Connect the Dots and Follow the Money

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?

4 thoughts on “Connect the Dots and Follow the Money

  1. Two comments, one about the Goal and one about the relocation of financial control.1. The Ten Year Goal came out of the GSC discernment process of the enculturation of the Carver universe. My Calvin/Carter paper on the CI site is rendered without footnotes. Footnote 27 reads in part: “This BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a Carver kick-start notion to revitalize organizations. In a ‘strategic’ post- GS 2001(Pella) presentation to the GSC Coordinating Committee: ‘To What Goal, O God, Would You Have Us Commit….’ the assumption was taken for granted that there had to be a goal.” This is part of the ‘Purpose-Driven’ ideology so successful in church circles. Initially the discernment process was loaded up with this BHAG language; it sounded slightly ludicrous and silly, which was disarming to many. I always felt we were asked to cuddle up to a furry sleeping Gorilla, who- as the news recently showed at the zoo in Rotterdam- is hardly a welcome houseguest. As a stuffed bear imagage it is more likely to reveal itself as a Trojan horse. When Synod almost choked on the Ten Year Goal, the LANGUAGE was changed to ‘Our Call.’ This sounded biblical, and even rooted in the etymology of the ‘ekklesia’ concept of church…While that is a laudable connection, lets not forget that in turn, this concept came out of the ‘polis,’ the political world, and not out of the ‘laos,’ or liturgical civitas domain. I agree with your naming it what it is, a GOAL. This is a linear and evokes a winner-take-all terminus; and we love a winner (why do we not pass a law that the names of all who lost in the Lotto should also be printed in the paper?) In Carver language, everything that is not an END is a MEANS… Why does that make me shiver?2. The Classis as an incompetent ‘terminus’ of financial ownership will be shifted to the envisioned ‘middle assembly’ I was once told. My predecessor, Bert Bossenbroek, who was ‘Field Secretary’ of NY for many years, in fact at one time toyed with the idea to move it to the ‘Particular Synod’ level. He thought that with my Dutch heritage I would be an ally, because the Dutch church had vested the Management of property and finances in their ‘Provincial Synods.’ That was a mistaken assumption. My father was Scriba (Clerk) of his Classis for more than 20 years, and I recall as a child that he complained about the many train rides he had to take to ‘talk some sense’ into the provincial staff when they dealt with local finances and real estate. The rule of thumb was that no congregation should have more than seven times its annual budget in assets (including property…). I am not sure how this aspect of church life is dealt with in the new ‘united’ church in the Netherlands. Our own RSNY from time to time offers financial seminars for pastors and congregations. But they have no power to proscribe salaries, although the produce annual ‘guidelines.’

  2. But the Task Force report does not say that the newly created middle structure will have that financial control; that would be the least worst result. What it does say is that the middle structure will be “missional,” and that means that staff will be empowered for decision-making, and it also says that the staff will all be accountable to the GSC staff.

  3. It makes one consider finding some “safe-guards” in their local church bylaws to protect the assets (real and otherwise) of the local congregation. I’m not sure how that works in all places, but in our province its not difficult. I have always been wary of those congregations who have added “safe-guard” clauses into their provincially registered bylaws, fire-walling them from the Classis. But maybe their suspicion was actually foresight.Blessings, RogueMonk

  4. Dan, Point well taken about the financial control NOT being in the ‘replacement Classes’ for even that is not what they will be…

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