On November 1, 2021, Randy Robinson, North American Division (NAD) treasurer, commenced his annual report at the NAD Year-End Meeting (YEM) by introducing the new General Conference treasurer, Paul Douglas.
At the NAD headquarters in Columbia, Maryland, Douglas addressed the NAD officers and executive committee delegates watching via Zoom by expressing his appreciation for working with the division.
“We are all a part of God’s work,” Douglas said, “and we have one mission that we will pursue together.… We have different roles, but we all have the same purpose of building up the kingdom of God.”
Douglas gave his affirmation to the NAD treasurer for “a report of God’s faithfulness, and the faithfulness of His members. It’s also a report that focuses us on mission.”
Before diving into his report, Robinson shared his amazement at how God has worked through His church members as he portrayed the financial backdrop undergirding his report.
Referencing the months of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “Even though we went through a time of uncertainty, and are still in a time of uncertainty, I look at 2020 in the context of a miracle; [it was] ‘miraculous 2020.’ Remarkably, we ended the year with a tithe gain.”
Robinson reported that the division ended the year with nearly a 2-percent increase in tithe, saying, “That is just unbelievable evidence that God was with His church through the giving of His people.”
He said that as 2021 began, COVID-19 was persistent, with most churches’ physical spaces closed, schools operating in virtual learning mode, and employees working from home. “There was a lot of uncertainty still surrounding the pandemic and how that would continue to affect us in 2021. But as we continued through that process — and financially, we were ascertaining what we could do to maintain financial order — we budgeted conservatively in 2021. We reduced travel budgets commensurate with the lockdowns that we were experiencing. Our budgets were constricted and reduced to a large degree,” Robinson said.
Early 2021 showed some gains and a better understanding of the pandemic, he said. By spring 2021, vaccines were being deployed. Churches began tentatively opening. Schools were getting more optimistic about what the new school year held for them with a mix of virtual learning, in-person learning, and hybrid situations.
“Even to this moment, while it seems the pandemic is lessening as it’s reducing its grip on our culture, our businesses, our society, we still have some uncertainty about how that will end,” Robinson remarked. “But I’m heartened, again, at God’s grace. Even with all of this continuing uncertainty, God has blessed His people. He’s blessed His church through the giving of His people, and I’m amazed at what God is doing.”
Robinson paused to address the delegates and the officers before continuing. “Our tithe gain through September in the North American Division remains at over 12 percent year-over-year,” he said. “It’s a praise-our-God moment. What a gracious and caring God we serve! I pray that He’ll give us the grace to be faithful stewards of the abundant resources He’s provided for us even in times that are so uncertain. I praise God for [His] amazing goodness and the amazing response of His people in the North American Division through their giving.”
Robinson shared highlights from the 2020 audited financial statement, including operating and plant fund trends, recommended working capital, and tithe. He also shared the 2022 proposed budget, which was explained by Judy Glass, NAD undertreasurer.
During the 2022 budget presentation, Glass explained that for 2021, project and travel budgets had been cut. The 2022 proposed budget reinstates both of those items. “It restores the travel budget to 85 percent of pre-COVID levels, and it restores our project budgets to our departments to 100 percent of the pre-COVID budget levels,” she said. “We’ve talked some about evangelism … , and we’re happy to let you know that during the year of [Multiply] in 2022, we’ve added US$1.1 million of funding that is for direct evangelism.”
As Robinson addressed the 2020 audited financial statement, he reported that after the operating fund total net assets dipped in 2017 when the NAD purchased its headquarters building, operating and combined operating and plant total net assets have trended upward through 2020. Liabilities have followed that same trend, due in large part to the tremendous increase in member use of the AdventistGiving platform. “Use of the platform creates a temporary liability on our statement that is eliminated once funds are passed back to the local churches,” he said.
In addition, working capital climbed from 85 percent of the recommendation in 2018 to 92 percent in 2019, ending with 109 percent in 2020. According to Robinson, a recommended working capital of 100 percent is optimal, as defined in NAD working policy.
