we appealed to churches to consider an increase in their giving to Our Church’s Wider Mission, especially in light of a large decrease in giving between 2014 and 2015. (I was told that prior to my arrival three years ago, churches had increased their commitments to Our Church’s Wider Mission with a request that two Associate Conference Ministers be called to support the work of our churches.) Our appeal at last year’s Annual Gathering was based on our case statement that the work our churches are supporting through contributions to Our Church’s Wider Mission has proven vital and important.
Your giving last year demonstrated that you agreed. Our Church’s Wider Mission contributions did increase in 2017 by more than $60,000 over 2016 and we are grateful for this indication that the work of our Conference staff and our Conference ministries is valuable to you. Thank you! This is an outstanding financial expression of the covenant we share together as Conference.
However, it is important to acknowledge that 2017 giving was still about $30,000 less than in 2014. This led to a long conversation among Council members about the budget proposal that will be presented to our delegates at Annual Gathering this year. An additional modest increase in Our Church’s Wider Mission giving is anticipated, the budget was trimmed where it could be, and some other adjustments were made in light of changes to the national pattern of giving approved by General Synod in 2017. These decisions went a long way in being able to present to you a budget proposal that is balanced.
And, there is one other addition in the budget proposal that Council wanted to make sure was shared with you now, ahead of Annual Gathering, in order to give our delegates plenty of time for prayerful consideration. This addition is a $5 per capita gift in addition to your church’s contribution to Our Church’s Wider Mission. This per capita gift will go specifically to offset one of our most important ministry line items in the budget—our youth and outdoor ministries line item.
Our camping and youth programs are vital not only to our youth but to the entire church because the commitment of our youth to spreading love and justice is something we see today and will continue to see long into the future. Many of us have camp or youth event stories from our own lives that have shaped us and nurtured us into the faithful people we are today. And, yet, in order to support our youth and these programs and to keep the costs of camp as low as possible to allow all of our youth an opportunity to attend, we need help. Our youth and outdoor ministry line item expenditures fall well below the revenue line item every year. A $5 per capita contribution in addition to a church’s contribution to Our Church’s Wider Mission will provide the revenue needed to continue to allow our youth and outdoor ministries to thrive.
If churches do not support this, will our camping program or youth event programming be cut? No, of course not. But, cuts will need to be made and that decision will not be easy. We have been making up the annual deficit with surplus that had been saved during the interim, prior to my being called as Conference Minister and prior to our enacting the request of Annual Gathering delegates to call our Associate Conference Ministers. That surplus is mostly gone and now we need to figure this out together.
Per capita giving is not new among the Conferences in the United Church of Christ. I first learned that other Conferences have been doing this for years. Many of them earmark it to support particular ministries in their budget but some ask for it in addition to Our Church’s Wider Mission giving without any designation. Council members felt designating it for this important ministry was a way to invite churches to participate in this vital ministry in a new way. It will also allow us to balance our overall budget which provides resources and support to local churches seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ in our Communities and to the work we all do together to be a witness for God’s justice and love in all the world.
I invite you to prayerfully consider this in the days leading up to Annual Gathering and welcome your questions, concerns and thoughts.