Committee recommends appointing commission to unify PC(USA) agencies, plus team to develop funding experiments

Members of the Special Committee on Per-Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability voted Feb. 11 via Zoom to approve their recommendations to the 2022 General Assembly.

The Special Committee on Per-Capita Based Funding and National Church Financial Sustainability voted Feb. 11 to send two recommendations to the 2022 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

First, the General Assembly should form a commission – with considerable power to act on its own – to oversee and facilitate the unification of the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) and the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) into a single agency.

Second, the General Assembly should direct its moderator or co-moderators to appoint a Funding Model Development team to develop and implement experiments for funding the councils of the PC(USA) above the session — so, for presbyteries, synods and the national church.

In the rationale, the committee summarizes the need for the proposed changes by saying commissioners will find in its report “a great deal of data, analysis, and many summaries of reports,” but it all will “start and end with this: our denominational structure no longer serves our denomination and until that is corrected, no other actions will lead to significant change.”

The commission on unification the committee is proposing would have significant authority and would work for four years, reporting back to the General Assembly in 2026. It could, if needed, assume all the governance functions of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.

It could “work to align the entities, boards, committees, and constituent board of the General Assembly towards long-term faithfulness and financial sustainability” of the mission of the PC(USA). It could make personnel and budget changes.

And it could “determine the strategies and priorities … where all available dollars, responsibilities and charges are evaluated and unified to provide the best accomplishment of General Assembly goals.”

The report states that “the last four years have only intensified the need for collaboration between PMA and OGA” as “unfortunately the structure has ossified even more. For instance, overtures from OGA to PMA to work collaboratively on reorganization around shared mission and resourcing have not only been rebuffed, but PMA has ventured out on their own restructuring plan without any input from OGA.”

These recommendations are the culmination of three years of work by the special committee – which the 2018 General Assembly created in response to concerns about whether per capita, the per-member based funding system used to fund the national church, is sustainable considering the reality that the denomination has been declining in membership for decades.

Given that, the only way to raise additional money through that system is to raise the General Assembly per capita rate, which currently stands at $8.98 per member for 2021 and 2022. Originally, a significant increase in the per capita rate had been proposed in 2018 – and some presbytery leaders told the assembly that per capita was becoming a financial burden on congregations that many smaller churches just couldn’t continue to bear.

Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk. Photo from Jan. 15, 2020.

A recommendation for the 2023 and 2024 per capita rate is expected to come in May. Kerry Rice, the PC(USA)’s deputy stated clerk, has said it’s expected the recommendation will be for a percentage increase in the single digits, something less than 10%.

The special committee has modified its recommendations from the ones it presented in 2020, which the assembly did not act on that year when it met virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and considered only essential business.

In presenting the revisions, the committee wrote that it was “taking into consideration changes in the wider church, the effects of COVID on congregations and presbyteries and recognizing that this is still a story unfolding.”

The special committee is recommending the unification of PMA and OGA into one agency – avoiding using the term “merger,” thinking that word might somehow trigger more opposition. The intent is that a new structure would have “missional and ecclesial coordination,” and that a unified entity at the top of the national church structure would bring a coherent vision to strategies, priorities, and spending, the committee’s report says. “A unified church will be a stronger church.”

The rationale for the recommendation refers to the work done by previous groups that also have discussed a possible structural change or merger in recent years — the All Agency Review Committee, the Way Forward Commission and the Moving Forward Commission. The work those groups did informs the assembly of “a hard truth about our national church: our structure is not unified, our work is divided, and our mission is ineffective and unsustainable,” the rationale states.

The report states that “uneven funding is clearly shown in the way PMA and OGA are funded” – with PMA getting most of the income generated by assets managed by the Presbyterian Foundation for the mission of the church, while OGA, which is responsible for the PC(USA)’s ecclesial work, relies primarily on per capita funding.

The rationale also states that PC(USA) polity clearly states “there is ONE council, General Assembly, who is responsible for the mission of our national church, and at the very least that means that the two entities who embody that mission should work together as ONE. This is not the case, organizationally, administratively, or financially. “

The recommendation states that the commission which the committee asking the General Assembly to create “shall review, address and align the financial agreements” currently in place “to support the new Organization for Mission so that each area of mission has adequate funds to sustain the mission long term.”

The recommendation states that “once unification is finalized, the commission shall determine the structure moving forward,” and present the new Organization for Mission to the 2026 General Assembly for its approval.

The Funding Model Development Team also would report any recommendations it develops to the assembly in 2026.

Valerie Young (left) and Laura Cheifetz serve as the committee’s co-moderators.

Per capita. Before making its recommendations in 2020, the committee conducted listening sessions with more than 200 mid council leaders from more than 100 presbyteries, with representation from all 16 synods. Those conversations showed that “per capita as a funding model has become a burden to many presbyteries over the last several decades,” the report states.

Among the reasons:

  • “Presbyteries are decreasing in size, both in the number of congregations and the number of members in those congregations. Per capita is set by membership figures but on a two-year delay because of the way membership is reported. Thus, if a presbytery has had a significant decrease in membership, they still pay per capita on the higher number for two years.
  • Many mid council leaders find themselves ill-equipped to explain what the impact of per capita is for our shared mission at the presbytery, synod, and General Assembly levels.
  • Some congregations refuse to pay per capita and this simply shifts the financial burden from those congregations to the presbytery who, by our polity, are mandated to pay per capita.
  • For at least twenty years, presbyteries have cut staff, programs, mission, office space, and, at the same time, used reserves, mission giving, or investments to make up the difference between collected per capita and per capita sent to the national church. Mid councils are as lean as they can be and still function.
  • And we heard repeatedly that the PC(USA) does not have a unified vision and that structural changes at the national level are needed before creating a new comprehensive funding strategy.”

In 2021, the committee reached out to some mid council leaders again.

“As the year progressed the responses indicated that, overall, presbyteries were stable but extremely concerned about their financial future. The mid council leaders indicated that pastors are fatigued and many leaders in congregations are anxious about the uncertain future of both congregations and presbyteries,” the report states.

“The committee recommends that a task force be named to experiment with funding models that could eventually be utilized by the whole church. Experiments or pilot programs would provide a way to image new funding models and experiment with room for trial, error, and learning before recommending or shifting to a new model.”

Because of time constraints, the special committee “was unable to fully develop and implement experiments,” the report states.

But its report to the assembly includes a “Handbook Handoff” – a handbook on possible per capita experiments. That could include:

  • A percentage model – with giving depending on a percent of a congregation’s annual income.
  • A Presbyterian partnership model – “kind of an enhanced communication and financial development model,” the handbook states.

“We need to do experiments now,” the handbook states. “Many of our presbyteries are at a crisis/crossroads and need assistance now. Others are in a creative place and ready to try something new. Something needs to happen, and time is running out for some.”