Baptist futures: finance, uncertainty and potential

We’re creating new structures, causing a lot of pain by
making people redundant and are conveying a renewed sense of purpose. But
before we get too comfortable let’s recognise financial uncertainty will be a
dominant characteristic for years to come.

1. Historically income has risen at, or slightly below the
rate of inflation. Costs, particularly wage costs have risen faster. Assuming
this continues we will need more staff reductions over the next 5 to 10 years.

2. Recently legacies have been a major factor in holding the
Union’s finances together. All the signs are that this
will decrease in the future. 

3. There are few indications the general economy is going to
pick up soon. So giving from churches and individuals will remain tight.

4. Baptist Churches are aging. An aging denomination will become
a smaller denomination (and older people are more likely to live on fixed
incomes). Neither is great for financial security. Furthermore, younger people
are less likely to be committed to the denomination and are more likely to
encourage local churches to support causes rather than institutions.

5. We have seen much Baptist angst over the Union’s
finances but appear less worried by the fact nearly all the Associations are
operating with deficits. This can’t go on indefinitely; many Associations will need to reduce staff.

But income is only part of the story, how we spend money is
just as critical. For every £ the Union spends, 30p is
on Home Mission Grants, 30p is on Associations and 40p in on Central Resource (specialist
teams in the new jargon) costs. Actually, the distinction between Associations
and grants blurs as Associations receive grants in addition to their normal
funding (and in the new arrangements have more flexibility still). Perhaps as
little as a quarter of income goes into traditional Home Mission grants. Is this sustainable? I think not.

The future of the Union depends on us
developing and nurturing new initiatives and churches, encouraging risk and an
entrepreneurial spirit. New ventures and older established churches need
support, encouragement and advice but we need to develop radically different
ways of providing them. New ways of handling finance, renewed ways of
Association working, creative ways of being Baptist: the journey is only just
starting.

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