Churches challenged to step up to full mission giving

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches challenged to step up to full mission giving

June 20, 2008     News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0870}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

LAKELAND — If every church in the Florida Conference pays its 2008 conference apportionments at 100 percent, Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson said he promises not to raise the conference budget in 2010.

Charlie Radigan (right), chairman of the finance committee at Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, presents a check for $21,000 to Florida Conference Treasurer Mickey Wilson. The amount, raised as part of the church’s “We Choose Mission” campaign, paid the congregation’s 2007 apportionments. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0900.

Wilson offered that bold challenge after the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event in Lakeland, where more than 1,600 lay and clergy members adopted a 2009 budget of $18.4 million. The budget, which is 6 percent more than 2008 levels, supports mission and ministry throughout the Florida Conference and around the world.

The total budget consists of two pieces: general church apportionments and the conference level budget, which, Wilson notes, comprises a little more than 56.2 percent of the $18.4 million and is below 2007’s budgeted figure. The remaining 43.76 percent supports the general church, providing funds for ministry in such areas as the Episcopal Fund, the Black College Fund and World Service.

“If churches that are not paying 100 percent of their apportionments could pay their conference budget items and use that as a starting point toward moving to paying 100 percent, we’d be in great shape,” Wilson said.

Many churches, Wilson said, do start on the road to paying 100 percent of their full apportionments by contributing 100 percent to the conference level budget. With this foundation and a three- to five-year plan in place, congregations begin to see the fruits of their efforts when they reach the full 100 percent apportionment giving goal.

Apportionments are part of the very fabric of the connectional system that is The United Methodist Church. Every church in a conference (geographic region) is asked to support its portion of the general church and conference level budget based on several key factors, including how much money they spend on themselves and other expenses.

But Wilson is a realist. He knows the budget adopted in 2008 isn’t the actual amount churches will remit this year. He’s hoping for 85 percent of that figure.

“In 2007, churches in the Florida Conference paid about 80 percent of their apportionments,” Wilson said during his treasurer’s report at this year’s conference session. “If every church paid 100 percent of their connectional giving, we’d have more than enough money to do the work of the church.”

Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg is one church that’s making significant strides in achieving that goal.

The Allendale challenge

On June 8, Allendale United Methodist Church presented Wilson with a $21,000 check to pay its apportionments for last year.

Wilson is challenging other Florida Conference churches to follow that example.

“If Allendale United Methodist Church, a church with an average worship attendance of 200, can raise $21,000 in less than two months to pay its 2007 apportionments, other churches can do the same.”

Several months ago, Adrien Helm, a lay member of the church, stood up in a church council meeting and challenged the church to pay both its 2007 and 2008 apportionments.

The Rev. Lisa Degrenia, pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church, says the church’s commitment to paying its apportionments is not a “survival-mode” decision. Rather, it’s a “DNA-level cultural shift” about what it means to be connected as part of The United Methodist Church and as Christians. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0901.

“Adrien shared how, when she was a young mother, she was placed on the finance committee of a (different) church, and she really didn’t understand this connectional giving thing,” said the Rev. Lisa Degrenia, Allendale’s pastor. “She just thought it was a tax placed on the church; it was just an institution-feeding kind of thing.”

But as Helm learned about apportionments, Degrenia said, she realized that as mother of young children she could not go out of the country and serve as a missionary or go and help at a traditionally black college or physically participate in the many other ministries made possible through connectional giving.

“No one person and no one church can do what we can do together. She had a change of mind and a change of heart over it,” Degrenia said.

That change prompted Helm to urge the church to undertake a three-month campaign, dubbed “We Choose Mission,” to raise $50,000 for two years’ worth of mission giving.

The result has been a “change in the church’s DNA,” the pastor said.

‘We Choose Mission’

“If this had been a fund-raising effort just to pay this year’s apportionments, that would have been survival-mode thinking,” Degrenia said. “But because the emphasis was going to be on when we don’t pay our connectional giving, mission goes unfunded, we would be emphasizing what it means to be United Methodist, our Wesleyan heritage and theology, and our connectional church. When that became the emphasis of the campaign, then I knew we’d had a shift in missional thinking.”

And so the “We Choose Mission” campaign was born, with dozens of fund-raisers and changes in the way the church did church.

“We’ve had a sermon series and times of testimonies in worship over the last few weeks,” said Charlie Radigan, chairman of the church’s finance committee. “We have been reminding ourselves of our Methodist history and roots and why we’re Methodists, how we’re connected and what we do as a Methodist people to help further God’s service worldwide and nationwide, not just what we do in our own community.”

The testimonies — a key piece of the whole campaign, Degrenia said — help put a face on the various components of connectional giving. For example, she said, it is one thing to have someone stand up and talk about giving to the Black College Fund; it is another thing to have someone give testimony to the great vision and faithfulness of Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman University, a thriving United Methodist-affiliated, historically black university in the Florida Conference.

Moving beyond trendy giving

Degrenia, who has been pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church for eight years, said in today’s world, giving to worthy causes is a trendy, “hip” thing to do.

“You have ‘Oprah’s Big Give’ and ‘Idol Gives Back,’ and around here you can’t walk into a restaurant without seeing some charity that they’re supporting through part of their profits,” she said.

Lewis Gibson, lay member to annual conference from Allendale United Methodist Church, says many in the congregation are participating in the campaign to pay the church’s apportionments, rather than a few financially stable members “kicking in that extra money at the end of the year.” He says that represents a shift in attitude about what it means to be connected. Photo by Erik J. Alsgaard. Photo #08-0902.

For her church, when it comes to extravagant generosity, it’s about framing giving within the Christian context — that it’s not just “in” to give, but that it’s a good gift from God to keep our lives free and connected to God in transforming ways, she said.

Fund-raisers at the church varied from rummage sales to a “dog and car wash,” with the entire congregation seemingly involved in one aspect of the campaign or another.

“We have all ages involved in these projects,” Degrenia said. “The diversity of all these projects is great to see. We wrote on the board all the different ways that all these projects were so far beyond fund raising. This was evangelism. This was vision and focus and teamwork and outreach to the community.

“That’s why I know in my heart that this is beyond a survival-mode decision; this is a DNA-level cultural shift we are experiencing, and we’ve been praying for it for years. It was just great fun.”

A shift in attitude

Lewis Gibson, the church’s lay member to annual conference this year, said the “DNA change” his pastor talks about is important for many reasons, one of which is the shift in attitude he’s seeing in the church.

“We have always had issues toward the end of the year in making that last chuck of money to pay up apportionments and insurance and the other commitments that we have,” he said. “In the past, we have had financially stable members who have been financially capable of kicking in that extra money at the end of the year. This year is different in that that extra money did not come from one or two or three generous donors. … This came from nickels and dimes. This came from members of the congregation all doing their little piece.”

Radigan expected the regular church offerings to suffer because of the campaign, and they did during the campaign’s first month. In the second month, however, contributions not only rose to their regular levels, they exceeded them.

“At this point, we’ve remained on budget, which is pretty exciting,” he said. “I was willing to give up a little to make up some on the other side, if you will, but maybe we’ve got people thinking about their giving in all areas of the church. People have stepped up, and we’ve done well.”

And the church’s pastor couldn’t be more proud of or happier for her congregation.

“It’s been great watching the congregation go,” she said. “This has been laity-led from the start. All of us involved are of the mindset that it’s not about us. It’s exciting to have the e-Review (Florida United Methodist News Service) want to come (and write a story about it), but it’s more exciting to be actively pursuing what God wants us to do and seeing how the connection makes that happen.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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