2009 Kansas East Conference Budget – My Thoughts

First, let me get a few things straight… I am a provisional elder of the Kansas West Annual Conference serving at a church in the Kansas East Annual Conference. I have not had a close look at the budget of the Kansas East conference. I did not have the opportunity to vote on the budget in Kansas East. With that disclosure out of the way…

Here is the situation as far as I am aware – The Kansas East Conference is facing a 10% budget shortfall for 2009. The proposal is that apportionments will be frozen at the level from 2008 and the budget shortfall will be made up with money from the growth grant fund. There is a possibility of a called annual conference on February 14 (believe it) to address the budget, if the mail in vote does not pass.

What is this growth grant money, you may ask. An article from 10/2007 on the Kansas East website gives background on the growth grants.

The Growth Grants is a new program established by the conference as a way to utilize apportionment income from Church of the Resurrection over and above the amount applied to the conference budget to spark revitalization in existing congregations. The conference voted in 2006 to cap any local church’s apportionment contribution to the conference budget at 16 percent of the total conference budget. Funds in excess of 16 percent of the conference budget apportioned to a church are channeled into the Growth Grants program, which is earmarked for funding church revitalization projects in the conference.

Resurrection pays 100% of apportionments every year. To my knowledge, the 2006 proposal was to prevent unhealthy dependence on any particular local church for the budget of the annual conference. Also, it serves to prevent the impression that Resurrection has undue influence on the annual conference as a result of its contribution to the annual budget.

At the Kansas City district clergy gathering this week, I found out more information about the situation. The Kansas City district, minus Resurrection, pays 45 percent of apportionments. If the KC district paid 70 percent of apportionments the budget issue in the conference would be solved.

I believe that using growth grant funds to make up a budget shortfall in the conference is inappropriate.

Using growth grant funds for the annual budget means that Resurrection is subsidizing other churches that do not pay their apportionments. It subverts the original purpose of the 2006 proposal to create growth grants. Once growth grant money has been used for the budget it will be easier to do that in the future.

I believe that the conference needs to realistically align the budget with income while preserving the growth grant fund. I believe that each church not paying 100% of apportionments could reasonably commit to pay an additional 10% each year until 100% pay out is reached.

What do you make of all this?

12 thoughts on “2009 Kansas East Conference Budget – My Thoughts

  1. Andrew, you have a good argument.

    What should the conference do then?

    I apologize for this next bit.

    Adam Hamilton’s blog requires log on to comment, which I did not want to take the time to do to pass along a little observation. I just noticed while clicking through his “blogroll” that most of those links are to dead or inactive sites. He may not care, but I thought it might be worth mentioning to someone.

  2. John – I think that the conference should continue to pay its full apportionments to the general church and look at serious budget cuts – including staff, if necessary.
    Thanks for passing along the info about Adam’s blog.

  3. I am in favor of using the Growth Grants to fund the shortfall because the alternative is simply too draconian. The Conference GCFA forged a very wise path in resetting apportionment levels to the 2008 benchmark – thus saving all churches significant amounts of dollars heading into this very serious economic downturn. For Resurrection that means a savings of around 180,000 dollars which very well could prevent deep cuts in our own programming and/or even staff.

    I understand the idealism of Growth grants, but we are in an economic “State of Emergency” and as a result I think significant wise action needs to be taken. I am praying earnestly that the vote passes, because the alternative – a special called session of AC, could lead to very nasty and divisive floor fights where we see positions being eliminated literally on the floor of AC. It could also result in a major revision to Resurrections budget that could be quite painful.

    I also believe, that General Church payouts should be reduced by the amount that we are reducing budgets. You have to be a bit of an insider to understand how the budget process works at the General Level, but because budgets are set every 4 years, there is no flexibility for raising them or lowering them based on real economic conditions. As a result General Church budgets regularly set their actual operating budgets based on projected payouts, currently most of them are adjusting this number downward as they should. However – what that typically does is leave 100 percent churches holding the bag while other churches feel free to reduce. It shifts the financial burden typically to large churches who benefit the least from their payouts.

