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United Methodist giving grows, despite membership drop

 


United Methodist giving grows, despite membership drop

Feb. 25, 2005

A UMNS Report
By Joretta Purdue*

United Methodists increased their giving by nearly 4 percent to the denomination’s churchwide ministry during 2004, despite the loss of more than 69,000 members.

The increase of almost $4.4 million to the United Methodist Church’s seven apportioned funds marks a reversal from slight decreases in the two preceding years, noted Sandra Lackore, treasurer and head of the denomination’s financial agency.

“We are grateful for the significant number of local congregations and conferences that faithfully met their commitment to make possible the work of our church,” Lackore said in a letter sent to church officials with final figures for the year.

Membership declined by 69,141 to a total of less than 8.2 million U.S. members, including clergy. This figure is based on congregational statistics collected for 2003 and reported through the annual (regional) conferences after their sessions in spring 2004. These numbers reflect a continuing decline in U.S. membership that has been ongoing for at least three decades. The giving reported here is for 2004.

About 1.9 million additional members live in Europe, Asia and Africa, but those statistics are not complete because some of those conferences meet later in the year. The fastest growth in church membership is occurring in Africa.

Gifts to the seven funds totaled $116.8 million in 2004, an increase of 3.9 percent. When combined with other offerings and funds, total United Methodist churchwide giving for the year was $159.3 million.

“The faithfulness of United Methodists is amazing,” Lackore said. “We have spent far too little time as a denomination helping our members and friends connect their faith journey with their giving journey. Despite that, faithful United Methodists continue to generously support our denominational financial covenant.

“We are thankful for all those who yearly make it possible for their church to meet needs that they will never personally see. That’s what keeps our connectional covenant strong,” she added.

Apportioned funds support the ministry and administration of the denomination through a process that asks the annual (regional) conferences for specific amounts per year. These numbers are adjusted up and down based on local church expenditures and economic factors in that area.

World Service, the largest of the apportioned funds, supports the church’s program ministries, including the work of most of the denomination’s general agencies. In 2004, the World Service Fund received $63 million. In 2003, it had income of $60.4 million. The difference is an increase of 4.3 percent.

The three designated education funds—Africa University, Black College and Ministerial Education—also grew during 2004. Africa University received almost $2.3 million, a 2.6 percent increase over 2003. Giving to the Black College Fund increased 3.8 percent to $9.9 million. Ministerial Education, which both provides some funds to the church’s seminaries and supports scholarships and continuing education at the conference level, grew 2.6 percent to $18.4 million.

Among the administrative funds, the Episcopal Fund increased 4.6 percent to $15.5 million in 2004, and the General Administration Fund grew 4.8 percent to $5.8 million. The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which supports United Methodist participation in interdenominational and ecumenical programming, was apportioned a lower dollar amount in 2004 than in 2003. Subsequently, receipts for this fund were down 1.5 percent, totaling $1.86 million.

Giving to the six special Sunday offerings declined slightly. When considered together, the $6.2 million was down 0.6 percent from the preceding year. Individually, three offerings grew and three declined. One Great Hour of Sharing increased 3 percent to $3.5 million; Peace with Justice Sunday, 0.1 percent to $267,933; and United Methodist Student Day, 0.7 percent to $542,557.

The Human Relations Day offering declined 9.1 percent in 2004 to $573,930. The World Communion Sunday offering dropped 6.9 percent to $1 million, and Native American Ministries Sunday received 4.4 percent less, or $313,661.

Giving to the seven apportioned funds and the special Sunday offerings totaled $123 million in 2004. This was an increase of 3.7 percent from the preceding year.

Other funds are not compared with 2003 because they vary widely with special needs and related events that occur. Most of these funds are general Advance Special gifts, which received nearly $35.4 million. Administrative costs for these funds are provided elsewhere in the denomination’s structure so 100 percent of each gift goes to the Advance Special program or project designated by the donor.

Among the categories of general Advance Special gifts, $19.4 million was contributed to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, $15.3 million to mission program areas and $695,700 to Bishops’ Appeals.

The World Service Special Gifts and the Youth Service Fund together added $921,099 to the 2004 total general church giving of $159.3 million.

The tsunami that devastated coastal regions in several Asian and African countries occurred on the last Sunday of the year so only part of the United Methodist response to that need is included in the 2004 totals. Yet, $1.6 million was sent by Dec. 31, 2004.

* Purdue is a freelance writer residing in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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