Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
Last week, I wrote about US subsidies to the central conferences. Yet that post did not indicate the total size of those subsidies. What is that number? In short, it’s likely that over $100 million a year flows from the United States to the central conferences. Here’s how that breaks down into apportionments, given either directly or through the general boards and agencies, and partnerships with annual conferences, individual congregations, and advocacy groups.
Let’s look first at apportionments. The Ministerial Education Fund and Black College Fund are both exclusively US funds. The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund largely pays for US ecumenical activities and ecumenical activities at the global level that involve central conferences in a rather indirect way. Thus, I will omit it from my calculations, though it is worth noting that the ICF pays membership fees in the World Methodist Council and World Council of Churches that central conferences would have to pay themselves if they were autonomous.
On the other hand, all the Africa University Fund goes to the central conferences. In 2018, that was $2,224,337. An additional $2 million in 2018 from the World Service Fund went to central conference colleges and seminaries through the Central Conference Theological Education Fund.
The Episcopal Fund covers bishops’ salaries, housing, offices, and travel. GCFA has said they expect the total cost for a central conference bishop on average to be $930,000 per bishop for the current quadrennium, or about $232,500 per year. Thus, the total apportionments spend on central conference bishops was about $4,650,000 per year in recent years.
Much of the monies from the General Administration Fund and some from the World Service Fund that go to the central conferences pays for travel costs for General Conference, Judicial Council, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters, and the Connectional Table. Let us assume that the entire expense of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters ($65,213) benefits the central conferences, even though that committee has US members. Let us further assume a proportion of the money spent equal to central conference representation on General Conference (40.4% for $1,074,039), Judicial Council (4 out of 11 for $47,752), and the Connectional Table (10 out of 63 for $36,457) benefits central conferences. That yields a total of $1,223,461 in meeting subsidies in 2015 based on 2016 ADCA figures.
It is harder to calculate the apportionment money (from the World Service and General Administration Funds) that goes to the central conferences through the general boards and agencies, because that money is often doled out in individual grants that are difficult to compile, because general agencies draw on other revenues as well, because some programs serve both the US and central conferences, and because central conferences benefit from a percentage of staff time spent providing assistance. Here, I will only try to estimate direct payments, not the value of staff assistance.
Based on line items in budgets submitted to GC2016 that clearly benefit the central conferences, both Church and Society and Discipleship Ministries spend approximately 4% of their budget on central conference programs, a total of about $1 million combined. Again, that doesn’t include staff time and travel spend in assisting central conferences, so the real amount of subsidy is higher.
One might assume that percentage is similar for GCFA and UMCOM, since they, like GBCS and Discipleship Ministries, are primarily US-focused but do provide some services to the central conferences. If that assumption is true, those two agencies combined spent in the neighborhood of $1 million a year directly on the central conferences.
It’s difficult to say how much the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry spends on the central conferences. They have significant global programs which benefit both United Methodists in the central conferences and other Methodists around the world, but less clarity in their publicly available budgets. Assuming 4% of their program expenses go to the central conferences yields a figure of $1.2 million, but the real number is likely higher. A 10% estimate would give a total of $3.1 million per year.
Then there is Global Ministries. About half of Global Ministries’ missionaries serve in the central conferences. (The other half serve in the US and in other areas of the world not included in the central conferences.) Thus, based on their 2017 accounting statements, Global Ministries probably spends somewhere around $10 million on missionary salaries for missionaries serving in the central conferences. About $10 million in UMCOR grants out of $31.5 million total in 2017 went to Europe, Africa, and Asia, presumably mostly to central conferences. Global Ministries spent about $11.4 million in other grants, program development funds, and meetings. Assuming about a third of those funds went to the central conferences, as was the case for UMCOR funds, that means another approximately $4 million in funding for the central conferences.
Totaled all together, the funds from apportionments and other agency revenues that go to the central conferences are probably in the range of $40 million a year, about 60% of which comes from Global Ministries and UMCOR.
Annual conference giving is harder to estimate. Based on news reports, annual conference partnerships with central conferences typically involve somewhere between $10,000 and $100,000 annually in subsidies. Annual conferences often have between one and five such partnerships. There are 51 non-mission annual conferences in the US. This gives a range of between $500,000 and $25.5 million spent in annual conference, but the real number is likely to be in the middle, perhaps around $5-10 million per year sent to annual conferences. As a reference, just over $11 million each year in 2016 and 2017 went to annual conference advance specials. Another $8.4 million in 2016 and $9 million in 2017 went to other annual conference connectional mission. It is likely that no more than half of that $20 million total went to the central conferences.
There’s yet more uncertainty on local church giving. According to GCFA data on local church giving, in 2016 local churches gave $16.8 million to Advance specials, and in 2017 they gave $33.5 million (driven by strong storm-related giving). Some of this money is already counted in UMCOR totals, and some is for domestic projects. Another approximately $90 million each year went directly to United Methodist-related projects. Although some of that could be for campus ministries, United Methodist-related non-profits, and other domestic mission projects, it is likely that a substantial portion of this money goes to international mission partnerships. While it’s hard to say exactly how much, perhaps half of local church Advance and other mission giving goes to the central conferences, which might be around $50 million.
Another way to try to calculate the amount sent to central conferences by local churches would be to start with the total mission giving by local churches in 2017, reported by GCFA to be $963 million. Subtracting general church, jurisdictional, annual conference, and district apportionments leaves over $550 million dollars. Even if only 10% of that total giving went to the central conferences, it would be $55 million dollars.
While there is thus some significant uncertainty around the amount sent by local churches to the central conferences, it is clear that the total is in the tens of millions, and likely as large as or larger than the amount sent through apportionments.
Finally, there are the caucus groups. To my knowledge, RMN has given in-kind assistance only, not direct grants. Good News pays for meeting expenses for central conferences delegates at a pre-General Conference meeting and occasional other meetings, which are likely in the tens of thousands of dollars. The WCA has vowed to raise $300,000 for central conference ministries. But Good News and WCA spending on the central conferences combined is 1% of the money that goes to the central conferences through apportionment and agency funds. It is a rounding error compared to the total when you take annual conference and local church partnerships into consideration as well.
There are many ways to view the total amount of subsidies – as an act of generosity by the US church, as a form of colonial control by the US church, as a form of just reparations for the inequitable global economic system perpetuated by the US, etc. Moreover, many factors will influence the decisions made about the future of the denomination, and money should not be the driving factor. But money and its influences, bad and good, certainly should be taken into consideration.