Church finances holding up in tough conditions

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SPD CFO Rodney Brady.

Church finances are holding up well despite the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

South Pacific Division (SPD) CFO Rodney Brady said the Church’s finances have taken a hit, but have so far withstood the pressures.

“There has been a lot of stress applied to Church finances . . . we are seeing the wisdom of policies that have required us not to use debt for operating and to have working capital in hand,” he said. “Many CFOs who were apprehensive in March are feeling more confident to face the future. God has sustained.”

Tithe has bounced back in the SPD in recent months. Overall it’s up 2.19 per cent for the year to July compared to the same time last year; in April it was down 10.05 per cent. Notably, the Australian Union Conference has reported a 6.69 per cent rise in tithe for the year to July. In the Trans Pacific Union Mission the initial percentage drop in tithe more than halved by mid-year, with most local missions now less than 10 per cent down on tithe. Most of the Church’s world divisions are reporting declines in tithe of between 5 and 10 per cent.

Adventist schools in the SPD are continuing to operate well in the challenging economic environment. “Our schools have generally held up with student numbers and finances,” Mr Brady said. “In other divisions schools have been hard hit, with parents unable to pay fees and withdrawing students, leading to school closures.”

A COVID-19 assistance plan launched by the SPD in June to support Division institutions and missions in the Pacific struggling financially has seen just 44 per cent of the available funds used.

The biggest financial concern for the world Church is a significant reduction in offerings, with the General Conference forecasting a drop of around $US20 million in mission offerings in 2020. CFOs from every division are reporting that offerings have declined. Globally, the drop in mission offerings has been much greater than tithe. Sabbath school offerings are the biggest source of mission offerings, but many Sabbath schools have not been functioning.

The outlook for 2021 remains unpredictable. “With the pandemic lasting longer than [we] expected and the impact on the global economy the biggest since the Great Depression, it makes planning for 2021 difficult,” Mr Brady said. “Many organisations are preparing budgets based on multiple scenarios for 2021, due to so much uncertainty, but the Church across the SPD is not in crisis mode. There’s just more pressure on management with uncertainty around forward plans.”