Delegates to General Synod, please go on this website to the “Document Library” page, and then open either version (Powerpoint or Word) of Jim Reid’s paper, “A Second Look.” If you find it disturbing, well then maybe take another look at Jeremiah.
It’s dense reading, but it’s very important. I found the section, An Historical Aside, very revealing.
Look, the Task Force report is a response to the denomination’s financial crisis. At least the General Synod Council (and staff) thinks it’s in a financial crisis, and it has been so for years.
The first part of the financial crisis is chronic: The more top-down and centralized the denomination gets, the more it’s going to be in constant financial crisis.
The second part of the financial crisis is acute: Where to get the money to fund the Goal?
The Goal requires starting 400 new churches in order to yield 200 new churches (assuming a failure rate of 50%.) Who’s going to pay for them? Local churches and classes.
In order to reach the Goal, the RCA has to generate, what, oh let’s say $100,000,000 (100 million dollars), and that’s a conservative estimate. In other words, one thousand churches, on the average, have to generate $100,000 each.
Well, that’s not happening. The money isn’t coming in. Most congregations did not respond to the mailings sent out in the Fall of 2004 to commit to the Goal. Neither did most classes. Yes, classes are certainly starting new churches (poor little Brooklyn classis is celebrating the organization of one and has just approved starting another!) but not in the way the Goal requires.
But if the financing isn’t there the Goal sputters. And the Goal (what one denominational leader called the BHAG, the “big hairy audacious goal”) is what the leadership is using to “keep the denomination together.” So the Goal has to be protected, and that means new sources of funding.
In the Fall and Winter of 2004 the commitments failed to come in. All of a sudden there was a Goal with no means of supporting it. One has to wonder whether it’s coincidence that at the very next General Synod the General Secretary called for the “conversation” that led to the Task Force report. And the conversation, as we have seen, was carefully controlled. The implication is that whenever you read the word “structures,” you might think “funding structures.”
We have been watching the patient removal of the ancient boundaries between the GSC and local sources of revenue. First was the consolidation and centralization of the mailing list via the Church Herald’s change in status. The subscription list has now become a direct mail database. Second was the move to go directly to individuals to raise private funds for denominational endeavors. These two steps removed the boundary of consistories in the accessing of funds.
But as consistories used to be boundary against the assets of individual members, so classes remain a boundary against the assets of local congregations. At least in the RCA. Not in the United Church of Canada, for example.
What the Task Force report will do is continue the evolution and remove the boundary of the classes. The classes will be removed, and local congregations will be accountable to: WHOM? IN WHAT FORM? No one’s telling.
Right now, only a classis may close an “underperforming” congregation. And only a classis may determine what happens to the property, endowments, and other assets of its congregations. Only a classis may determine whether and how to spend that money on new church starts or on other projects or whether to bank it and use it as an endowment.
But in other denominations the assets of the congregations either revert to the denomination or actually belong to the denomination.
Can you connect the dots?
And I haven’t even addressed the issue of the CBF, the Church Building Fund. The costs I’ve mentioned above have been initial new church start-up costs. What about when those churches need buildings? For the sake of argument, let’s say $1,000,000 a building. That means in order to reach the Goal we need to generate more than a quarter billion dollars in building loans.
Where do we get the money? The CBF is close to being tapped out already, and a portion of its revolving assets are now being directed, not to buildings, but to funding the GSC’s missional programs.
Where do we get the money? Well, we have lots of buildings and property and endowments tied up in local “underperforming” churches. What if the classis is no longer in the way?