On October 9, Paul H. Douglas, General Conference (GC) treasurer, opened the day’s business session for the 2023 Annual Council of the Seventh-day Adventist Church with the Treasurer’s Report, emphasizing the theme Mission Refocus.
Douglas began by highlighting global macroeconomic trends that have a significant impact on the financial situation and financial system of the church: inflation, interest rates, and currencies. While inflation remains a challenge, the rate is retreating from its peak in many parts of the world, he said. However, the cost of goods and services remains high in real terms for people as part of daily life. In their attempts to control inflation, governments use interest rates as a policy mechanism, but present economic realities are seemingly less than expected, Douglas said.
He also highlighted key currencies the church uses to facilitate mission activities around the world that have seen improvement against the United States dollar, which is the principal currency of exchange. Although some currencies have improved since 2022, some key currencies remain weaker when compared to rates in 2014.
Another challenge related to currencies, according to Douglas, is an increasing number of nation states making it more difficult to move currency across their borders. Considering the church’s financial system is premised on sharing resources, treasury leaders are working intentionally on how to navigate and mitigate this risk, enabling the free flow of resources to move the mission forward, he said.
Despite global challenges and a volatile economic and political environment, the financial position of the GC is strong, he said. However, he added, “COVID-19 has left a legacy impact on economies around the world, but, by God’s grace, God’s church continues to grow both in membership and giving.”
Most divisions have reported an increase in tithe and offering compared to this same time last year, while some have seen an increase surpassing pre-pandemic times. Douglas stated that moving forward, GC Treasury is taking a posture that finds a balance between the duality of economic recovery and economic uncertainty.
Putting Our Money Where the Mission Is
After highlighting the church’s financial position, Douglas emphasized the importance of focusing on mission. He presented the responsibility of the financial resources through the lens of the Mission Refocus initiative the church is using to fulfill its God-given mission to reach the world, especially within post-Christian areas, the 10/40 Window, and urban centers around the world.
Mission Refocus consists of four areas: (1) rebalancing missionary placements from administrative roles to the work on the front lines; (2) adopting mission fields in unentered and low-entered territories; (3) making disciples who both grow in Christ and who say “I Will Go” and make disciples for Christ; and (4) mobilizing human, financial, and technological resources for mission.
Regarding the mobilization of resources, Douglas introduced three areas of focus currently being addressed by GC and division treasury leadership to ensure resources are positioned to have the greatest impact. The focus areas include a partnership with the Stewardship Department that has a positive influence on church members that is about “faith-raising” and not “fund-raising”; a study of appropriations and allocations made to the world field so investments in mission are deliberately moving toward having the greatest impact; and application of a digital strategy that employs technology to advance and accelerate mission.
“Mission Refocus is a spiritual movement. It is also a sound investment.… [It] needs to do more than inform how we think; it needs to inform what we do. It is not about analysis; it is about action. Mission Refocus is an intentional push to move resources that have been focused on machinery and repurpose them on the mission,” he said.
2024 World Appropriations and Allocations
Following Douglas’s presentation, GC undertreasurer Ray Wahlen introduced the 2024 World Appropriations and Allocations Budget Proposal. He began by encouraging Executive Committee members that, although the church has faced challenges as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, “continuity has returned for most areas.” However, in light of unpredictable political and economic factors, the GC Treasury leadership team continues to take a balanced approach, he said.
Three major factors were considered in formulating the 2024 budget — tithe percentages, currency fluctuations, and post-pandemic giving patterns. Wahlen mentioned changes in tithe percentages approved by the Executive Committee in the year 2019, and how they continue to impact this budget.
A few areas that underwent cuts in funding due to the COVID-19 pandemic have now been funded or received increased funding. These areas are department special projects, web development, excess liability insurance, and world contingency. Travel budgets are also increasing after pandemic cuts were introduced. Post-pandemic adjustments have been made, keeping in mind the technological capabilities to hold meetings via online platforms.
When considered in combination, tithe received by the General Conference and the World Mission Offering are projected to shift in terms of the original giving currency. Due primarily to the shifts in the approved tithe-sharing percentages, the North American Division’s share of participation in the General Conference budget will likely decrease to 41 percent in 2024 from the 48 percent that was received prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wahlen concluded his segment of the Treasurer’s Report by explaining how the tithe was used in the year 2022, in fulfillment of the GC Working Policy, which requires an annual report. The report showed that as a global average, the tithe was used primarily for pastors, evangelists, and frontline workers, followed by the operating expenses of administrative offices, and other evangelistic categories.
Wahlen highlighted, “We praise the Lord for the assets that He has entrusted to the world church, and for the continued recovery of the tithe and offerings, not only for the GC but in fields around the world.”
160 Years of Church Growth and Giving
The last section of the Treasurer’s Report came via a video presentation hosted by Douglas as he walked attendees through the church’s history and its response to financial struggles and societal challenges through the past 160 years. His introductory statement set the tone for the video as he stressed, “One hundred sixty years of growing and giving are a testament to the providences of God and the faithfulness of His people to support the mission for which we have been chosen.”
Douglas’s tour began with the church’s founding in the middle of the American Civil War, when “a band of believers accepted that they were called and chosen for mission” and committed themselves to what God called them to do. The tour also walked Executive Committee members and online viewers through several turbulent times, including World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the Oil Crisis of 1970, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the different time periods of its history, the church experienced exponential growth in tithe, offerings, and membership. “The church of God exhibited a resilience which can only be attributed to the power, presence, and providences of God,” Douglas said. “We can clearly see that even in the most difficult of times, the people of God remained faithful in their obedience to Him.”
Chosen for Mission
The final segment of Douglas’s presentation focused on tithe and membership milestones since the founding of the church in 1863, as well as the history and development of the tithing and offering plans of the church and planned gifts by church members. Douglas also highlighted the importance of a tithe-sharing plan for supporting mission on a worldwide basis and the impact of various offerings by showing several examples.
The GC treasurer concluded his message by urging church leaders and members everywhere, “We have come this far by faith, leaning on the confidence of our Lord,” Douglas said. “We will continue moving forward by faith, as we look to the coming of our Lord. We have nothing to fear for the future because we will not forget how God has led us in our past history. God, our God, has not given us a spirit of fear or a spirit of timidity, but He has given us a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline. So, let us therefore move forward together in mission to reach the world for Christ. We have been chosen for this mission.”