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.
Over the past several weeks, I have published a series of posts about finances in the global United Methodist Church, including central conference church giving, US support for central conference ministries, central conference bishops’ salaries, and African clergy salaries. Having worked through that variety of material, I’ve gained new insight relative to some of the earlier posts in the series. This post will contain some additional reflections on how much money the central conferences collect and how that compares to the amount of US financial support for central conference ministry. A subsequent update post will re-examine what would likely be cut if US support declined or ended.
How Much Money Do Central Conferences Collect?
In trying to get some hard data for African pastoral salaries, I did a quick calculation. I took the amount of money I estimated that central conferences might collect based on total membership, average annual income for that country, and the assumption that 1% of that income might go to churches and 70% of what is given to churches might go to pastoral salaries, then divided it by the number of pastors to get an estimate of clergy salaries.
When that calculation is run for the United States, it produces a number in the range of what an average clergy salary might be. But the model breaks down significantly outside the United States.
In most places in Europe, it gives a number that is about a third the average annual income for that country. In the Philippines, it gives a number that is half the average annual income. While pastors are not paid terribly well, it is unlikely that European and Filipino pastors earn so little. What is instead likely is that both European and United Methodists give more than 1% of their income to the church, perhaps 3-5% in Europe and 2-3% in the Philippines.
In Africa, on the other hand, the calculation fails for the opposite reason – in most countries, it gives a number much larger than what a pastor’s salary might actually be. While there may be some errors in the data for number of clergy in an individual country, the overall trend suggests that in most African countries, United Methodists give much less than 1% of the average annual income for their country. As Robert Harmon has pointed out in a comment on a previous post, average income figures for many African countries can be skewed by urban high earners, whereas many, especially in rural areas, do not participate significantly in the cash economy, instead exchanging goods and services in kind. Those who have no cash can give no cash to the church.
While much uncertainty remains, what these numbers allow us to do is revise estimates for how much central conferences might collect in local church donations. Revising in a way that would produce more accurate estimates of pastoral salaries suggests that the Philippines might collect $25 million at the local church level, Europe as much as $180 million at the local church level, and Africa as little as $11 million.
Altogether, that still adds up to more than $200 million, meaning the total estimate for connectional giving from the central conferences is still in the neighborhood of $20 million (based on an estimate of 10% of total giving going for connectional ministries), as I suggested earlier. Yet it dramatically shifts where than $20 million is coming from – much less from Africa, much more from Europe, and somewhat more from the Philippines.
How Much Are Central Conference Ministries Subsidized by the US?
In an earlier post, I suggested that US United Methodists subsidize ministries in the central conferences to the extent of about $100 million per year - $40 through apportionments and general agencies, and $60 through direct partnerships with annual conference and local congregations. Having gotten a better sense of what giving patterns in the central conferences look like, is it possible to get a better sense of what US support looks like?
First, it’s worth noting that in terms of subsidies, one can talk about four different areas with different economic realities: Western Europe (the Germany Central Conference, parts of the Southern and Central Europe Central Conference, and most of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area), Eastern Europe (parts of the Southern and Central Europe Central Conference, the Eurasia Episcopal Area, and the Baltic part of the Nordic and Baltic Episcopal Area), the Philippines, and Africa. Each area receives some subsidies, but of varying types and extents.
Western Europe receives subsidies in meetings expenses. It also receives missionaries from Global Ministries, and the benefit of some other general agency programs that serve the whole church, though it’s hard to say exactly how much. Western Europe does not receive much direct programmatic funding from the general church and is instead a source of programmatic funding for partners in Africa through various European United Methodist agencies. Western Europe pays above its assigned apportionments to cover the cost of its episcopal leadership, but it may not pay for the entire amount of its episcopal travel. Altogether, Western Europe probably receives $2-5 million from the global church and pays about $300,000 in apportionments.
Eastern Europe (because of membership numbers and economic realities) pays less in episcopal support than Western Europe, and it is more likely to receive programmatic support for things like poverty relief, evangelism, education, and sustainable development. Eastern Europe might receive as much as $12 million from the global church, while paying a few tens of thousands in apportionments.
The Philippines also receives subsidies for travel and episcopal expenses. They receive some agency money and direct giving, though based on the number of Advance specials in the Philippines relative to elsewhere, perhaps not as much as one might think. It is possible that the Philippines actually receives less in subsidies than Eastern Europe, perhaps in the neighborhood of $9 million, while paying $40-50,000 in apportionments.
Africa receives significant subsidies for all forms of ministry – travel, episcopal expenses, and programmatic ministries. Perhaps three quarters of all subsidies sent from the US to the global church go to Africa, which also receives support from European United Methodists not included in my calculations. All told, the amount of support might be somewhere around $75 million, compared to around $200,000 in apportionments paid.
Hence, all areas of the central conferences receive subsidies from US United Methodists, even relatively well-off Western Europeans. But the extent of subsidies and the ratios between subsidies on the one hand and apportionments or internal giving on the other vary significantly among the regions.