Committee offers recommendations on improving the PC(USA)’s financial sustainability

Report from the GA’s special committee relied on input from 200 mid council leaders

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

A special committee on financial sustainability and per capita review has completed its report.

LOUISVILLE — Like the other committees, teams and commissions created by the 223rd General Assembly in 2018, the Special Committee on Financial Sustainability and Per Capita Review completed its report this week in time to meet Friday’s deadline.

Five recommendations have been forwarded to the 224th General Assembly, which meets June 20-27 in Baltimore:

  • That the 224th GA form a commission to unify the Office of the General Assembly and the Presbyterian Mission Agency into one agency. The recommendation includes revising the Organization for Mission and working “to align the entities, boards, committees and constituent bodies of the General Assembly toward long-term faithfulness and financial sustainability of its mission, with A Corp remaining as the legal entity.”
  • That the assembly instruct the PMA to establish ongoing campaigns “to resource and equip mid council leaders and elders to explain the ‘why’ of making one’s local church a giving priority.” Those campaigns should be “simple, theological, compelling, repeatable and scalable” and led by staff already engaged in mission interpretation who will explain the results of congregational support of the councils above them — per capita.
  • That the next GA moderator or moderators appoint a funding model development team to develop funding model experiments. The team would develop and implement experiments that would fund councils of the church above the session. The team would report on its progress to the 225th General Assembly in 2022 and make recommendations for moving forward.
  • That the 2020 GA create a unified budget structure with consultation among agencies to determine an allocation system for both unrestricted and restricted funding. Staff is to present recommendations to the 225th
  • That the assembly instruct agencies to determine a financial model by which GA overtures with financial implications “whose mandates are inclusive of agencies beyond PMA or OGA” receive funding from other sources besides per capita.

Financial sustainability

In a section of the report labeled “Sustainability,” committee members said it’s their conclusion “that it is not simply the funding, but the separateness and organization of the national church that is not sustainable into the future.”

“It is our recommendation to combine, unify, or eliminate duplicated efforts and funding needs in order to work as a unified church,” the committee said in the report, which can be found here. “Our recommendations are based on our research that indicated there are significant differences, disparities and inequalities between how different agencies are funded as well as the use and/or duplication of those funds for similar purposes.”

“The structure,” the committee wrote, “is not set up for the projected needs of a 21st century church … Additionally, the single entity that serves as an overseeing group (such as A Corp) could minimize duplication of funding, promote accountability of outcomes and ensure a more fair coordination of efforts that meet the needs of the whole church.”

The Book of Order, in G-3.0501, says that General Assembly constitutes “the bond of union, community and mission among all its congregations and councils, to the end that the whole church becomes a community of faith, hope, love and witness.” Based on the committee’s dialogue with 200 mid council leaders, “we have fallen well short of this mandate and need to seriously rethink our national structure so our mission strategy and funding strategy serve the mission of the WHOLE church,” according to the committee’s report.

Experiments for possible funding models

Per capita as a funding model has “become a burden to presbyteries over the last several decades,” the report states. “This financial burden becomes even more alarming when some churches pay per capita and others do not with no apparent penalty for those that fail to pay. Sustainability, in whatever form, requires that ALL churches, presbyteries and synods participate under the same guidelines. It is critical that campaigns are designed and tested to rebuild this important connection to the church and communicate giving benefits while increasing the potential for significantly improved financial support.”

Mid councils “are as lean as they can be and still function,” the report states. “More and more presbyteries are determining they can no longer function under the current model.”

Listening sessions that the per capita team held with mid council leaders “show that while national-level receipts seem like the system is working quite well, it appears that there is a wide variance across the church, and presbyteries are bearing the brunt of making up any shortfalls in congregational per capita remittances,” the report states. “Mid councils are required to pay per capita, regardless of their receipts, while per capita payments are voluntary for congregations. This causes many mid councils, in order to fulfill their obligations, to cut cost over time.”

The committee’s per capita team concluded that “other models of funding may be possible that could create cultures within the mid council communities that would help them to thrive, develop financial sustainability and provide resourcing and ministry to the congregations,” according to the report.

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