What to Do With a Few Million Dollars

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What to Do With a Few Million Dollars

Last fall the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists voted to discuss with the General Conference how to achieve “financial parity” with other world divisions within two to three years. Simply put, the NAD sends about 6 percent of its total tithe revenues to the GC, while other divisions send only 2 percent. The NAD wants to reduce its contribution to match that of other divisions in order to retain more funds for ministry here.[1]

More than 40% of the world church’s tithe comes from North America. [NAD Adventist]

Some commentators decried the vote as selfish, arguing that the North American church has vastly more resources than the rest of the world and should be willing to share that bounty. Others observed that more money will not solve the church’s problems in North America.

 

But little has been said about what this change would mean in terms of dollars (assuming the GC accepts the NAD’s request, which it may not). How much money would the NAD save per year? And what impact would these funds have on our mission?

 

Two Routes to Parity

 

One option for achieving parity—the route that seemed to be in the minds of those voting at the NAD year-end meetings—would be to decrease the NAD’s appropriation to 2 percent to match the amount paid by other divisions. However, because the NAD accounts for such a large fraction of the world’s tithe, such a move would slash the GC’s budget almost in half![2]

 

A more realistic option would be to adjust the percentage given by all divisions to maintain the GC’s budget at current levels. To meet that goal, each division would need to give approximately 4 percent of its tithe to the GC. That would be a discount for the NAD but would double the amount other divisions pay.

The NAD funds about 70% of the GC’s budget. [NAD Adventist]]

Based on the latter scenario, in 2017 the NAD could have kept about $26.5 million dollars instead of sending it to the GC. Certainly, those funds could support significant ministry activities here in North America. As examples, the NAD’s new headquarters in Maryland and the NAD’s annual spending on Adventist education both fall in the range of approximately $25 to 30 million.[3] Alternatively, that amount could pay the salaries of about 500 pastors or launch new cutting-edge evangelistic endeavors.

However, it seems unlikely that a funding increase of roughly 2 percent will catalyze earthshaking changes in our church here in the U.S. and Canada.

 

To get an idea of what those funds could do overseas, consider the fact that in three of the Adventist Church’s world divisions, $26.5 million is more than all the tithe given by all their members in a year. In India, where a single $5 bill could cover the average member’s yearly tithe and offerings, $26.5 million would more than triple the financial resources available at all levels of church organization.[4]

Is There Another Way?

There’s no question that North America, like Europe, is becoming a more challenging mission field as Western society becomes increasingly post-Christian. Undoubtedly we do need funds for innovative ministries that will catch the attention of younger generations. However, the timing of the NAD’s request, following on the heels of long-running controversies over women’s ordination and compliance, makes it look like one more evidence of strained relations between the NAD and much of the rest of Adventism.

The events of the past few years demonstrate that despite our financial clout, Americans are a shrinking minority in the church—only 1 in 17 Adventists lives in North America.[5] Although we are “rich, and increased with goods,”[6] perhaps we are lacking some of the spiritual zeal that is fueling growth in other parts of the world.

 

Part of the solution is found not in keeping more for ourselves but in giving as much as we can for others. Ellen White wrote that “in helping to advance the work in foreign fields [we] would be helping the work at home.”[7]

 

Equality among divisions in funding the GC as an institution may be a reasonable idea. But when it comes to funding the mission of the church, especially in un-entered areas of the world, we in North America hold an outsized responsibility in line with our vastly greater resources.[8] Ellen White’s appeal to the churches in America regarding mission giving includes the promise that when we invest in God’s worldwide work, our own needs will be met as well:

 

We must impart the goods of heaven if we would have fresh blessings. . . . The one purpose above all others for which God’s gifts should be used is the sustaining of workers in the great harvest field. And if men will become channels through which God’s blessing can flow to others, the Lord will keep the channel supplied.[9]

 

In a best-case scenario, the NAD/GC discussion of financial parity will be part of a bigger conversation on how the church can most strategically use tithe dollars and other funds, ideally shifting as much as possible away from administrative expenses and toward advancing frontline missions.

Meanwhile, it would be fairly painless for each of us North American members to contribute an extra dollar every week or two to our local church or conference offering. If we do that, we’ll have an additional $26.5 million for ministry here at home without shortchanging the GC one cent.

______

Notes.

[1] The percentage that the NAD pays has been on a scheduled decline over the past two decades, from 10.72% in the early 2000s to 5.85% in 2020 (see p. 18).

[2] Calculation based on the statistics found here on Adventist News (See graphs).

[3] See NAD Adventist, (see p. 27 and 31).

[4] See Adventist Archives, (see p. 49). Note that the financial disparities within the church largely reflect those in society as a whole.

[5] http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Statistics/ASR/ASR2018.pdf (see p. 4).

[6] Revelation 3:17, KJV.

[7] Ellen White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6 (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 1901), p. 27

[8] See Luke 12:48.

[9] Ellen White, An Appeal for Mission, p. 4-5.

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Rachel Cabose is the consulting editor of The Compass Magazine and a freelance writer. She previously worked as associate editor of Guide magazine at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. Rachel and her husband, Greg, live in Michigan.