LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has approved the recommendations of the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force – which is proposing changes in the four Special Offerings which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) collects each year, hoping to increase the agility of the offerings to meet the denomination’s changing needs and to boost the amount the offerings produced to $20 million per year by 2020.
One hope: that reconfiguring the Peacemaking Offering to become the Peace and Global Witness Offering will encourage more congregations to participate (currently only about 20 percent do) and to give more (the offering raises about $2 million a year – with that amount being essentially stagnant over the last 20 years).
“There is great interest in supporting global mission in our churches,” said Marci Auld Glass, a pastor from Idaho and a member of the Special Offerings Advisory Task Force.
Another change: a reconsideration of how funds from the Christmas Joy Offering are used to support racial ethnic leadership development. Some schools that historically have received funds are no longer accredited or no longer in operation. “The pie remains the same,” with fewer schools getting bigger portions, Glass said. “The world as we all know is changing” – and the PC(USA) may want to consider additional ways to support racial ethnic leaders, including possibly using funds to support new worshipping communities with racial ethnic members.
The task force is recommending that the board establish an advisory committee to consider how the racial ethnic leadership funds might be distributed, and to report back by the end of 2015.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Feb. 5 to approve the task force’s report, sending it to the 2014 General Assembly for its consideration.
One recommendation of the task force is to create an ambassador program – a representative from each presbytery and from PC(USA) seminaries, who can “become our best advocates and encouragers,” Glass told the board’s Executive Committee. The PC(USA) would “send the ambassadors on mission trip-type experiences” to places where Special Offerings funds are being used, so they could “come back and tell their story and share what they’ve seen,” she said.
Funds for the ambassadors would be drawn from the denomination’s reserves, under an authorization to use some of those funds for new fundraising initiatives. About $225,000 has been budgeted for the ambassador program for 2014, said Sam Locke, the PC(USA)’s director of Special Offerings. No amounts have been determined yet for the program for 2015 and 2016, Locke said.
Before the vote, some board members raised questions that go beyond the nuts and bolts of the recommendations.
“I’m wondering if we are addressing the real problem here for why giving is down,” such as congregations leaving the denomination, said board member Clark Cowden of California. Locke told that giving to Special Offerings was down about 5 percent in 2013 – mostly from a decline in One Great Hour of Sharing.
“Of course churches leaving has an impact,” Locke said. And while the staff hasn’t noticed that congregations are stopping participating in particular offerings, the average gift from congregations is decreasing – perhaps because the churches have fewer members, or there’s more competition for donors with other humanitarian causes.
Marianne Rhebergen, a board member from New Jersey, said she doesn’t want the board’s primary message to be that giving is down because churches are leaving. “Patterns of giving are changing,” she said. “Folks want to be able to give to something they connect with in a very tangible way.”