He shared that the NAD had 272 days of cash available at the end of 2020. It was 209 days at the end of 2018 and 235 at the end of 2019. “Recommended working capital is a North American Division policy that suggests a certain level of liquid assets that should be available to do business. I use an additional financial metric of ‘days of cash available’ to help define our financial health. That number should be between 180 and 210 days of cash as I calculate it. We are at 272 per our 2020 audit,” he reiterated.
Gross tithe in 2019, Robinson reported, was $1.075 billion. Tithe annually from 2016 to 2019 reached $1 billion, but then COVID-19 hit in early 2020. Because of the pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, there was speculation that tithe might be down by double-digit percentages. But that wasn’t the case, and 2020 ended with tithe at $1.093 billion. And, Robinson said, for 2021 “we have a more than 12-percent year-over-year gain in tithe through September; and nine out of nine unions have a gain. Additionally, through September, 58 out of 59 conferences have gains year-over-year, and most of those conferences have double-digit gains. I’m just in awe of the amazing reality that God has [provided] — in a demonstration of God's benevolence to us through the giving of His people.”
Mission to the Cities
“There’s no other explanation [for this year] except God’s goodness through His people,” Robinson continued. “We have an increase in our income year-over-year. We have managed expenses well. We’re under budget, and we have an operating gain of $15 million through September.”
Robinson mused about what questions he’d ask if he were an executive committee member listening to this report. The biggest question would be: What are you planning to do if the financial trend holds a $15 million bottom line; what are you planning to do with that surplus?
“I would answer that question really in two ways,” he said. “Number one, it is imperative that the North American Division be on sound financial footing. We strive to do that. We strive to achieve and reach and exceed the minimum standards provided to us through our policies. And at this point, by God's grace, we are doing that, and I would be a strong advocate of continuing that approach as we deal with our finances.”
The second area Robinson said he would address specifically is mission. “God is setting us up for some work that He wants us to do. He wants us to address mission and ministry, and reach those that we are called to reach,” Robinson remarked. “And I am convinced that we need to manage those resources in a way that allows us to deploy those dollars to the mission that we’re called to.”
Robinson then turned the time briefly over to G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, who addressed one of the division’s missional objectives that emerged at the start of 2020-2025 quinquennium.
“We have talked about — and we’ve been praying along with you about — the challenges of reaching North America with the distinctive Christ-centered message that God has given us,” Bryant said to the delegates. “And one of the things I’ve shared with you are the 20 cities where 50 percent of the population of this division resides. And as the metropolitan areas continue to grow, I believe one of the things God is calling us to do is to help [our] churches in those cities [with] the resources that meet the challenges of the growing population across the board. How can we utilize our resources to help reach those individuals? We want to see the resources the Lord provides to us to help in reaching those big challenges that we have in the metropolitan areas.”
Bryant shared how there has been talk of creating more outreach centers, including food distribution centers, counseling centers, vegetarian restaurants, and places for young people. They have discussed how to support unions, conferences, and churches in these endeavors.
“This is a conversation that we will continue to have when we move forward, but it is our thoughts and our plan that in some way will help in the frontline missions in our large cities,” he concluded.
After his report, Robinson thanked the treasury team for their hard work throughout the year and at YEM. “This kind of report does not just fall out of the sky. It takes a tremendous amount of work. I am the beneficiary of a major group of people who puts all of this information together, which allows me to compile it into this summarized form. I want to thank my treasury team, an outstanding team of individuals, of professionals, who put all of this information together,” he said.
Robinson shared the familiar verse of Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (NIV).
“I am just amazed how God has benefited the North American Division and His church this past year in a very difficult situation under very uncertain circumstances,” Robinson said in closing. “He knows the plans He has for us even though we may wonder and doubt and not be certain about what those plans might be specifically. He’s faithful; and I’m grateful to God for His benevolence, for His patience, for His blessing, and for allowing us to serve Him in this way.”