Denominational mission budget pared down

LOUISVILLE – With fewer resources, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the next two years will be doing fewer things and focusing on tasks with a more significant impact.

That’s part of the message from Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, in presenting the PC(USA)’s proposed mission budgets for 2015 and 2016. Although Valentine didn’t refer specifically to programs or jobs being cut, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is expected to meet in closed session April 24 to discuss the budget proposal – often an indicator that layoffs are impending.

The proposal calls for a PC(USA) mission budget of $73.6 million for 2015 and $78.2 million for 2016. That compares with a revised mission budget for 2014 of $79.9 million – pared down more than $2.5 million from the 2014 budget of $82.5 million originally approved. The proposed budget for 2016 is slightly higher than for 2015 in part because it includes about $3.1 million in funding for the Youth Triennium, which is held every three years.

The decline in the budget from 2014 to 2015 – a drop of more than $6 million – reflects a number of factors, Valentine told the board’s Executive Committee April 23. Among them: rising health care costs and changing patterns in giving to the denomination. Lower membership in the denomination means less in per capita payments. In 2012, the latest year for which membership has been reported, the PC(USA)’s membership dropped to 1.8 million, down 102,000 from the previous year.

Presbyterians also give in different ways, Valentine said, with more money being kept to support mission at the local level, or going to para-church groups or others doing ministry. Also, “we’ve shifted from doing ministry on behalf of the church to inspiring, equipping and connecting the church” – meaning less mission work is being done by the national denominational structure, and more by Presbyterians at local and regional levels.

The 2012 General Assembly approved a mission work plan with six directional goals – and each program area has been evaluated to determine how closely it aligns with those goals and what impact it has, Valentine said. Those goals are: Cultivate and nurture transformational leaders; encourage compassionate and prophetic discipleship; create new worshipping communities; work in mission with young adults; engage with the General Assembly; and demonstrate organizational integrity.

Earline Williams
Earline Williams

Denominational fundraisers are working to generate more dollars for programs that have strong alignment with the goals and strong impact, but not sufficient funding, said Earline Williams, the PC(USA)’s chief financial officer. Among those programs: the initiative to start 1,001 new worshiping communities; the Company of New Pastors; interfaith relations; racial ethnic leadership development; the Office of Public Witness; the United Nations office; World Mission; Special Offerings; and Young Adult Volunteers. It’s anticipated those fundraising efforts will produce new revenue by 2017, Williams said.

Roger Dermody, the PC(USA)’s deputy executive director for mission, said there are bright spots and reasons for hope despite the declining revenues. Some programs are growing—among them, the effort to create 1,001 New Worshipping Communities, and the Young Adult Volunteer program, which has grown by 34 percent over the last year, Dermody said. The Office of Public Witness is training Presbyterians from across the country to do public policy advocacy, speaking out on issues such as gun violence and the unrest in Syria.

Williams said the budget proposal also reflects a decline in unrestricted revenues given to the denomination – with unrestricted funds projected to be about $13.9 million in 2015, roughly half of what they were seven years ago. There’s been a steady decline in unrestricted revenues flowing to the national church, as presbyteries increasingly use those dollars to pay their per capita, she said.

In both 2015 and 2016, roughly 89 percent of the funding would be used for programmatic expenses; 3 percent for management and general expenses; and 8 percent to cover fundraising costs, Williams said.

Board member Heath Rada, a ruling elder from North Carolina and one of three candidates for moderator of the 2014 General Assembly, asked whether the budget projections take into account the possible impact should the assembly vote to allow Presbyterian ministers to perform same-sex marriages. Valentine said no – although there is a mandated reserve fund built into the budget.

Rada said that as he has visited presbyteries, some middle governing body executives have warned that as many as half of their congregations might leave if the PC(USA) starts allowing its ministers to perform same-gender weddings. “We want to be conscious of some of the anxieties,” Rada said.