Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

Funding Model Development Team co-moderators take to the airwaves to explain their work to date

Stated Clerks Erica Rader and Michael Wilson lead an informative webinar ahead of their report to the 226th General Assembly

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Erica Rader

LOUISVILLE — This month’s webinar put on by the co-moderators of the Funding Model Development Team laid out the work completed so far on the team’s General Assembly mandate to “develop and implement experiments that will fund councils of the church, above the session, that will be consistent with the identified values and adaptive challenges of the mid councils.”

The hour-long webinar, which can be viewed here, featured the team’s co-moderators, the Rev. Erica Rader, Stated Clerk for San Jose Presbytery, and the Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson, Stated Clerk for both the Presbytery of Donegal and the Synod of the Trinity. The Funding Model Development Team’s interim report to the General Assembly is here.

Wilson and Rader have been “in close communication” with Cristi Scott Ligon and the Rev. Dr. Felipe N. Martínez, the co-moderators of the Unification Commission, Wilson said. “We have followed their timing,” Wilson said, “and tried to figure out how our work fits together.”

After presenting its interim report, the FMDT is scheduled to report to the 227th General Assembly (2026) with recommendations. “While we are not yet requesting additional time, we are aware that, given the timelines of budgeting and complexity of our work, it is likely we will request an additional two years for this task,” the team’s interim report states.

The FMDT follows the work of two groups appointed by the 224th General Assembly (2018), the Per Capita Review Committee and Financial Sustainability Task Force, which in 2019 were combined into the Per Capita and Financial Sustainability Team. Eventually, that team recommended the unification of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly, which is the current work of the Unification Commission. That team also recommended that there be experiments in different ways of funding the national church and mid councils, which has become the work of the FMDT.

“Not surprisingly, we have discovered that in general the present per capita funding model — as it has been adapted and/or applied by mid council bodies — is not sustainable in the long run,” the interim report states. “Most mid councils are funding their ministry through a combination of per capita, mission giving, investment income and reserve spending. Given the amount of reserve spending and declining membership, present funding for many mid councils is not sustainable.”

Rader noted that congregational contributions to higher councils, including mid councils, is voluntary, but mid councils’ contributions to the General Assembly are not voluntary. “If congregations don’t pay per capita for a variety of reasons — they may not be able to or choose not to — mid councils have to make difficult choices to comply with their mandatory payment of per capita,” in which choices can include cutting staff or programs, resourcing their support differently, closing office space, or using mission gifts or reserves. “This has been colloquially called ‘The Squeeze,’” she said. “This is data confirmed by the prior groups who worked on the issue of funding higher councils.”

The co-moderators commended G-3.0101 in the Book of Order as “a sign of the unity of the church.”

“We’re really trying to dwell in our values as we seek to do this work on behalf of all of you,” Rader said.

OGA and PMA funding for the administration of mission is currently received in two main streams, Wilson said: per capita from congregations as received by mid councils, and basic mission support, which is remitted directly from congregations, mid councils and other entities.

Mid councils have different ways of offsetting their funding gaps, he noted. Many have an endowment or other financial support, and some use reserve spending to fund their ministries, although “we all know reserve spending is not sustainable over the long run,” Wilson said.

Traditionally, OGA has been funded almost exclusively through per capita resources. That too is not sustainable, Wilson said, especially as membership in the PC(USA) declines.

The two funding models the FMDT is inviting mid councils to experiment with are:

  • A Percentage Model, in which a fixed percentage of congregational income goes to replace per capita and voluntary shared mission support with a unified OGA and PMA. “This would be a substantial shift for us,” Wilson said. “Not a per-member rate, but a percentage of congregational income.” There are “some justice issues on how per capita lands on some congregations,” he said.
  • A Participation Model, which includes per capita combined with voluntary shared mission support to a unified OGA and PMA with “increased resource and communication to congregations. This recognizes what we need to do is tell our story better … and invite people to share God’s grace with God’s people in various ways, including administering mission,” he said. “We will do pilots and experiment with these and invite mid councils to participate.”

Rader said next steps include conducting a survey developed by Research Services “to discern input on the models. It’s both a science and an art to develop and craft a survey that captures people’s preferences,” she said. “We had a lot of great data from [previously convened] focus groups, but it was hard to measure it. This survey should give us understanding of people’s input on these models.”

Interested mid councils will be invited “to work to examine participation models for their unique context,” she said.

The ultimate goal is to come up with a funding model that is equitable, elegant and sustainable.

“We want it to be equitable. We want it to work for mid councils as well as the national church,” Rader said. “We’re a connectional church and we care about all levels of the church, and of course congregations, where the mission of God is often directly done.”

“Elegant means we want to be able to explain it,” she said, and sustainability is a key because “we recognize we are a smaller denomination than we were 20 years ago. But God’s not done with us yet,” Rader said.

“A different funding model isn’t going to magically result in increased funds,” she said. “But we trust we have a gracious, generous God and that there will be sufficient funding for the ministry God calls us to do.”

“I know this feels like a lot of aspirational words,” Rader said. “But I’m glad that I’m called to this work, and I’m glad Michael was too.”

The Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson

During a question-and-answer session following their presentation, Wilson said one big challenge the team is aware of “is in terms of cost and funding, we have an infrastructure of the denomination on national, synod and presbytery levels that was built around assumptions that no longer hold. We need different funding models to inhabit the structures that we need for ministry today.”

“One assumption we hold is we are a generous, well-resourced denomination,” he said. “We also acknowledge we’re smaller and there may not be resources to structure and fund things the way we have in the past. The Unification Commission is asking similar questions.”

Rader said the team doesn’t yet know what percentage will be needed to fund the Percentage Model. “This is one of the things we hope the survey will yield,” she said.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.