As a worldwide movement, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is not immune to the prevailing economic realities around the world, Adventist Church treasurer Paul H. Douglas said in remarks at the church’s 2022 Spring Meeting. But God’s blessing and careful stewardship have contributed to a positive financial outcome in 2021 and a moderately upbeat outlook for 2022.
Douglas’s comments were part of the April 12 Treasurer’s Report at the spring business meetings of the General Conference Executive Committee (GC EXCOM), the highest decision-making body of the denomination between quinquennial world sessions. The meetings brought together hundreds of church leaders, lay members, and invitees for fully online sessions.
What Key Financial Figures Reveal
Financial results show that in 2021, the expenses of the Adventist Church were US$29.3 million less than revenues and gains, Douglas reported. “We praise the Lord [for it],” he said, explaining that key drivers behind this result included a large amount of unrestricted distributions from the estates of members, positive increases in tithes and offerings and savings in office operating expenses.
Douglas noted that Adventist Church leaders have agreed to set aside funds received from unrestricted distributions to support mission initiatives of local congregations around the world rather than be included in the church’s operating budget.
Douglas also reported on working capital and liquid assets. Church leaders have chosen a new way of calculating these two indicators, as the organization focuses on how to be able to respond to an emergency, so its mission activities are not disrupted.
The new calculation, Douglas explained, shows not only the amount of money available but also the length of time those resources would last should the stream of income be cut off. “The new policy recommends a minimum of six months for working capital and a minimum of three months that should be in liquid assets. For the General Conference, we believe our minimums should be set at 12 months and nine months, respectively,” Douglas emphasized.
Under this new policy, Douglas reported, the General Conference has moved from 12.8 months at the end of 2020 to 15.2 months at the end of 2021 above the minimum available working capital. Likewise, liquid assets reserves have increased from 9.2 to 12.0 months, he said.
Expense Savings and Tithes Increase
Undertreasurer Ray Wahlen shared the Operating Expense Cap Report of the General Conference (the Adventist Church headquarters) for 2021. In 2021, he reported, the General Conference operated at only 73.31 percent of the cap mandated for office operating expenses by this committee, 8 percent lower than the related expense budget. “This is the lowest level (as a percentage of the cap) since the inception of this measure more than 20 years ago,” Wahlen said. “We praise the Lord for this result.”
Wahlen then detailed some of the factors that contributed to this positive result. Besides a deliberate plan to keep expenses in check and some savings due to pandemic-related limitations, he mentioned that a major factor was an increase of the global tithe to more than US$2.6 billion. It was close to US$500 million more than what financial officers had projected.
Overall, Douglas explained, tithes increased not only compared to 2020 but also to 2019, considered the last “normal” year.
Data on the world mission offerings, on the other hand, show that “the rebound is mixed,” Douglas said. “We still have some divisions and attached fields showing positive increases in offerings compared to 2020 and 2019. However, the number of data points for these positive increases is slightly less than those related to tithe…. There were positive increases related to 2020 but still lagging behind the level of offerings that were received in 2019,” Douglas reported.
Challenges and Risks Ahead
The rebounds in many world church fields, Douglas said, are facing a new threat as the current geopolitical conflict has economic implications around the world. “Given the fact that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a world organization and we share resources between the various levels of the church, we are susceptible to the behaviors of currencies,” especially as regards the U.S. dollar, Douglas explained. “In fact, approximately 80 percent of non-United States dollar-based tithes and offerings to the GC are affected by the behaviors of six major currencies” (the Brazilian real, Mexican peso, the euro, Korean won, Australian dollar, and Philippine peso).
Douglas explained that when local currencies become stronger versus the U.S. dollar, the result is a higher amount of tithe and offerings to the GC, and when those currencies are weaker, the result is a lower amount. In 2021, the six major currencies for the church budget were weaker against the U.S. dollar, he reported. But “so far in 2022, we see where the Brazilian real, Mexican peso, and Australian dollar are tending stronger, while the euro, Korean won, and Philippine peso are continuing to weaken,” he said.
The Adventist Church is not immune to the prevailing economic realities and the turbulence these realities create as we engage in the Great Commission to reach the world for Jesus, Douglas emphasized. Among the challenges ahead, he said, are balancing growth and stability and moving toward higher levels of self-support. He also singled out understanding paradigm shifts brought about by crisis events, new technologies, and changes in generational thinking.
Nothing to Fear, Focused on Mission
At discussion time, several GC EXCOM members went to the virtual mic to share their thoughts.
“I don’t usually comment on financial matters, but today I cannot stay mute. It is unbelievable how God is blessing His church,” women’s ministries director Heather Dawn-Small said. “I am completely in awe for what God has done in His church.”
Vivianne Quarrie, a GC EXCOM member from Jamaica in the Inter-American Division, agreed. “We have been blessed,” Quarrie said. “I just want to thank God for what He has been doing not only financially but also in our evangelistic efforts in Jamaica.”
Overall, Wahlen emphasized, the church’s financial report “is a testimony to the power of God.” It is also a testimony of “the faithfulness of His many Christian stewards around the world.”
“We have nothing to fear for our finances and we have nothing to fear for our future,” he reminded GC EXCOM members. And “since we have nothing to fear, let us then focus on the mission to which we have been commissioned … [because] He who has begun a good work in us will carry it on to its completion.”
EXCOM members voted 160-0 to record the receipt of the Treasurer’s Report as presented.