United Methodists Might Not Remember Jerry Maguire, but the movie’s most famous line seems particularly important in local churches right now.
Jerry Maguire is a 1996 American romantic comedy-drama sports film starring Tom Cruise, Cuba Gooding Jr., Renée Zellweger, and Regina King. The script includes some lines that have become familiar catch phrases a quarter of a century later. We know “You had me at hello”, and “You complete me”, and “Help me help you.” But the most famous line, and the seeming to whisper in the background for local United Methodist congregations right now, is:
SHOW ME THE MONEY!
As local congregations consider their connection with the United Methodist denomination, financial matters are always part of the mix. Here’s a select overview of the dollars and cents of denominational affiliation.
A local church budget includes a lot of expenses for its maintenance, mission, and ministry. Everything from the coffee for fellowship hour, to the replacement of the roof, to the candles for Christmas Eve worship is included somewhere in the annual spending plan. One of the primary concerns I’ve encountered in conversations and presentations with congregations and their leaders in northern Illinois relates to the costs of connection with the denomination. The top three financial issues are property, apportionments, and partnerships in missions.
Local Church Property
Though the underlying cause of the denominational unraveling of United Methodism is tied to differences of theological commitments, most of the current wrangling relates to local church property. In particular, the Trust Clause included, imputed, or inferred in the deeds of local United Methodist churches, affirms that the trustees of the local congregation hold the title to the local property in trust for the mission of the larger denomination. The current processes of disaffiliation undertaken by local congregations seeking to depart from the UMC are, in one sense, primarily focused on the “lifting of the Trust Clause” so that the local congregation may depart in possession of its church property as well as any other tangible assets.
So, what is behind the Trust Clause and why is it such a thorny problem now?
The origin of the Trust Clause goes back to one of the founders of the Methodist movement, Rev. John Wesley, in the 18th century. As the Methodist movement in England gained adherents, commissioned large numbers of lay preachers, and local Methodists began building preaching-houses and chapels, the issues of itineracy, doctrinal alignment, and the form of overall organization became increasingly urgent. The Trust Clause, through its development in the 18th century and to the present, has attempted to address each of these:
- Initially Mr. Wesley, and later the Conference, appointed pastors to local churches in order to keep the preachers free from local, social controls. Preachers were not called by the local church, but rather sent by the Methodist Conference. Preachers were and are to be free to exhort the congregation with the “whole counsel of God” rather than catering only to the preferences of the people in the pews, particularly the well-connected and well-off.
- The Methodist preachers appointed were to align themselves with the doctrinal standards of the Methodist movement, particularly the doctrines as promoted in Mr. Wesley’s Standard Sermons and his Notes on the New Testament. Maintaining accountable evangelical Wesleyan-Arminian preaching in the Methodist chapels was essential. Anyone preaching alternative theology/doctrine would be removed from their position.
- The preaching-houses and chapels could not be hijacked by locals who had a different mission. The mission of the Methodists was to “spread Scriptural holiness across the land” and the preaching-houses and chapels would be retained by the Conference exclusively for that purpose.
From the vantage point of the 18th century Methodist leaders, including of first importance Mr. Wesley himself, this all seems like a brilliant means to help assure the missional movement of which they were part could maintain its integrity after the passing of the first generation.
From the vantage point of the 21st Century, however, the irony of our current situation is hard to miss. Many of our denominational leaders dismiss our doctrinal standards as “landmark documents from the past” but no longer requiring adherence in the teaching and preaching ministries of the church today. Though our list of potential “chargeable offenses” against pastors in the Book of Discipline has grown longer, clergy are almost never held to account for doctrinal off-roading. And the Annual Conferences, far from being stalwart custodians of the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” seem more intent on maintaining control of assets. Those annual conferences adding additional “exit fees” based on percentage of fair market value of the property or a “compensation fee” for the UMC to begin a new congregation in the same community as the current disaffiliating congregation look to be leaving the missional and doctrinal concerns behind in an effort to find rationale for perpetrating a financial windfall. For more on the history and development of the Model Deed for Methodist Preaching-Houses in the 18th Century: Mr. Wesley’s Trust Clause: Methodism in the Vernacular
The alternative denominational home chosen by most disaffiliating congregations, the Global Methodist Church, attempts to reset the balance addressed in the original Trust Clause by providing local congregations ownership of their property, accountability to the Wesleyan doctrinal standards as well as the ecumenical creeds of the global church, and the appointment of pastors by the bishop as part of a process in collaboration with the local church. For more detail in the areas of pastoral qualifications and appointment, doctrinal accountability, and local church property, see: Global Methodist Church Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline
While many United Methodists might not be familiar with the Trust Clause related to local church property, they are probably familiar with the term “apportionments.” United Methodist apportionments are assigned to each local church as their share of the overall budget of the annual (regional) conference and the general church. One hundred percent of the assigned apportionment amount is required to be included in the annual budget of the local church. Though there seems to be no discernible accountability for whether or not a local congregation’s ministry of evangelism actually results in more Christ-followers year over year, the accountability for “paying 100% of apportionments” is familiar, frequent, and held up for celebration (if your congregation pays 100%) or derision (if your congregation doesn’t).
