April 12, 2018

Significant Elements Line up for Positive Financial Report

The Seventh-day Adventist Church posted a financial gain in 2017 of US $1.6 million, highlighted treasury leaders of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (GC) on the opening day of the Spring Meeting of the GC Executive Committee, one of the business meetings of the world church governing body. In a year with financial challenges on several fronts, the Church thrived thanks to the faithfulness of its members, leaders said.

“Twice last year we pointed to the fact that in order to reach a break-even level in our operations five variables would need to be on our side, to make the end result positive,” said world church treasurer Juan Prestol-Puesán. “I am pleased to report that all five came together making our report today a positive one.”

The five elements referenced by Prestol-Puesán include a positive US market, a tithe increase in the North-American Division church region, and steady exchange rates in major foreign currencies. It also included an intentional focus on fiscal discipline (i.e., holding expenditures down) and maintaining an adequate liquidity level.

Financial Markets, Tithes, Expenses, and Giving Patterns

Prestol-Puesán highlighted specific areas where church finances did well last fiscal year. “Two thousand and seventeen was a positive year for the church’s investments,” he said. The value of church investments increased almost $8 million more than a year before. While markets underwent a series of corrections beginning in February 2018, he said prospects for this year remain positive.

Tithe from the North American Division (NAD) region increased more than $18 million, to $1.02 billion, shared Prestol-Puesán. The NAD portion is a sizable part of world church total tithe, which in 2017 reached $2.44 billion.

“It helped to end 2017 with a $1.6-million surplus,” he said. In 2016, the GC had ended with $1 million in the black after losing $19 million in 2015.

Expenses have been decreasing for two consecutive years after an anticipated spike in 2015, the year of the last GC session. “Travel expenses were under 82.3 percent of the budgeted amount,” revealed Prestol-Puesán, “and headquarters expense amounted to 87.55 percent of the operating cap limit.”

Prestol-Puesán continued to highlight other important measurements, such as working capital and financial liquidity. The percentage of liquid assets—those that can be converted into cash quickly—to commitments has increased from 99.42 to 101.92 percent. Working capital, which was 89.2 percent of the recommended amount at the end of 2017, was impacted negatively by a revaluation of a plot of land owned by the GC, which decreased in value from $11 million to $6.6 million.

Prestol-Puesán emphasized, however, one measurement that he considers of utmost importance. “Every Sabbath, tithe and mission offerings, adjusted in US dollars, went up from [a weekly average of] $45 million in 2016 to $49 million in 2017,” he said. “We are thankful to our members that continue to give generously.”

Administrative Operations and Mission

The GC headquarters itself operates on just 2 percent of the gross world tithe, reminded world church undertreasurer Ray Wahlen. He explained that the 2 percent marks the operating cap of its operations, but that expenses came in even under that amount in 2017.

“I am happy to report that expenses of operating the General Conference were $6.1 million under the cap and $4.5 million under budget,” said Wahlen.

The GC’s handling of operating expenses aims to allow the denomination to increasingly support special outreach and evangelistic projects around the world, financial leaders said. A clear example are allocations to the 10/40 Window Contingency Fund. Spring Meeting members voted a special $2.2-million appropriation to that fund, which supports mission in a region of the world where most of the population has never heard the Christian message.

God’s Hand Was Visible

“I realize this year’s report is boring, but in this case, boring is better,” quipped Prestol-Puesán in his closing remarks. He also appealed for church leaders to remember what is, according to him, the most important element in the financial management of the church.

“The most important transaction in the church is when a church member gives,” he said. “When a member gives, this creates a wave of energy around the world.”

At the same time, Prestol-Puesán emphasized that he and his team give all the glory to God for the positive financial results in 2017. “The Lord is helping us, one year at a time,” he said. Prestol-Puesán also quoted God’s promise to Jeremiah — “Call to me, and I will answer you” — and Moses’ words as he told the nation of Israel, “The Lord will fight for you.”

“We believe the Lord has fought for us, and we believe He will. Meanwhile, we will keep striving to do our best,” he said.