Special committee nears a vote on report on PC(USA) financial sustainability

A special committee considering financial sustainability in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is expected to recommend the possibility of some sort of structural revision at the top levels of the denomination – and is hoping for support in a month or two from the Moving Forward Implementation Commission.

A work group of that committee has determined that while there may be enough money in the denomination in total, “the current allocation of funding between agencies is not sustainable.”

Laura Cheifetz serves as co-moderator of the special committee, along with Valerie Young, and leads the financial sustainability team. (All photos by Leslie Scanlon)

A draft report which the special committee discussed in a Dec. 16 conference call describes the problem this way: “Sadly, there is too little union, not enough community, and way too much confusion about mission among congregations and councils for our church to be sustainable going forward. This is why we recommend an examination of the possibility of reorganizing our national church. “

The Special Committee on Per Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability, which the 2018 General Assembly created to consider the financial future of the denomination, has been split over the last six months into two work groups – one focused on financial sustainability and the other on per capita.

The special committee’s full report to the 2020 General Assembly is due Feb. 21, but the 2018 assembly called on the financial sustainability report to be done by Dec. 31 – with that report going to the Moving Forward commission, the six PC(USA) agencies, and the 2020 Vision Team, to inform whatever recommendations those groups might be working on for the next assembly. The committee is expected to vote on the final language of that report soon, possibly later this week.

Joseph Ngalle, of the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina, and Debi Davis, of the Presbytery of Florida, during a September discussion on PC(USA) financial sustainability.

The special committee will meet Jan. 13-15 to work on its full report and recommendations to the 2020 assembly – including the findings of its per capita work team, which has conducted extensive listening sessions with synod and presbytery leaders in recent months. That February report from the committee is likely to contain more specific recommendation on possible restructuring and on per capita.

So think of this first report as giving some clues as to where those recommendations might go.

After analyzing PC(USA) budgets, the financial sustainability work team concluded that the expense budget for the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) and the Administrative Services Group (ASG) totals about $94 annually – with PMA getting close to $60 million (64%) and OGA nearly $16 million (16%).

The report contends that a changed funding model for the PC(USA) is essential.

“Agencies collaborate regularly, but there is no systemic instrument in place to ensure coordination and cooperation between agencies, particularly between PMA and OGA, and between Assemblies,” the draft report states. It also says that “mission priorities are set by biennial assemblies by commissioners who do not have to pay the price for their votes, while staff and boards must scramble to meet the discerned needs and priorities of the body. While financial sustainability appears relatively stable for now, the structure is not set up for the projected needs of a 21stcentury church.”

OGA also is facing budget challenges – expecting that it will deplete its reserves soon, meaning it would then either need to limit the work it does or ask the General Assembly for another increase in per capita, the per-member assessment that congregations are expected to send to support the work of the broader church.

While fundraising for OGA might be a possibility, “it is felt by OGA that this may impact future per capita payments and requested increases,” the draft report states.

And it says that “if OGA does not get another way to access needed revenue beyond raising per capita, the pressure on mid-councils will increase, which is a primary source of stress. … Seeing OGA and PMA as part of ‘One Church’ instead of two competing agencies would help address questions of improving fiscal management and sustainability from a cultural and structural standpoint.”

Valerie Young, a synod executive, serves as the committee’s other co-moderator, and leads the per capita work team.

The draft report also concludes that communication is a problem – that many Presbyterians don’t understand the distinctions among the six PC(USA) agencies, or the work that each does and how it’s funded. Mid council and congregational leaders “do not understand how per capita is used and what, for lack of a better phrase, they ‘get’ out of per capita.””

It also refers to “separate agencies beyond PMA engaging in what can be perceived as competing missions. When each agency is distinct, confusion is understandable given inadequate shared understanding.  However, with the current majority of the church unable to distinguish between agencies, the competition for attention means different priorities cause confusion.”

The preliminary report lists a series of possible recommendations.

Some focus on structure – including finding some sort of “structural solution to the lack of a single entity determining allocations between OGA and PMA between General Assemblies.” Possible recommendations also call on the assembly or staff from the agencies to:

  • “Explore the formation of a cohesive ecclesial missional body.”
  • Form a task force to propose revisions in the Organization for Mission.
  • Collaborate in developing a new system for allocating funding for OGA. That could include “combining, merging, or consolidating efforts and funding needs between OGA and PMA.”
  • Come up with a model through which General Assembly overtures with financial implications that don’t involve OGA and PMA are funded by sources other than per capita.

Others focus on commuication or mission interpretation. They include:

  • Creating a campaign “to explain the ‘why’ of making one’s church the giving priority – simple, theological, compelling, repeatable, scaleable.”
  • Provide financial and other resources for a two-year campaign explaining the results of per capita.
  • Provide training resources for General Assembly commissioners on what per capita is and what it supports.
  • Provide per capita training for all new worshipping communities in the PC(USA).