How much is the required apportionment for a local United Methodist Church? Each Annual (regional) Conference has its own formulations to calculate the required apportionment to be paid by the local church, but all are based upon the operational expenses paid by local churches as a measure of their financial strength. For example, the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference local church apportionment is 15.3% of local church operational expenses. For the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, the apportionment is 14.7% of local church operational expenses. For Northern Illinois Annual Conference, the apportionment is 12% of local church expenditures. Northern Illinois Annual Conference Apportionment Formula
Local congregations in the Global Methodist Church are also expected to contribute to the funding of their annual conference and the general Global Methodist denomination. The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline of the Global Methodist Church caps the required contribution for the general church at no more than 1.5% of local church operating budget (currently in 2023 it is .75%); the expected contribution for the annual conference is capped at no more than 5% of local church operating expenditures. If a local church in the GMC refuses or fails to support the denomination and annual conference financially, it can be involuntarily disaffiliated from the Global Methodist Church Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline , par. 349). The intent of this funding model is to provide financial support for a lean organizational structure of the annual conference and denomination while allowing local churches to retain more of their financial resources for local ministry. Estimates are that most local churches in the GMC will see their connectional funding amounts to be 50% or less of the amount they have paid in UMC apportionments. See Connectional Funding in the Global Methodist Church
Mission Partnerships: Where Does the Money Go?
A related and important question for local church members and leaders is not only how much money is sent out from local church, but where does it go?
The United Methodist denomination is a large, mature, bureaucratic organization that operates with a “send the money to headquarters and we’ll distribute it” model. The assumption is 1) the local church’s desires and priorities for supporting mission partners is adequately represented by our denomination’s administrative groups and 2) we don’t need to know exactly where, to whom, and why our apportionments and additional financial gifts are sent because our administrators and denominational staff who spend the money are better at making these decisions than the people who contribute the money. This might sound a little odd. Most of us would like to know where the money goes…specifically. And we’d like to know the impact…specifically.
It is often an unwelcome surprise to local church members that, according to the Book of Discipline, the “basic body” in United Methodism is the Annual Conference (paragraph 33). Most of us would think of the local church as the “basic body” of a denomination, but in United Methodism it isn’t actually that way. The extensive and expensive bureaucracy of our denomination, funded by apportionment dollars uploaded from local churches, often promotes its own agenda while largely insulated from the perspective and priorities of local churches. For much more on the advocacy and costs of UM bureaucracy: The High Cost and Issues Advocacy of UM General Boards and Agencies
The Global Methodist Church, as one option being considered by many congregations seeking disaffiliation from the UMC, has a very lean administrative structure at both the annual conference and global church level. The mission partnerships for local congregations are expected to be direct, personal, accountable, and substantial. The money is sent, for the most part, directly to the mission partners involved. The local church can send mission teams to visit the work, evaluate the impact, and find deeper ways to connect with vital ministries and missions within their community, region, and across the globe. One expected outcome for local church finances is that the amount sent directly to mission partners will be much greater than the amount sent to maintain the administrative structure of the denomination.
Rev. Keith Boyette, Chief Connectional Officer of the Global Methodist Church, writes about one of the distinctives of the GMC that has profound implications for local church ministries in the GMC:
We are a global church recognizing and deploying the gifts and contributions of each part of the church, working as partners in the Gospel with equal voice and leadership. We are intentionally connecting churches from different regions of the world who develop mutually rewarding relationships to share the Gospel and to grow God’s kingdom globally. Our approach to global partnerships is personal, not institutional. We long to see every church intimately connected to at least one other church elsewhere in the world so that we develop deep personal relationships, learn from being followers of Christ in different cultures, and share in one another’s ministries, supporting one another in prayer, and combining the gifts entrusted to us by God as we watch God use ordinary people to do his extraordinary work.
SHOW ME THE MONEY?
How much money?
Where does the money go…to whom and for what purpose?
These are important questions for congregations discerning their future. Money is not the most important matter, but it is, as Jesus observed, an important indicator of spiritual vitality:
“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” Mathew 6:21 NLT