I believe there is much we need to dialogue about in our church. My struggle is determining where that conversation can effectively take place. The Advocate is one of the few public forums that remain for United Methodists in Georgia. First, we must be willing to use this space to engage in substantive discussion about issues in our church. Second, we must get the Advocate into the hands of every United Methodist in Georgia for the discussions to be as effective as possible.
A few weeks ago, we held a class for visitors at our church. As we talked about our church’s connection, we discussed apportionments – why our church supports them fully and the wonderful things they do. One of our visitors brought up an interesting point: Why does our denomination ask for more from the local church than God asks for from his followers? God calls for 10%; our local church is apportioned almost 16% of its income.
Why is the local church required to give more than 10%? I wonder how much more churches could do in local mission and ministry if they kept an additional six percent of their income. What would happen if they used that amount locally for evangelism, mission, or discipleship? Would that better enable us to make the substantial changes we long for in our denomination? Would it reverse the declining membership? We agree revitalization will come out of the local church, not the church agencies and institutions. How could our apportionments better model a tithe? The only way we could achieve this model of stewardship is for annual conferences and the general church to do some difficult work on their budgets.
The general church and annual conferences are very candid about the percentage of income local churches are apportioned. The General Church Finance and Administration website shows that out of every dollar given, 83.2 cents stays in the local church, 12.8 cents goes to the annual conference and jurisdictions, and 4 cents goes to the general church. In my congregation, apportionments are 15.7% of our general fund income. If you include total giving, apportionments are 14.6%. Your church probably pays a similar percentage.
Why are churches required to give more than 10%? The answer is simple. Annual conferences and the general church need more than our 10% to pay their obligations. Healthcare and pensions may be expensive items that we cannot control, but many other expenses were added collectively over the years to accomplish ministry beyond the local church. If we believe churches should only be required to give 10% of their income, we will need to make cuts to our conference and denominational budgets. If we agree collectively that additional denominational expenses are vital, then we should pay 16% since we agreed collectively to support these ministries. Our local church delegates to annual conference make these decisions.
I hope you will reflect on the many sides of this issue. Can we have both a strong connection of vital ministries and local congregations that are able to keep more of their resources? I believe we can.
Moreover, speaking of stewardship let me add this: Churches must model Biblical stewardship by tithing, at least. If your church is giving less than 10% of its income, or not giving at all, you are modeling something to your people. However, it has nothing to do with Biblical stewardship.