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Stable tithe, offerings notable as Adventist Church withstands economic downturn

$104.5 million 2011 budget an 'expression of members' faith,' undertreasurer says

12 Oct 2010, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

As it weathers lingering economic challenges, The Seventh-day Adventist Church remains in a strong position to maintain operations and uninterrupted mission funding worldwide, church financial officers said yesterday.


Adventist world church Treasurer Robert Lemon delivers his report to the 2010 Annual Council at church headquarters October 11. Adventists can be grateful for stable tithe and offering returns amid an uncertain financial climate, he said. [photo: Ansel Oliver]

Delegates at world church headquarters for Annual Council on October 11 voted to approve a $104.5 million appropriations budget for 2011. Some $5.5 million will continue the printing and distribution of Adventist World magazine. Delegates approved a special investment of $1 million to amp up circulation of the church's Sabbath School quarterlies. Additionally, appropriations to each of the church's 13 world regions will increase by 4 percent.

Delegates also endorsed a $200,000 yearly allocation to the 2015 General Conference Session fund for a five-year total of $7 million, $1 million more than this past summer's Session budget.

Tithe returned by members in North America is up 1 percent as of August 2010 compared to the same time last year, said world church Treasurer Robert Lemon. However, that increase is negligible when the exchange rate between Canadian and United States dollars is considered, Lemon said. Currency fluctuations similarly affect mission offerings from North America.

That tithe and offerings in the U.S. have largely held steady despite a sharp rise in unemployment in the country is a testament to members' faithfulness, Lemon said.
As many charities see a marked decrease in donations, the Adventist Church can "praise the Lord" for financial stability, he said.

While tithe returned in regions outside North America marks a more substantial increase, church financial officers said currency exchanges inflate totals there as well. They estimate such fluctuations account for more than half of a 19 percent, or $2.7 million, increase in tithe compared to 2009. Mission offerings for the same period increased to $5.5 million -- an 18.3 increase -- when considering actual increases in local offerings and exchange rates.

While the global recession saw a strengthening of the U.S. dollar against many of the world's currencies, the dollar has weakened since early 2009. The shift is "positive for the [world church] budget, but not for the world church," Lemon said. Regions that receive appropriations in U.S. dollars now find the amount no longer stretches as far, he said.

Because nearly 40 percent of tithe and offerings in the world church headquarters' budget are returned in currencies other than the U.S. dollar, the church is vulnerable to fluctuations, Lemon said. Whether current exchange rates favor church headquarters or the world field drives church financial planning every year.

Next year's budget is based on the $1.9 billion in worldwide tithe received in 2009, said world church Undertreasurer Juan Prestol, who called that number the "foundation" for all appropriations.

In 2011, church finance officers will begin implementing a shift in appropriations first suggested at a church business meeting in 2008. The move recognizes increased financial self-sufficiency in some areas, shifting additional funds to meet needs in other regions.

"The end result is really budget-neutral to the world church headquarters. It is simply increase on one side and decrease on the other," Prestol said.

The world church headquarters will continue to operate under a cap of 2 percent of world tithe, or $38 million, Prestol said. That means every $1,000 spent at headquarters represents $21,000 in tithe returns worldwide, he said.

"The thought in my mind every time we spend money is, 'Somebody was impressed by the Lord to return tithe,'" Prestol said. "People are not giving tithe because they have money leftover; they're doing it because they're committed. To me, that's a miracle. It elevates [returning tithe] well beyond the category of donations," he said.

He urged delegates to view the list of distributions -- which may at first glance "look mechanical" -- as an expression of members' faith and a "celebration of [their] commitment." Church financial leaders, he added, are dedicated to "preserving the integrity" of members' returns while addressing the financial reality of sustaining a more than 16 million-member global denomination.