Monday, July 22, 2019

Total Local Giving in the Central Conferences

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.

Having looked at how much total United Methodists in the United States send annual to the central conferences (probably over $100 million per year), it is worth looking at how much money the central conferences likely generate themselves in giving by members in those central conferences.

While much uncertainty exists, the total given to local churches in the central conference might be between $110-470 million per year, though likely near the lower end of that estimate. Even the most conservative estimates yield at least $60 million in member giving. As in the United States, the majority of this stays in local congregations, with only a small fraction being used to support connectional ministries.

If we estimate that 10% of local giving in the central conferences goes to connectional ministries (in the US it is 14%), then the amount of US money supporting connectional ministries in the central conferences is several times the amount of local money supporting these ministries (which might be about $15-25 million yearly). Put another way, giving from the US perhaps quintuples the extent of connectional ministries (health, education, evangelism, creation care, discipleship, etc.) that happen in the central conferences.

As with estimating the amount of money that goes from the US, there is a lot of uncertainty in the underlying figures for calculating how much giving there is in the central conferences, so these numbers are only rough estimates. An explanation follows.

Let us begin with the relatively easy question of how much money central conferences pay in apportionments. In 2018, the central conferences as a whole gave $788,317 USD in apportionments. This represents 65% of the amount of apportionments assigned by GCFA, which was $1,204,990. The numbers are fairly similar for 2017.

During the first six months of 2019, central conference giving broke down by region as follows:
•    Africa: $73,428 USD
•    Philippines: $21,458 USD
•    Europe: $274,238 USD
•    Total: $369,124 USD
Again, these figures are in line with the data from 2018.

If we were to assume that central conference general church apportionments equaled 2% of total giving in the central conferences, as they do in the United States, then total giving would be somewhere around $60 million, based on requested receipts. Of course, there is no particular reason to assume that general church apportionments make up the same percentage of total giving in the central conferences as they do in the United States, though certainly GCFA is not asking central conferences to give a higher percentage of their budgets to general church apportionments than they ask of US churches. Thus, total giving is at very least $60 million yearly.

Another way to calculate the total church giving in the central conferences is to build a model based on assumptions about average income, church membership by country, the percentage of income given to the church, and the percentage of that total collection available for connectional ministries. This model assumes that United Methodists have an average income similar to that of their fellow citizens. This assumption may not be correct; United Methodists might be either poorer or richer than the average citizen, and this may vary by country.

Despite questions about this central assumption, this approach gives another estimate based on readily available data. Per capita income by country data is available from the CIA, and membership data is available from GCFA. Multiplying the one by the other gives an estimated total income for United Methodists by country.

It is easy to run a variety of estimates based on different assumptions about how much United Methodists give to their churches. In the United States, long-term trends show that individuals give about 2% of their income, and 30-40% of that goes to religious causes.

If people in the central conferences gave 0.7% of their income to the church, as do those in the United States, that would represent $110 million total giving ($77 million in Africa, $8 million in the Philippines, and $25 million in Europe). Since many central conference churches emphasize tithing, it is possible that those in the central conferences are more generous to the church than those in the United States are. Assuming 1% giving yields $158 million in yearly giving. Assuming 3% gives $473 million per year, and assuming a remarkable 5% gives $788 million per year, with the same ratios between geographic regions. Of course, it is possible that different parts of the central conferences give at different rates. Regardless, the lower end of these estimates seems more likely.

Most of this money stays in local congregations. It has been noted that many churches in Africa struggle to pay their pastors (more on this in a future post), and given the small size of many European congregations, pastoral salaries are likely to be high relative to total giving. Moreover, connectional giving is a much less well-developed tradition in many parts of the central conferences than it is in the United States.

Thus, it might be reasonable to estimate 10% of total giving going towards connectional ministries, including district superintendent salaries, conference evangelists, other staff, annual conference programs, and connectional health, education, and charitable ministries. Varying the estimated total giving yields a range of estimates for central conference connectional ministry support from $11 million up through $78 million. Again, a safe estimate might be $15-25 million.

Remember that giving from the United States to connectional ministries in the central conferences is likely to be at least $100 million. Thus, US support of connection ministries in the central conferences is likely to be at least four times as great as the central conferences’ budget for those same ministries.

While it is possible that central conferences could develop stronger programs of self-support for local connectional ministries, it is just not reasonable to expect central conferences to be able to replace a significant reduction in US support with local resources. Moreover, because central conference priorities are likely to focus primarily on the operation of churches and basic denominational structures (bishops, district superintendents, office support, etc.), cuts will primarily impact health, education, poverty reduction, disaster-relief, and other charitable ministries.

Thus, I hope that whatever future form The United Methodist Church takes, that form will allow for continued support of central conference ministries by the majority of US United Methodists. If not, central conferences will have to dramatically cut numerous life-saving medical ministries, educational ministries providing crucial opportunities, and other vital connectional ministries.


  1. David,
    Am urging a reconsideration of an assumption about connectional giving as practiced in cashless economies. A one size fits all global model for church finance that assumes the flow of income from local donors to their churches for transfer to conference and general conference bodies for redistribution isn’t universally viable.
    While some local economies in the poorest of the poor nations of the South show signs of improvement, they benefit at a much slower rate than those participating more fully in the global economy. The worst case scenarios are most disturbing. In Zimbabwe, for instance, the government has little foreign exchange available rendering the local currency useless. In the Democratic Republic of Congo corruption at the top of government siphons off whatever gain is acquired and available locally from national resources and production. UM conferences in both countries are among privileged entities having direct linkages to sources of foreign currency, but it comes with a price. Banks (and local off market dealers) charge exorbitant fees for their exchange services depreciating the value of connectional funds received. Conference treasuries administer a church economy that is primarily one directional in making transfers to churches and projects but receiving little of value in return to meet the expectations of the UM global apportionment system. To remain viable, affected conferences face a dilemma when reluctantly forced to consider taking a (or larger) share of all incoming connectional funds, something auditors will certainly scrutinize.
    I am not telling you anything new, just challenging the assumption behind the global forecasting your modeling implies. Connectional giving at a global level demands flexibility that will always require more from its affluent members. You make that appeal in your closing paragraphs. The inequalities in sharing the burden of executing a faithful stewardship in a connectional system under stress requires accountability, but also compassion and understanding.
    Robert Harman

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    1. Robert, Thanks for that challenge. I think this model is built on a number of assumptions that are likely inaccurate, at least in some places. You've hit on a major one. The issue of cashless economies is a significant one. I'm working on some material related to pastoral salaries that may allow me to return to this whole issue of how much is collected in central conferences again in a few posts. It seems like there may be significant regional differences in the amount of money that is or could be collected.