    The ideal thing would be for GCFA (National) to adjust the apportioned budget downward to reflect economic realities, but that has never and will never happen, so I think its the responsible thing for AC’s to do, to indicate to their member churches that payout to the GC will be less than anticipated, and that this is OK given their situations. People need to know that the local church is the most important element of the Denomination.

    Here is not the place to discuss the way money is used at the General Church level, but it is enough to say that I believe every dollar that remains at the local church level, is a dollar that is more effectively used in mission and ministry than those that make there way upword. This coming from a former General Agency employee.

    Again, I understand the idealism of the argument you make Andrew, but I just don’t think it confronts the reality of the situation we are in. My hope is that the Growth Grant money can keep the conference afloat through the serious downturn, and hopefully will be restored after the economic emergency is over.

  4. There is a real problem of local churches not paying their share of conference costs. Every local church has a dozen easy reasons why they don’t – which all sound exactly like the same arguments that families make.

    In the end, it means the local church does not put a priority on conference membership. Scolding is not an effective way to get the numbers up, but neither are all the other ways.

  5. Perhaps the problem is in the lack of value (Real or perceived) that they see in what they get for the money. Again – it seems to me that we forgot in the 50’s that the Local Church is the hope of the world.

  6. When I first saw the revised budget proposal my first inclination was exactly what Andrew posted, but as I thought more I came to the same opinion Chuck expressed. I would add a little more: The problem is that we’ve put ourselves in a position where we have to make a quick decision, and quick decisions are rarely the best decisions. However, 1) the leadership team and CFA have thought through this more than a special session of AC could and 2) all those who vote at AC can control whether redirecting growth grants is a one year exception (which I hope for) or a recurring event.

    The bigger issue to me is what we will do in 2010. This is the 2nd time in 5 years that we have had a special session or vote to reduce the budget. This has not a result of the recession, it’s a result of poor decisions and poor commitments. I hope that in 2010 CFA and others will address structural issues that could save us more money (like eliminating one district) and provide for more effective ministry.

  7. It seems to me that the good thing about tough times is that it sharpens your priorities. If you want to bring the conference issue down to the personal level of the people in the pews, this economic “emergency” means that my family has had to make cuts in our family budget. Sure, we’d love to preserve our status quo and current living level. But that would amount to very unwise financial decisions that might look ok for a year, or even five years, but would be detrimental in the long run. On the other hand, the benefits of cutting back mean things like we don’t have 200-some channels to watch on TV anymore, but guess what, we’ve found more time to play games and spend time talking and not just sitting silently by each other.

    Call me idealistic, but to call this an emergency and to have quick action for the sake of keeping an already broken system afloat might look good in the short run, but will do nothing, at best, in the long run. All conferences, all churches are short on cash. So let’s look at what we’re doing… look at what REALLY matters, discern what God is calling us to and make the hard decisions to trim the rest. Yeah it’ll hurt, yeah we’ll lose some important ministries and programs. But in the end when we spend according to what we take in, we’ll find ourselves less focused about money and more focused on what we purport our mission to be, to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

  8. Chuck – I appreciate your perspective. I agree that it is helpful to keep apportionments at the 2008 level. I agree that approving the proposal would be far better than a called annual conference. Your assertion that during a time of “emergency” using the growth grant funds in this way is persuasive, but it bothers me that it is outside of the original intention. Perhaps the original setting aside of the extra apportionment money for growth grants was a mistake and could have been set aside as an “emergency fund” for times like this – very similar to the way that financial experts would suggest for families.
    I also like your idea of decreasing the payout to the general church. That would be appropriate.

    David – I was not aware that this may be the second time in 5 years that action like this has taken place. The West conference gives the committee the authority to respond with a downward budget without action of the entire annual conference. Do you think that could be something that could work in the East conference?

    Dan – Taking a look at what really matters is important. My dad shared an excellent question that they are using as a part of a re-visioning process. If it did not already exist, would we create it? I think that addresses some of your concerns. What would you keep?

