What is your current position and how long have you been working for the Minnesota Conference?
I am currently the associate treasurer and I have been working for the Minnesota Conference since June of 2016.
What do you enjoy most about your work, and what do you find the most challenging?
I enjoy seeing growth whether that is in dollars, number of churches or new members. I do enjoy accounting and working with numbers as it is a means to move the work forward. Planning and budgeting for growth in the future is sometimes a challenge as we see some numbers going up and some numbers going down. This year has presented unique challenges, primary among those being keeping up with everything in the office as well as providing support to the churches, schools, and employees as we navigate through an unusual time.
Today, we’re here to talk about the finances of the Conference. We know that COVID-19 has had a profound impact worldwide, and Minnesota is not an exception. Unemployment in Minnesota, as of August 2020, was at 7.4%, which was 4% higher than August 2019. We know that Conference funding is a result of faithful giving of the members. How has the pandemic affected the finances of the Conference?
There have been several different effects on the Conference finances, and not all of them were expected or even bad for us.
First, we praise God and thank Him for an increased tithe so far this year. Through the end of August, we had a 3.5% tithe increase over last year, and for September, the increase was 2.97%. We praise God for the faithfulness of church members during a difficult year full of uncertainties.
Secondly, we have seen a significant decrease in Minnesota Advance offerings. Minnesota Advance supports evangelism, elementary and secondary schools, North Star Camp, church buildings funds and communication. We have also seen a decrease in general evangelism offerings from which we support evangelistic efforts in churches all over the state. This was not totally unexpected because when churches close, we see a decrease in the loose offerings that usually go towards the offering appeal for that week.
Finally, the cancellation of so many events, conventions, the General Conference session and even local meetings has saved us a lot of traveling expenses and general meeting expenses. This helps as we plan for the future.
How, or has, the local church been effected financially?
For many of the same reasons that effect Minnesota Advance, we have seen a significant decrease in local church offerings, particularly the local church budget. These effect the ability of the local church to pay its normal monthly bills. Utilities, rent, and mortgage payments must all be made even if members are not meeting in the church. When the offering appeal for church budget cannot be made, and we cannot pass the offering plate, the offerings go down.
We saw the effects of church closure on the local offerings almost immediately. Within four weeks of the initial shutdown, there were churches struggling to pay their monthly bills. There was a rush to get all churches connected to online giving so members can give easily and securely. This increase in online giving has helped.
We know, because the Bible tells us, that the world will be full of tumult in end times. In light of the current economic environment, is there anything we could’ve done to plan for this financial deficit at the local level?
We never know when a crisis will come, and we never know exactly how it will effect the giving at church. But we do know it will happen and because we know, we should be planning.
Most financial advisors say that everyone should maintain at least 3-6 months’ worth of savings in a separate bank account. These funds are saved for emergencies. Most people would agree this is a good principle to live by, even if it is difficult to save up that much sometimes.
However, we struggle with that concept when it comes to church finances. Should the church save and hold on to some reserves? In the Bible there are many verses reminding us to trust in God and His faithfulness, to “give and it shall be given to you.” (Luke 6:38)
I believe there are other principles in the Bible not contradictory to these verses that show we should have some in reserves. In Genesis 41, we find a whole story focused on the need to store up and plan for the future. In this story, God gave Pharaoh a dream to let him know what was coming on the earth. Joseph planned, worked, and stored up so much grain for a future famine that he “left numbering; for it was without number.” (Gen 41:50)
In this instance, there was a known number of years that they would need to plan for. We do not usually get such detailed instructions from the Lord. Luke 14:28 reminds us that if we intend to build (or do any project), we should first sit down and count the cost and make sure we have sufficient resources to finish it.
According to Matthew 6, we should not store up treasure on earth. We do not want to save hundreds of thousands of dollars just for the sake of saving. This would be unwise stewardship of the offerings given to support the work. On the other hand, if we cannot pay our bills, we damage our reputation and our effectiveness in ministry.
I believe a good compromise between planning and hoarding is to set a specific amount aside for reserves and then no more. This can be a certain percentage of your annual budget; it can be a dollar amount based on known expenses per month. Whatever amount it is should be agreed upon by the church, then worked towards until the goal is reached. Having some in reserves should give peace of mind to the church members as well.
How is the Conference responding to the current financial situation? How have local churches been responding to the current financial situation?
At the Conference level, we are being very cautious with our spending. We’ve saved significantly from canceled events such as camp meeting, summer camp at North Star Camp, and the General Conference Session. We have restructured staffing both in the office and the field in an effort to cut costs. Despite this restructure, we’re thankful we haven’t had to let anyone go. On the other hand, we are still sending out evangelism funds that we promised at the beginning of the year. If churches are doing evangelism, we will still partner with them to make that happen.
Local churches are also being cautious and are less likely to approve new expenditures. Church leaders have worked diligently to provide ways for members to continue giving, whether online, providing drop-off times, or arranging pick-up times. Churches are cutting costs where they can while still providing an avenue for worship, whether in person or online. We are truly in a challenging time, but again, we praise God for the faithfulness of the members.
Thank you so much for your time sharing these thoughts and principles. Is there anything you want to leave us with today?
While we work and plan the best we can, we are unable to anticipate every challenge or opportunity that presents itself to the church. But we can take comfort from the promises in the Bible that God will never leave or forsake us, and from Ellen White’s statement that it will seem as though the church will fall, but it will not fall. (Selected Message vol. 2 p. 380) We can stand firm, knowing that God will see us through.
By Savannah Carlson, Human Resources Director / Assistant Communication Director