Paul Douglas, treasurer of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC), opened his inaugural Treasury Report to the 2021 Annual Council’s Executive committee, with some good news.
“In looking at the state of our finances at the end of August, I can report that the financial picture is much stronger today than it was a year ago,” Douglas told the hybrid of in-person and virtual delegates. “Several areas on our financial statement show positive trends year over year, for which we can only give God the glory.”
Current State of Church Finances
While many things contributed to the positive financial outlook for the Church, including cash and investments increase, account receivable decrease, and notes receivable decrease, Douglas reported tithe being ahead by 5.2 percent compared to last year — 7 percent more than the Church had budgeted to receive; and offerings being up by 14.2 percent— 30 percent more than the Church had budgeted to receive.
Douglas also noted that program expenses were down by approximately 10 percent, as compared to this time last year. However, those expenses are still 11 percent higher than what was expected. This is due to changes in the exchange rate between the United States, where the headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is located, and local currencies where appropriations were sent.
Douglas also credited GC department heads for their roles in keeping expenses down. At the time of the report, the expenses to operate the GC office and its activities were 8.4 percent less than a year ago, and 16.9 percent less than budgeted.
The financial markets have provided positive results for us so far this year. The investment return as of August total approximately USD 5 million. After removing the unrealized portion of those gains, we have accounted for approximately USD 2 million that have been received in actual cash. This amount that would be described as realized gains is 44.8 percent more than what we received for the same period last year and 50.4 percent higher than what we expected to receive as part of our budget for this year.
While all of this amounts to a decrease in total net assets in the amount of USD 4.3 million, this decrease is less than the USD 7.3 million decrease one year ago in August. It is also far less than the projected USD 6.5 million decrease the Church expected to see when budgeting for this year.
Looking to the end of this year and into the next, Douglas believes the positive trends will continue. Many of the treasurers from the Adventist Church’s 13 divisions and 2 attached unions are reporting higher tithe and offerings, even when compared to 2019 that would be considered a normal financial year. Douglas cautions, though, that doesn’t mean we should increase spending. “The economic disruption came upon us suddenly,” he says, “but even with positive indicators we are seeing, the most prudent approach is for us to make plans to come out of it slowly.”
Church Budget and Tithe
During the Treasurer’s Report, Ray Wahlen, GC undertreasurer, gave his report on the budget and the use of tithe. “God has certainly brought the GC through some challenging financial times to a position that we didn’t even dare to dream about at this time last year,” said Wahlen. “This has eased the picture for the 2022 budget year somewhat, but challenges still remain.”
Wahlen urged the Executive Committee to commit to the quinquennial strategic plan, “I Will Go,” saying the three focuses of mission, spiritual growth and leadership, must guide spending decisions. “Projects that are efficient and inexpensive, even though successful – could be a waste of scarce resources if they are not in alignment with the agreed upon priorities,” he said.
Wahlen said the approach to the 2022 budget will be with a strong emphasis on mission. The Adventist Church has usually set the income at 100 percent of the actual tithe and world mission offerings from two years before. Due to the current state of the world, however, and to avoid taking undue risks, the Church will use 100 percent of 2019’s actual income, which will strike a balance between the risk of overstating income potential and the possibility of faster economic recovery.
When looking at the budget for 2022, two points need to be highlighted. The first is the portion received from the Adventist Church in North America is projected to decrease from 49 percent to 46 percent, due primarily to the scheduled tithe percentage reductions. Secondly, the South American Division will likely be the third largest contributor at 13 percent in 2022 due to losing approximately USD 10 million in currency devaluation.
The largest portion of the GC budget goes to regular and special operating appropriations of the 13 World Church divisions and GC institutions. Wahlen noted that the required quinquennial review of appropriations will happen within the next 12 to 18 months. The review will be undertaken in full view of the “I Will Go” Strategic Focus document.
The bottom line result of the income and expense allocations is a projected loss of USD 16.4 million. This is a result of a deliberate plan to absorb from GC reserves, or net assets, a significant portion of the negative impact of the recent financial disruption due to Covid-19 and the longer-term phase-in of the new tithe-sharing percentages. It is also a USD 5.3 million improvement from 2021.
The projected loss will be covered from the budget reserve, with a transfer of up to USD 11.5 million as estimated in the tithe parity plan and a transfer of up to USD 4.9 million related to the Covid shortage.
Wrapping up his portion of the Treasurer’s Report, Wahlen thanked his team for their hard work, but gave glory to God first and foremost. “Most of all, however, I express gratitude to our Father in Heaven who has provided so generously once again through the faithful giving of our church members around the world,” he concluded.
Impact of Covid
Covid-19’s impact can be felt in every aspect of the Church. The virus has closed buildings, slowed mission and caused immeasurable loss, including our own members and church workers. Yet those in the GC Treasury Department believe this is the time for church members at every level to answer the call “I Will Go.” Douglas encouraged each person in the room and online to heed the call of mission.
“My appeal today is for every local church treasurer, every conference treasurer, every union treasurer, and every division treasurer to work with their fellow officers and committees to embrace the objective of aligning church resources to make the greatest impact to achieve God’s mission,” said Douglas. On behalf of his colleagues, he promised the GC would join each person, entity and institution in making God’s mission their number one priority.
Along those same lines, Douglas also announced that GC Treasury is in the early stages of partnering with the Planned Giving & Trust Services Department to craft a plan that will see the GC investing resources in frontline “I Will Go '' mission activities. These funds would be administered with a special emphasis by activities by members in our local churches.
Responding to the Current Moment
Believing we are in the final moments of earth’s history, Douglas continued to urge attendees to go headfirst into the mission. “My brothers and sisters, we are in the final moments but I have good news for you today. This will be our finest hour,” concluded Douglas. “The times in which we are living are challenging us individually and corporately as a Church...we are confident in our great God. His perfect love casts out all fear so we do not fear what is to come! We will remain faithful. We will remain hopeful. We will remain watchful for His soon return.”