John Bolt, deputy executive director and chief financial officer, brought a strategic review of the Christian Reformed Church’s congregational ministries, synodical administration, ministry support services, and central services to the Council of Delegates recent meeting. The review was necessary to try to deal with a $1.5 million USD deficit in the current budget of the CRCNA Michigan corporation. In May, when budgets were approved, a reduction in pledged revenue showed the expected gap. Bolt was tasked with bringing the review to the October meeting. Three specific recommendations were discussed, two rejected. Conversations about other proposed strategies are ongoing and will come back to the Council in February.
The pledged revenue comes in the form of ministry shares—contributions congregations give to support ministries done together as a denomination. Starting this year, instead of asking congregations to send in a certain amount per member, congregations were invited to pledge their own amount for support of denominational ministries.
Congregational ministries include Faith Formation, Worship, Disability Concerns, Office of Social Justice, Race Relations, Safe Church, Indigenous Ministry (Canada), Centre for Public Dialogue (Canada), Candidacy Committee, Chaplaincy and Care, Pastor Church Resources, and Diversity. These ministries are supported almost entirely by ministry shares, so a fall in income (or pledges) from that source hits these ministries much harder than agencies also supported by a donor base (such as Resonate Global Mission).
Total ministry share income pledged for fiscal 2022 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022), including money directed to Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary, is $18.4 million. Ministry share income received in the fiscal year just ended (June 30, 2021) was $21,474,000. The deficit for congregational ministries is caused in large part by the drop in that pledged income. (Bolt said, “The Ministry Share shortfall was managed by the other areas in their fiscal 2022 budgets through various actions.”)
The drop in pledges is primarily on the U.S. side of the denomination. Pledged Canadian giving has remained stable.
Previous reporting: “Not Our Grandparents’ Ministry Shares,” June 19, 2019; “Reimagining Ministry Shares Moves to Implementation,” June 18, 2020; “Ministry Share Pledges Low But New Churches Contributing,” Feb. 22, 2021; “Pledge-based Budget Sees Income Down, Allocations Change,” May 14, 2021.
On the expense side, Bolt said that congregational ministries have significantly expanded in recent years with initiatives that were started with grants. Once the grants were used up, the intent was to embed the new ministry into the ongoing activities of the ministry area. “The expansion of Pastor Church Resources from $470,000 in 2004 to nearly $1.2 million in 2022 reflects this trend,” Bolt wrote in a report for the Council.
On the revenue side, Bolt said he's been in his job for “18 and a half years, and looking at what causes ministry shares to drop has been probably the No. 1 subject that I've been involved with.”
In response to some delegates suggesting that dissatisfaction or lack of passion for certain denominational programs could be the root cause, Bolt said previous studies, such as a priority assessment by Synod 2017, indicated "everybody loved what we do. And everything was high priority" (See Ministry Priorities, Budget Realities, Feb. 18, 2018). “I wish I knew what the magic answer was as far as encouraging (the giving of ministry shares),” Bolt said. He said he would encourage churches to use “processes through overtures and what have you” to communicate desires for specific ministries, but not to “express your opinion with your wallet."”
Where to Cut
Over recent months, Bolt undertook a strategic review and presented a whole range of suggestions for cutting expenses and increasing revenues for this and future fiscal years. Some of the ideas were as follows:
- Leaving open positions unfilled
- Keeping meetings of the Council of Delegates virtual for the rest of this fiscal year. The Council wants at least one meeting in person. (See below.)
- Reallocating undesignated funds destined for Resonate Global Mission and congregational ministries as needed throughout the year. The Council said no to this. (See below.)
- Reducing the number of print issues of The Banner. This was referred back to The Banner advisory committee and staff to determine how it would recommend achieving savings.
- Sending to synod only three delegates instead of four. This can only be decided by a synod and would require a change in the Church Order (Church Order Art. 45).
For increasing revenue, Bolt said directors of the congregational ministries have been given training via “advancement bootcamp.” He said this extra effort might be able to raise an additional $50,000 in this first year.
His review also suggests allowing churches to make their own allocation when they make their pledge. Bolt wrote that consideration should be given to that after the costs of the pledge system and synodical administration is funded.
At its February 2022 meeting, the Council will receive a more detailed report based on the discussions of these ideas.
Time to Meet in Person
The recommendation that the Council continue to meet virtually for February 2022 and May 2022—an estimated savings of between $80,000 to $90,000—was rejected. (The next meeting, February 2022, will be in Lombard, Ill., and in May, in Minneapolis, Minn.)
Jill Feikema, Classis Illiana, noted that she had never met her fellow delegates in person, due to COVID-19 restrictions in place since she’d been appointed. “This is getting more and more difficult for me,” she said. “To have robust discussions is really difficult after six straight meetings on Zoom.”
Paul DeVries, U.S. at-large delegate, agreed. “This is penny wise and dollar foolish,” he said. “We need to meet together.” Heather Cowie, Classis Alberta/Saskatchewan, said it is the intangibles that are lost, eating together, getting to know each other, building community.
Harold Caicedo, Classis California South, and others agreed that Council needs to meet in person but that they need to consider having at least one meeting each year held virtually. Others suggested that Council members be given an option of paying their own way for travel, or helping to cover hotel accommodations for other delegates.
The Council is scheduled to meet in Lombard, Ill., in February 2022. It has not met in person since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. The Canadian-U.S. border has been closed to “non-essential” travel for most of that time. Travel from the U.S. to Canada opened in August, but with restrictions such as COVID testing requirements. The U.S. border is expected to open to travel from Canada in November.
No Reallocation of Ministry Shares
The suggestion that the allocation of ministry shares be retroactively changed also was rejected.
The remainder goes to the CRCNA Michigan Corporation. That entity encompasses the work of congregational ministries, the synodical administration, and Resonate Global Mission. In the past two years, how the funds are divided between the three groups was decided when the budget was approved in May.
(The finances of these groups are overseen by the directors of the Michigan Corporation, who are also the Council’s U.S. delegates.)
Bolt suggested any ministry shares not yet received for Michigan Corporation not be allocated as planned but rather held in a communal pot. That would give flexibility to review on a regular basis where the money is needed and bring allocation recommendations back to the board of directors.
The Michigan Corporation directors didn’t like the idea. John Lee, Classis Iakota, said it would undermine donor confidence.
The recommendation to reallocate was defeated.
Getting Better with Practice
As discussion wrapped up, Paula Coldagelli, Classis Wisconsin, encouraged staff and fellow delegates, reminding them that this is the first year of the new ministry share pledge system.
Last year, “we didn't quite get the whole picture of how this is supposed to work,” she said. “We’re getting the process better.”
Daniel Meinema, Classis Eastern Canada, at the Oct. 2 meeting of the CRCNA Canada Corporation said that the $1.5 million drop in pledges shouldn’t sound as discouraging as it’s made out to be. “The pledges are lower,” he said, but the realized income might not turn out to be what was pledged. For his own church, he said, “the pledge we put forth was what we know we can manage, with the expectation that we're going to try to give more.”
The Council is a binational board of the denomination composed of one delegate from each classis (regional group of churches) and a few at-large delegates. It meets three times a year and reports to synod, the broadest assembly of the church.