Why a budget crunch is looming for the UMC

By Teddy Ray, Special Contributor…

I recently asked a friend who is business administrator of his church to run a quick analysis for me. My specific question: “How much of your church’s contributions come from people age 55 and over?”

His answer was “70 percent.”

My friend was unflinching. “Isn’t it just always that way?” he said. “That’s the group that has the most to give, so they give most of the money.”

One could understand why he wasn’t concerned. After all, my friend’s church looks healthy. The UMC would consider it a “vital congregation.”

But I wasn’t convinced, so I asked him to see if his software could pull off a second analysis. My follow-up question: “How much of your church’s contributions 10 years ago came from people age 55 and over?”

This time, my friend came back concerned. A decade ago, only 50 percent of contributions came from those age 55 and over. In 10 years, they went from half to 70 percent of giving coming from the older group.

A few reasons I had this hunch:

• If your church is at least 10 years old, I’m fairly confident that on average, the membership is older now than it was 10 years ago. You may have anecdotal evidence to argue otherwise (that booming parents’ Sunday school class; the three infant baptisms last week), but unless you can show me the numbers to prove otherwise, I bet you’re older. The average age in the American UMC went from 30 in the 1950s to 57 in 2008.

• Most churches—even ones that look very healthy—have been living off the leadership and giving of the Baby Boomers for a long time.

• The Baby Boomers are now ages 47–65.

• The Older Boomers (those who could have been drafted for Vietnam) are all now 55 and older. They have proven to be generally stronger leaders and contributors than the Younger Boomers.

• The older Silent Generation (whose youngest are now 66) were loyalists, committed to the Church, and committed to supporting it with their money.

This shows a fundamental non-shift taking place in our churches. The younger generations are not shifting to handle more of the financial burden of the church as the Boomers and Silent Generation age. There are no signs that they plan to fill that void.

We are living off the fumes of prior periods’ growth. Meanwhile, we have increased debt, enlarged our campuses (and their accompanying maintenance and utilities costs), and inflated our staffs and salaries.

If the last 10 years saw those ages 55 and older go from accounting for half of a church’s giving to 70 percent, what will the next 10 years see? Unless there is major change, they will almost certainly see big budget reductions.

I don’t write this to scare, but I do write it as a wake-up call.

Mr. Ray is executive pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lexington, Ky. He writes about theology and ministry at www.teddyray.com.

Join the conversation....

  1. don haynes don haynes says:

    This is is a much needed, valid, and grassroots wake up call. We hear it duplicated all across our beloved connection. His age analysis is accurate. As long ago as 1990, I said to Vision 2000 Launch Event audiences in 30 annual conferences that our best friend is medical science–we are living longer! In church after church as a consulatnt since retirement I have seen similar numbers to these Mr. Ray is using. I like to interview 5-10% of the household units in a congregants for thirty minutes. One of the questions is, "If present trends continue, where do you see your church ten years from now?" Almost invariably, since I am usually called to "congregations in crisis," they will phrase their words differently but will in so many words say, "in deep financial trouble."

    If we are fiscally realistic some trends to which we have become accustomed cannot be supported: 1)The current pension fund which sends to GBOP an amount equal to 16.3% of the pastor's salary. That is a "Cadillac plan" and we cannot afford it. 2)Station churches with less than 100 in attendance. (To be a vital congregation in program and fiscal solvency, there should be at least 150 in attendance which means about 70 giving family units, and many of them nominal in their stewardship. 3)Repeated career advancement for most clergy. The "ladder" is simply sinking rung by rung into the sand. Many of our bellwether churches(like "Old First Church, County Seat, USA) are drmatically less in attendance than 20 years ago. Sunday School is frighteningly low in children and youth.

    We must reduce the apportionment load. That is not to say the general church is not a good steward or that our apportioned funds do not go to good causes. But the church, as Elton Trueblood, the great Quaker, defined it years ago is a combination of "base and field." If the base dries up, the "supply lines" cannot be provided for the field hospitals, mess halls, and fire power. This is a military metaphor from a pacifist! However, if we lose lose church vitality, there will be no money for apportionments. We must keep the local church strong.

    Thank you for your very helpful article

    Don Haynes

  2. jhughes42071 says:

    This article speaks volumes to the problems that exist inside the UMC today. The church I attend (which is the church I grew up in) today was structured with about 65% being over the age of 55 fifteen years ago. Today we see over half of our regular attenders being under the age of 45. The church has seen 86% growth in the last ten years and we are just starting talks about building a new facility. But the problem is that this is the exception and not the rule. We have let church structure and tradition get in the way of maintaining relevance to the younger generation. The evangelical sector is growing by leaps and bounds because they are not tied to a particular way of doing business. They are more free to adapt. I think the UMC needs to focus on true dynamic worship and core biblical teachings. Radical belief that our God is capable of doing anything, even reviving the UMC when it appears to be in its death throes.

  3. For years the umc has preached a social/feel good gospel. No commitment to supporting the umc with prayers, presence, gifts, and service is encouraged. Even folks my age (and that is "ancient!") a lot of the time attend(ed) church only when it was convenient rather than making it a priority. If one's ties to the umc are not strongly attached to a changed heart because of the Blood of the Lamb, financial support will be slow in coming.

    Apportionment dollars support many things that subvert the Judeo/Christian roots on which our country was founded. All of the above contribute to the fact that the umc is gasping for breath. When the hierarchy falls to its knees and bows its head and cries to Father/Son/Holy Spirit and leads by example rather than by demand–perhaps–just perhaps–those few who continue to sit in the pews on Sundays will dig deeper in response to a Spirit-led denomination.

    John Wesley and Francis Asbury must be weeping.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 

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