  9. Andrew – thanks for bringing this topic to a forum where we can discuss it. Here are my thoughts:

    a) The GCFA cannot change their budget (as was noted), but they can be in conversation regarding the viabilty of the expected payout from the various Annual Conferences. See the following link from the Economic Advisory Committee of GCFA regarding this issue: http://www.gcfa.org/PDFs/EAC-GCFA_Press_Release%20_FINAL_12-9-08.pdf. I don’t think that the conference can dictate the total amount apportioned from GCFA, but CCFA can decide the formula used to apportion it to the local church. I also believe that any funds sent in with the remittance form to the conference designated to one of the General Church funds must be sent on to GCFA. All that the Annual Conference can adjust is the portion of the budget related to the Annual Conference – not the General elements.

    b) As was noted above our long-term issue is the use and stewardship of the the resources used by the AC (and in a different conversation the GC). This past annual conference, the CFA brought a budget that was lower (probably not low enough) to the floor, but multiple items were added, with the expectation that apportionments would cover those additions. I think it means we move towards a serious discussion about what are our priorities.

    What is interesting is that as a conference (East), less COR, we are decreasing in our membership, however, we assume each year our budget ought to still increase 3-4%. I say that also knowing that the percentage of local church expenditures going to the General Church and Annual Conference ministries has over time decreased (in real dollars).

    c) Does the reality of this recession invite us as a state to look more closely at the future possiblity of becoming one conference? With such a reorganization (not for the sake of change, but for missional and mininstry reasons) we could also streamline our use of funds. The struggle would be that each group would stive to fight hard for their piece of the pie – the normal pattern for significant “adaptive” change.

    d) Back to the original issue of COR’s amount. I was not at the 2006 AC, but I am not sure I agree fully with the original decision to cap the amount one church could contribute to 16%. I understand the desire to not rely too heavily on one congregation for our funding. But I also see the importance of employing our strengths in ways that can be most effective. If we have other resources as a conference that are strong, I think we would be doing a dis-service to not use them. If we have great preachers or pastors with great administrative gifts and graces, I would think we would be failing our potential if we have the great preachers in roles where they rarely preached, and the like. It probably gets down to how we might best employ our resources to bring about the mission of making disciples and transforming our world most effectively now and in the long-run.

    e) Almost done! I also don’t think it is wise for us to inflate our budget each year, planning on churches to not pay 100%. But the statistics show that as a conference, and as a General Church, we are able to bring in more funds for ministry and mission if we have a higher (inflated by a certain %) budget than if we have a lower realistic budget. That is, if we really need 4.0 Million for our ministries to do well, we will only likely get $4.0 Million if we apportion say $4.32 M. I don’t know the best answer, but that is our situation.

  10. Dustin – Thank you for your excellent analysis. I particularly appreciate points B and D – Using our resources in the best possible way to make disciples of Jesus Christ is key. How that happens seems to be more up for debate.

  11. Dustin,
    Regarding point C, while I’m in favor of looking again at becoming one conference my memory from the first time around is that the cost savings would be minimal. That may be different now with greater use of technology.

  12. On point (E)

    I think the thinking here is upside down. For too long we have asked the ministries of the church (At the General and Conference Level) to set a budget, and then we apportion that budget to local churches. This is the proverbial tail wagging the dog. A sea-change would be to ask the churches how much they would pledge in support of the General Church and Annual Conference, and then set budgets based on those commitments.

    The first system (our current way of operating) feels more like a franchise fee or tax than it does shared mission, and I think it has contributed greatly to the sense of isolation and resentment some churches have toward the General Church.

    The second system would reflect the way Churches do stewardship planning, first getting commitments then setting budgets.

    Would the amount of money flowing to the AC and GC decrease? Probably, but this would be a reflection of both our sense of shared mission and our level of trust in the structures of the church, and that reflection would drive change and innovation among those competing for dollars. Perhaps it would refocus the efforts of these organization toward equipping and supporting the Local Church – which carries the hope of the world.

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