2008 Economic Issues

In the past few weeks, some of the largest companies in the United States have gone the way of the dinosaur. The U. S. government bailed out a few, but government (meaning taxpayers) can’t bail out everyone. Times are hard.

In many churches, congregational giving is down compared to last year. Finance Committees are meeting now to decide 2009 budgets. As they prayerfully plan for next year, they are currently struggling to meet their 2008 budgets. Missionaries, church agencies, and even church members are asking for help. Gasoline and utility costs are rising. Churches are making 2008 budget adjustments as you read this and the forecast for 2009 is not good.

Many church members will not receive pay raises, yet costs continue to soar. Companies are doing away with bonuses and saying no to charities. Synovus Corporation, in Columbus, Georgia, is a $34 billion financial holding company and one of Fortune’s Top 100 Best Companies in 2007. Two weeks ago, they announced 650 job cuts. They had to make a quick, yet painful, decision to stay solvent.

The local church is also making quick adjustments. Will we cut programs? The programming budget is usually targeted first – but ministry suffers. What about operational costs? The church can’t cut insurance, electricity, gas, and other vital administrative costs without serious consequences. What about mortgages? Churches with mortgage debt cannot refuse to pay. Staff and salaries? Cutting staff or salaries carries a heavy price and may lead to decline. These choices are difficult, yet churches are making these sacrifices everyday – right now.

Apportionments will suffer. Churches may desire to pay 100% of their apportionments, but the money may not be there. When resources are severely limited and the choice is a mortgage, utilities, salaries, or apportionments – apportionments lose. Churches face these tough decisions every week. Now, here’s the rub – while churches are brainstorming, adapting, changing, and reallocating, it seems to me the denominational budgets don’t flinch.

Unlike many corporations, families, and local churches, United Methodist Conferences seem unable make quick, reactionary changes to compensate for fluctuations in the economy. That puts added pressure on churches, pastors, and district superintendents to make sure apportionments are paid at all costs. After all, the Conference budget is suffering.

Here is one example: In June of 2007, The South Georgia Conference approved the 2008 budget of $11,505,287 – $1.3 million more than was collected on the budget in 2006 (www.sgaumc.com, AC 2007). In that budget, we approved several new conference staff positions for 2008 called Congregational Specialists. We’ve hired two so far, and another job is posted right now. Isn’t it peculiar that an organization which may end up being $1 million short of its budget, in a horrendous economic downturn, is hiring more staff based on a decision we made 15 months ago? The rest of the country is laying people off. Let me add that I voted for that budget in June 2007, but in September 2008, I have no vote – only the voice of this article.

There are no easy answers here, but I believe we need to help our Conferences become more nimble organizations, lest they too, go the way of the dinosaur.

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