T he treasurer of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Juan Prestol-Puesán said that the financial turnaround the church headquarters experienced in 2016 is nothing less than God’s intervention. Prestol-Puesán made his remarks as he presented the Treasurer’s Report on the first day of the General Conference Executive Committee Spring Meeting, one of the two major annual business meetings of the church.
The General Conference, which ended 2015 with a US$20 million decrease in its net assets, is back in the black, as it broke even and even finished 2016 with a US$1 million surplus. The 21-million-dollar turnaround, said Prestol-Puesán, “testifies of God’s answers to prayer.”
Prestol-Puesán acknowledged some changes in the political and economic arenas have helped to give the 2016 report a more positive result. He mentioned several specific elements, including that the expected U.S. market decline traditional after electoral contests did not occur, and that the total gross tithe reported by the North American Division reached one billion U.S. dollars for the first time. The treasurer also stressed the partial recovery of the Brazilian currency, and the world church headquarters’ fiscal discipline. The latter was instrumental in holding expenditures to or below budgeted levels, helping it to break-even and maintain more of its financial viability.
Despite the team’s best efforts, Prestol-Puesán said the change in prospects is “the work of God.” A moment later, he paused his presentation to ask for a special prayer thanking the Lord for taking care of His church.
Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the General Conference, echoed Prestol-Puesán’s words. “This is nothing less than God’s intervening hand,” he said, as he commended the treasurer and his team for his “very careful approach” during an uncertain economic world climate and ongoing currency fluctuations.
Prestol-Puesán shared that because of a careful assessment and reduction plan of expenditures, the total amount spent in the operations of the world church headquarters decreased US$14.9 million between 2015 and 2016. The office operating expense, however, reached 99.2 percent of the 2 percent cap of total gross tithe, which is the maximum tithe that the General Conference is allowed to use toward its operating budget for headquarters operating expense, as authorized by the General Conference Executive Committee.
In another positive outcome, Prestol-Puesán reported travel expenses added to just 68.1 percent of the total budgeted travel expense. “We told employees at every office and department, ‘Plan your trips carefully. And do not go on a specific trip unless you have something meaningful to do.’” People listened, and acted accordingly, said the treasurer.
Prestol-Puesán, however, made a special call to avoid any sense of over-confidence. “We took a significant nose dive. We came back to the surface. Now we must stand on the surface,” he said.
One of the major challenges the world church headquarters will face in the next four years is a decline of tithe, said Prestol-Puesán. As per General Conference working policy V 09 05 2d, the North American Division (NAD) church region, which in 2016 contributed 6.85 percent of its tithe to GC operations, will contribute 6.60 percent this year, and 6.35 percent in 2018. In 2019 the division will transfer 6.10 percent of its tithe, to finally contribute 5.85 percent from 2020 onwards, leaving more NAD funds available for mission in the North American Division territory.
Some other relevant figures, Prestol-Puesán explained, have not returned to the amounts of previous years. Specifically, the percentage of recommended working capital, which in 2014 reached 102.7 percent, was just 88.0 percent in 2016. Also, the percentage of liquid assets to commitments, which in 2014 reached 124.8 percent, ended 2016 at 98.9 percent. “It is the reality we are facing, but we are keeping a close eye on those numbers,” he said.
Another challenge for the world church headquarters relates to the 2 percent operating cap of the gross tithe income, which has been affected by the fluctuations in international currencies in the last few years. It is expected that as the strength of the US dollar continues, the GC will be above the cap this year and onwards. In preparation for that, the Strategic Planning and Budgeting Committee recommended to the Executive Committee an increase to 2.12 percent for 2017 and 2.13 percent for 2018. Members voted on the recommendation, which was approved unanimously.
Overall, Prestol-Puesán expressed his deep appreciation for his team’s efforts, and for the faithfulness of church members around the world. In the end, however, he gave God all the credit. “Remember that when we do our best, God does the rest,” he said. “We take our responsibilities seriously, but the burdens are God’s.”