UCG priorities, finances, and cutbacks


The United Church of God (UCG) sent out some reports.  The first is from its Chairman Robin Webber:

I believe all of us understand that we have faced multiple challenges since our beginning in 1995. The United Church of God came into existence in the throes of doctrinal upheaval regarding God’s precious revelation. We started with three key goals in mind and heart:

1) Establish and maintain congregations for the people of God to meet on His holy Sabbath day.

2) Establish festival sites for the people of God to be taught and learn about His plan regarding salvation as revealed through His annual festivals found in the Bible.

3) Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God to all as God might allow.

For the last 17 years we have maintained these goals as best we could with the personnel and financial means that God has provided.

Along with staying true to God’s biblical revelation, we also developed a unique system of collaborative governance based on the biblical principal of Proverbs:11:14Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” This is easy to read but difficult to put into practice when the crunch times of life come our way. It requires faith, trust and utter humility towards God and mutual submission towards one another.

Two years ago we were affected by a departure of elders and members. This initially left the United Church of God in a precarious position to further the work of God granted to us. You all rallied marvelously at that time and continue to do so to this day. I trust that you believe, as I do, that something special and meaningful is being experienced here and is worthy of your continued commitment.

At that time the Council of Elders was faced with decisions as to how to maintain the forward momentum of the initial goals we set in 1995. Numerically and financially we had taken a blow. Yet we stepped out in faith! You rose to the occasion in heartfelt prayer for God’s intervention and in your personal service to others, and you gave generously in tithes and offerings because you desired to put your treasure where your heart is.

At that time of two years ago and the subsequent budget of last year, the Council proposed moving forward using a combination of donation income, set-aside reserves and stepping out in faith that God might grant additional financial blessings to make up the difference— and all so we could maintain our efforts at then current levels of strategic initiatives and programs. The General Conference of Elders approved this approach for the past two years.

Circumstances have now led us to see a different pathway forward, starting now. The time of emergency transition is over and it is time to “reboot” and redesign our efforts to match our actual size and income. In the clarity of hindsight, this should have been done a year ago in the budget we presented to the General Conference to approve last May.

It is now time to face our new reality. That new reality states that we are a Church with approximately 13,000 people—and thousands more coworkers and donors—spread around the world, and we must hold our expenses to our new reduced income. I want to assure you in my role as chairman of the Council of Elders that this has been fully confronted and realistically dealt with over the last couple of months and finalized during this past week of meetings.

On behalf of the Council of Elders and the administration, I would like to express our gratitude for the generous offerings that are pouring in to the home office over the last couple of weeks in response to the recent letter from Dennis Luker and myself. Your faith-filled generosity allows us to take the necessary steps forward to establish and maintain a balanced budget—now and in the future. This we will do.

Currently our income for the year is running several percent above our projections. This is wonderful, and we thank you! Your prayers regarding the sale of the Church’s property in Denton, Texas, would be most appreciated. This would be a considerable boost to move the mission of the Church forward. Additionally, the administration has taken practical steps to widen its team of professional financial advisors (volunteers, not new employees) to assist the Council of Elders and the administration.

So where do we go from here? Well, let me back up a moment. This “re-booting” process, or redesigning of our efforts, actually began in December a year ago as the Council carefully reviewed and redesigned the Church’s Strategic and Operation plan by incorporating a new vision statement—which along with our mission statement guides everything we do towards a preferred biblical outcome. They accurately portray how we understood the purpose of our Church in the 21st century as we grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter:3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.).

Their words affect all that we do as administrators, pastors, teachers, writers and employees. These words are a guide to how we effectively use the financial resources granted by God through you. They provide a compass, a direction forward, to make sure we begin with the right end and goals in mind. Now, one year later in the re-booting process for the United Church of God after the division of 2010, we realistically combine what we are to perform on His behalf with the financial means He has granted us.

As a result, we have had to do some pruning over the last several weeks. Pruning is never easy, and yes, it can get thorny. But to grow and bear much fruit (John:15:5I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.), pruning is a necessity of life for individuals and organizations. Rose bushes will often produce more blooms than they can rightfully sustain, so a careful gardener systematically, knowingly and carefully prunes the plant for maximum yield of the bloom desired.

