Warning: Statistics are helpful, but they do not give the whole picture. Below is a snapshot, not a picture. How does the Virginia Conference compare with other UM conferences in giving in the US?
The Virginia Annual Conference meets June 20-22 in Roanoke for the 2019 session. We hear the membership and attendance reports which usually show a decline in both. We set the budget which affects apportionments. In 2016 we paid 87.5%. In 2017 we paid 90.6%; a 3% improvement. In 2018 we paid 88.1%. All this gives us a snapshot of our conference up and down financial condition.
However, I am always interested in per capita giving (actually, spending) that is recorded among all the annual conferences in the nation (not international). Let me review some statistics that compare us to other UM conferences, and which demonstrate, in part, our unrealized potential. All the numbers below are accessible at UM General Council on Finance and Administration www.gcfa.org/services/data-services – there are no secrets here.* Note: these figures do not include second-mile giving.
For example, there are 56 annual conference across the US. The average per member giving in 2017 for UM’s in the US equals $766. But in the Virginia Conference (VC) it is $654 per member, or $112 less. Why is that? Do we love God less? Are we in an area of comparatively high poverty? Have we forgotten how to be generous in our tithes and offerings? Do our preachers fail to preach on generosity as a fruit of the Holy Spirit or about the importance of using money wisely? Do our Finance and/or Stewardship Committees simply ignore the issue and hope it will all work out? (“We need new members” is not the answer).
If our 319,822 VC members gave even the US average we would have $35,820,064 additional to use for mission and ministry, starting in the local church! What could you do with an additional $112 per member in your local church? The good news is that from 2016 -2017 our per capita giving increased by $21.00 per member, but we also lost 5105 members (68% by death). Again, it is a snapshot, not a picture.
The book, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, by Emerson and Smith, a sociological study of giving patterns states, “We estimate that if committed Christians in the US gave 10% of their after-tax income that would provide an extra $46 billion per year….” Pg 13. (Oxford Press). (Note: we should be giving the tithe pre-tax, not after tax).
I have been tracking per capita giving for about twenty years and historically Virginia has ranked in the lower third. Therefore, this situation cannot be tied to our current difficult political climate.
If you are a faithfully attending member of your church, you no doubt exceed the average giving. But it appears that faithfully attending members of other annual conferences are more generous than we. Why?
We have an unrealized potential, a powerful tool for ministry and mission, in our local churches and in our conference and it is PRACTISED GENEROSITY! Jesus, who taught more about money and wealth than about prayer, says, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also”.
Our choices about how we spend money is a reflection of our values and priorities. What we give via the offering plate, or estate giving through bequests, or funding an endowment, or other instruments, testifies to our values also. When Christians practice generosity out of a grateful heart, the potential is enormous! Practice generosity, please.
Rev. David A. Rash info@StewardshipMattersVa.org
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Stewardship: It’s Not What You Think. It’s What You Believe…and Do!
*Statistical report from GCFA (Excel file) on my web site rev.5.19.2019