The treasurer of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Paul Douglas, told members of the General Conference Executive Committee (GCEXCOM) he was happy to report that the state of church finances at the end of August 2021 is much stronger than it was a year ago.
“Several areas on our financial statement show positive trends year over year,” Douglas said, “for which we can only give God the glory.” Douglas’s report, his first since he was elected to his new position in April 2021, was part of the second day of business sessions of the denomination’s Annual Council on October 11.
Among the positive signs, Douglas mentioned a 26-percent increase in cash and investments (to US$53 million) and a 31-percent and a 66-percent decrease in accounts and notes receivable, respectively. Other trends include a 17-percent decrease in accounts payable ($4 million).
Douglas also emphasized that tithes are 5.2 percent ahead of August last year (7.4 percent over the amounts budgeted). Offerings are ahead 14.2 percent, he added (30.4 percent over the amounts budgeted). Support expenses (those needed to operate the GC headquarters and conduct activities to serve the world field) are 8.4 percent less as of August 2021 than they were a year ago (16.9 percent less than budgeted). He acknowledged that these figures had benefited from a sharp decline in traveling. Nevertheless, Douglas said, “I extend credit to my colleagues in the various departments and services in managing their allocations to make the most out of limited resources.”
Looking toward the end of this year, Douglas said he and his team believe the positive trends will continue. “Many of the treasurers from our world divisions are reporting year-over-year increases in tithes and offerings,” he reported. Douglas explained that those increases are to be expected because 2020 was a very unusual year. Yet, he said, those increases are positive compared to 2019, which would generally be seen as a typical financial year. However, after the disruption brought by the pandemic, “even with the positive indicators, we see that the most prudent approach is for us to make plans to come out of it slowly,” Douglas shared.
A Conservative Budget
Undertreasurer Ray Wahlen then discussed the budget for 2022, which, according to Douglas, follows a conservative approach while keeping a focus on the church’s mission.
In his opening remarks, Wahlen said he believes God has undoubtedly brought the General Conference through some challenging financial times “to a position that we didn’t even dare to dream about at this time last year.” It is something, he acknowledged, that has eased the picture for the 2022 budget, though some challenges remain.
“One lesson we did learn from financial stresses of the last eighteen months is that … three priorities (mission, spiritual growth, and leadership) must guide our spending decisions, both large and small,” Wahlen said. “Projects that are efficient and inexpensive, even though successful, could be a waste of scarce resources if they are not in alignment with agreed-upon priorities.”
According to Wahlen, one of the items which will most impact the 2022 budget is that the percentage of funds the General Conference receives from the North American Division is projected to decrease from 49 to 46 percent (equivalent to $13.5 million), due primarily to scheduled tithe percentage reductions.
Regarding appropriations, or funds the General Conference sends to various world church regions and institutions, Wahlen shared that within the next 12 to 18 months, leaders will launch the required quinquennial review to determine what changes, if any, are advisable.
The Office Operating budget, or the money the world church headquarters spends to fund programs and activities onsite and around the world, has been capped at $45.6 million, which, according to policy, is 2 percent of gross world tithe from the previous two years. As a percentage, it has remained constant, Wahlen reported.
Finally, he explained that the result of the income and expense allocations is a projected loss of $16.4 million, which results in a deliberate plan to absorb from GC reserves (or net assets) a significant portion of the negative impact of the recent financial disruption. It represents, however, a $5.3 million improvement from 2021. “The projected loss — if incurred — will be covered from the Budget Reserve,” Wahlen explained.
Mission, a Priority
In the last part of his presentation, Douglas reminded Adventist leaders and church members that amid uncertainty and turmoil, the mission stays the same. “All church leaders and members must remain faithful in their support of God’s mission with their means,” he emphasized. “We must mobilize all the resources He provides to accomplish the work that He has set before us.”
Douglas then appealed to every treasurer at every church level to work with their fellow officers and committees. The goal, he said, is to embrace the objective of aligning church resources to make the greatest impact to achieve God’s mission. “We will work tirelessly to ensure that resources are aligned to make God’s mission our number-one priority,” he said. “When we make God’s mission our number-one priority, He [will send] tokens of blessing to encourage our efforts.”