And so the Council of Elders and administration has carefully and systematically pruned our efforts towards realistic ends—with responsible expectations of God’s additional blessings as He so chooses and not how we plan on our own. We have reviewed all areas of our expenditures regarding gospel proclamation, congregational care and employee care. We have pruned each area so that no one area might go un-nurtured to fulfill its goals.

Our media presence has been pruned, but in ways that we hope will not lessen impact. We will continue with The Good News magazine, the Beyond Today telecast and a continually developing and growing Internet presence. But, we have ceased home-office-sponsored online advertising of our literature in all areas outside of the United States. Over time this will reduce GN and booklet circulation costs to those areas. We will remain on WGN America and the Word Network, while pruning the recently acquired World Harvest Network. We will continue to offer printed Good News magazines to those subscribers who renew, but astutely monitor its effectiveness and renew subscriptions more often. Our website is increasingly one of the major “go-to places” on the Internet for people searching for biblical truth and answers about religion. United News will be published every other month. Our youth publication, Vertical Thought, will become a solely online production for the time being, as most of its audience receives information in this manner. The camp brochure will be incorporated within this coming year’s United News issues.

The priorities of UCG, as well as its governance model, has long been a problem in my view.

Here is a report from UCG’s Treasurer Aaron Dean:

Financial Report—Aaron Dean

The Church is currently receiving 5 percent more income than last year, which is a blessing, but it doesn’t make up for our current allocated expenditures. The special offering has so far reached almost $400,000. He explained that we are not in a bind to pay our current bills and that the main concern is our cash flow. None of our spending has been for anything except caring for the Church and preaching the gospel—the business of the Church.

The reason for the special offering letter was due to the reduction in bank balances by the use of reserves to care for pastorates and to preach the gospel. In losing a third of our prior income ($7 to $9 million per year which is it), we knew that the planned use of reserves could not go on indefinitely and that we would have to cut back in due course. It did cost more than we initially anticipated to have ministers visit churches without pastors until workable solutions could be found. Extra travel and accrued mileage was necessary to allay unfounded rumors of doctrinal change.

We did not replace every pastor that left, and have reorganized several circuits to be more efficient. Our annual payroll was $8.1 million before the split, and last year it was only at $5.7 million—even though we were serving virtually the same number of congregations. Additionally, costs for international subsidies, international Good News (GN) subscriptions (plus booklets) were growing and all being funded by the Church in the U.S. We didn’t try to expand, but we did spend a lot to maintain operations and our congregations in America and internationally. Current growth will allow a reasonable level of service even with the budget realignments.

We are now seeking to increase cash balances to avert projected cash-flow shortages before the annual Holy Days. We are cutting nearly $2 million to have a balanced budget. Since it was a special offering, it will be not be listed as regular income or used in projections for budgeting next year.

Despite increases in income, cuts to proclaiming the gospel, etc. have been made.  Because of the losses related to COGWA and the fact that UCG has been using stored financial reserves since the COGWA split to augment its income, these moves and circumstances were not unexpected.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

Polycarp, Herbert W. Armstrong, and Roderick C. Meredith on Church Government What form of governance did the early church have? Was it hierarchical? Which form of governance would one expect to have in the Philadelphia remnant? The people decide and/or committee forms, odd dictatorships, or the same type that the Philadelphia era itself had?
Unity: Which COG for You? Why so many groups? Why is there lack of unity in the Churches of God? Has it always been this way? What can/should be done about it?
Differences between the Living Church of God and United Church of God This article provides quotes information from the two largest groups which had their origins in WCG as well as commentary.
Concerns about Church of God, a Worldwide Association This seems to be the largest group that came out of the United Church of God. Here is some history and concerns about it.
Should the Church Still Try to Place its Top Priority on Proclaiming the Gospel or Did Herbert W. Armstrong Change that Priority for the Work? Some say the Church should mainly feed the flock now as that is what Herbert W. Armstrong reportedly said. Is that what he said? Is that what the Bible says? What did Paul and Herbert W. Armstrong expect from evangelists?
The Laodicean Church Era has been predominant circa 1986 A.D. to present. These are non-Philadelphians who mainly descended from the old WCG.

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