In recent weeks there have been letters in the Baptist Times concerning the Baptist Union’s Home Mission fund, the size of the deficit and how money is used. So I thought I might write a post or two about Home Mission. This post looks at some questions and another will comment on possible ways forward. (Those who have no interest in BUGB finances should look away now).
As with any organisational fund there are two ways of looking to manage it. First, there are ways of seeking to control expenditure. Second, there are ways of seeking to maximise revenue. The judgement call is in knowing how to balance these.
In terms of expenditure the difficult questions focus around three issues; what supportive help the Union should be giving to churches and ministers, what direct grant support should be given to churches and how to plan in an uncertain financial climate.
The Union at a national level and at an Association level provides an enormous amount of advice and support to churches; helping with child protection advice, facilitating ministerial settlement, providing input into churches in conflict or in transition, offering best practice advice in mission initiatives, the list goes on. None of this comes cheap so if we want to reduce costs we need to decide what we are going to stop doing.
Allied to the support offered to churches there are costs that arise from having a network of churches and seeking to facilitate relating together and to the wider church through ecumenical instruments and the like. Again, we currently achieve a lot with limited resources; our involvement with the Joint Public Issues team is a particular case in point. Whilst you can always look to cut costs the amount of money we spend is not large. A few years ago we were spending a lot more money subsidising the Annual Assembly and other Baptist gatherings but this has been significantly reduced.
Traditionally the main rationale behind the Home Mission fund was to provide support to churches so they were able to afford a full time minister and stipend; targeting resources to support churches with mission potential or in strategically important areas (such as inner cities) where it was harder for churches to support ministry without outside help. In many ways this is the easiest expenditure to cut; we simply stop giving grants! But surely part of our responsibility is to support each other and to share as best we can in the mission of God?
In part the discussion of Home Mission funding mirrors the political debate in the country; how do you handle deficits, what do you cut and when? In our this needs to be set in the context that we have some financial reserves so there is no need for panic but also in the realisation that the majority of our expenditure is ultimately used to pay people. The fact that earnings growth has generally outstripped the rise in giving in recent years lies behind many of the difficult choices we face and is the reason why simple reductions in expenditure are hard to find. It means long term solutions are needed not short term ones and we need to think a couple of years ahead not a couple of months.
On the other side of the equation is the drive to increase income. As a Union we operate by giving not quotas; no church is forced to give to Home Mission nor deprived of the Union’s help if it does not. Many churches give generously, sacrificially and enthusiastically to the life of the wider Union both in terms of finance and in other ways. Other churches do not do so for a number of reasons; some connected with finance others to the strength of relationship with the Union and others because of where Home Mission fits within their overall giving. Clearly one solution for the Union’s finances would be for every church to give more; the hard question for financial planning is what assumptions should be made about the increase / decrease in giving over the next few years?
So if it was your decision, what would you cut or how would you increase revenue?