We say that our congregations should financially support the denomination. At least that's what 87 percent of Mennonite Brethren churchgoers said who responded to a conference-wide survey conducted by Les Stahlke. Stahlke carried out the survey in 2006 as part of his work as a consultant to the Leadership Board as they drafted the current U.S. Conference bylaws. If congregations would contribute the requested amount per memeber, the U.S. Conference, district conferences and denominational ministries would be on financially solid ground.
But when it comes right down to it, Mennonite Brethren congregations don’t financially support the denomination. The most recent Church Giving Report, released at the end of February and covering the first nine months of the current U.S. Conference fiscal year, shows that only 65 of the 200 U.S. Mennonite Brethren congregations have contributed something to the U.S. Conference. My guess is that church giving to our denominational agencies—MB Biblical Seminary, MBMS International, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University—follows a similar pattern.
I’ve attended enough church business meetings to know why congregations struggle to contribute their fair share to the denomination and its ministries. The needs of the local congregation are right before us—paying the heating and cooling bills, replacing old or inadequate facilities, purchasing Sunday school curriculum and appropriately compensating pastors. The needs of our community are staring us in the face—unemployment, poverty, single-parent families and people who don’t yet have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The needs of the denomination seem far away, so we first take care of our congregation’s needs and budget for local outreach projects. Then we divvy out the remaining money to conference ministries.
This giving pattern has dogged U.S. Mennonite Brethren ministries for a long time and conference leaders have addressed the situation in a variety of ways. But the trend continues—most of us don’t send money to fund denominational ministries and those congregations that do donate send less than we are asked to contribute.
This creates an annual funding problem that has been magnified this year by the current recession. In early March, U.S. Conference leaders determined that even if church contributions remain consistent for the last three months of the fiscal year (March, April and May) and other fundraising is successful, the conference will need to under spend its budget by about $100,000.
The two U.S. Conference ministries that account for a significant portion of the budget—almost 60 percent—are the Christian Leader, the monthly magazine you are reading right now that is sent to members and attendees of U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches, and Mission USA, the church planting and church renewal ministry of the conference. So it’s natural that cuts will be made in these two areas.
Don Morris, Mission USA director, says that savings will be realized as some partnership projects are concluding, and some new projects will not be funded at the level first anticipated and as others are delayed.
Next month you will not receive a Christian Leader. The May issue has been canceled as a cost-saving measure. This decision has a domino effect. It involves the printer and design firm with which we do business. It impacts ministries that highlight their work through advertisements. I appreciate the gracious understanding of these folks regarding this decision.
We look forward to publishing in a future issue the essays and articles commissioned for the May focus on the sanctity of human life. Although there will not be a print magazine, we do plan on posting new news stories and feature essays at CL Online.
Cutting budgets—at home, at work and at church—is never fun. The things we plan to do are good and worthy of our time, energy and dollars. In spite of the budget challenges congregations may be facing, I encourage churches to support the U.S. Conference and the ministries of our denomination. The motto that Kim West adopted when she raised funds to buy a car for her friend would serve local congregations well as we think about whether or not to contribute to the U.S. Conference: “Not many of us have a lot of money, but a lot of us have a little. Give what you can.” —Connie Faber