Adventist Church treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán began his financial report to the members of the Executive Committee attending the 2019 Annual Council in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, by giving “first and foremost” credit to God for His blessings.
“We wish to acknowledge our dependency on God for His continuous presence, guidance, and sustaining grace,” he said on October 14, 2019 as he reported on Adventist Church finances through September 30.
Prestol-Puesán said the church’s current financial picture points again to a break-even by December 31, 2019. Results could be better, he said, as long as gross tithe and offerings reported remain steady, there are no additional major fluctuations in key currencies and fiscal discipline as regards expenditures and allocations is maintained.
Liquidity levels are also key, he emphasized.
“Equally critical to our financial success is retaining an adequate liquidity level that… will offer us a better opportunity to face the challenging future that awaits us,” he said.
Investment Earnings in the Black
Prestol-Puesán reported that as of September 30, General Conference net assets have increased US$1.2 million. It is the result, he explained of investment earnings. Despite the continued volatility of US stock markets—which have not made net gains in 2019—the church has been investing “almost exclusively” in fixed instruments, which carry less risk.
“We are minimally exposed,” Prestol-Puesán said. “Our position has proven to be wise.”
Tithes, Exchange Rates, and Liquidity
According to the report, total gross tithe has increased US$89,094,912, or 3.6 percent, in 2018. (Of that amount, close to US$56 million in tithe increase comes from the North American Division, and the rest from the other 12 world divisions.) Prestol-Puesán explained that despite that positive result, the reality at the end of 2019 may be different.
“[Current figures] indicate that we may not reach the same level in US dollars that we reported as of December 2018,” he said. Part of the reason, he explained, is that ongoing fluctuation of some major currencies affect the final amount, which is calculated in US dollars.
“The value of the Brazilian Real…has shown further decreases in 2019,” he said by way of an example.
At the same time, Prestol-Puesán mentioned that the recommended percentages in working capital (current assets minus current liabilities) and liquidity (assets that can be converted into cash quickly to meet commitments) are similar to a year ago.
Budget, Appropriations, and Operating Expenses
Undertreasurer Ray Wahlen said the continued strength of the U.S. dollar against most currencies is the dominant factor in the General Conference operating budget.
“This is significant because roughly half of our total income is originally contributed outside the United States,” he said.
A second factor is, in agreement with GC Working Policy, the percentage of tithe the North American Division (NAD) contributes to the General Conference will decrease from 6.1 percent to 5.85 percent. This represents US$ 2.5 million, or 1.5 percent of less income, Wahlen said. Stronger increases in the NAD tithe have helped to partly offset this decrease, he explained.
Appropriations (the funds the General Conference distributes among world divisions), will again remain unchanged in terms of local currencies, Wahlen reported.
“The continued strength in the US dollar results in budgetary savings for the General Conference appropriations,” Wahlen said, although he acknowledged that it will “contribute to tight operating budgets for the divisions as they deal with inflationary pressure on their operations.”
Office Operating expenses (the money needed to run the world headquarters) are expected to increase US$1.6 million due to inflationary pressure and other reasons. The allocation to Office Operating in 2020, however, is US$ 540,000 under the 2 percent Operating Cap. According to GC Working Policy, the world church headquarters is authorized to spend up to 2 percent of world tithe to run its operations.
Wahlen emphasized there are reasons to hope.
“Despite the continued financial pressure on the General Conference budget, we remain confident knowing that God always supplies the necessary funds for His plans,” he said.
The Future: 2021 and Beyond
Three relevant stories for the year may have an impact on the financial operations of the church, especially after 2020. The first is a policy amendment to be presented to the Executive Committee for consideration. The amendment calls for a modification in the tithe percentages that world regions (called divisions) contribute to the operation of the General Conference, which oversees the work of the church around the world.
Another one is the offer for the sale of a major property in Hagerstown, Maryland, where the Review and Herald Publishing Association was once located. At the moment, the prospective buyer still has the option of changing his mind, Prestol-Puesán said.
Finally, the General Conference Corporation is on the verge of building a warehouse on the southern side of the headquarters property in Silver Spring, Maryland. The new warehouse will replace the current one located in another nearby city.
Prestol-Puesán closed his report by saying thanks for what he called “the generosity of members” and “the large number of volunteers and employees” that serve in the financial area.
Above all, he said, he thanked God and once more expressed his and his team’s trust in God’s guidance.
“[God] understands our seasons, our times, and our needs,” Prestol-Puesán said. “He will guide us, and He will provide for us according to what He considers to be the best for us.”