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Photo: Karen Huttenga
William Delleman, Classis Alberta North: Reduce “ministry creep.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

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Photo: Karen Huttenga
Rob Buikema, Classis Wisconsin: “The [ministry share] keeps going up, and it becomes a fictional number.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

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Photo: Karen Huttenga
Board chair Kathy Vandergrift: “Something will have to give.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

Synod 2016 has instructed the Christian Reformed Church’s Board of Trustees to evaluate and prioritize all denominational programs and ministries, “with the goal of reducing the institutional footprint.”

It also instructed the board to “re-imagine” the ministry-share system, including possibly changing the basis on which ministry shares are calculated.

Synod rejected a two percent increase in ministry shares proposed by the Board of Trustees as part of the budget for the coming fiscal year, instead holding the line at the current amount of $339.48 per active adult member, on the grounds that it “does not wish to raise the ministry-share rate while our current ministries are under evaluation.”

Ministry shares are a per-member assessment requested from congregations to support the denomination’s shared ministries.

Synod also wants an overhaul of the system itself. Noting that many churches contribute only a portion of the requested ministry shares, that some contribute nothing at all, and that others are devising their own ways of deciding how much to give, synod said it is time to “re-imagine” the system, including simplifying the calculations and considering options other than the number of professing members as the basis for calculations.

The CRC developed a ministry-share system shortly after it was founded in 1857 as an efficient and low-cost way of raising money to pay for shared ministries.

John Bolt, the CRC’s director of finance and operations, told delegates that it costs the denomination about 20 cents to raise $100 through ministry shares. The ministry-share system currently provides about $24 million a year. If all churches contributed fully, it would raise $40 million, he told synod, noting that the ministries must spend about $4 million in fundraising costs to raise the remaining $16 million.

Some of synod’s actions were drawn from the report of a Task Force on Financial Sustainability created by the Board of Trustees to examine and make recommendations to improve the system.

Synod also instructed the board to “to evaluate and prioritize all existing programs and ministries.”

Part of the instruction is to “produce a detailed chart of all existing ministries” that includes a description of the ministry; the date it began; the account of synod that established the ministry; and the current ministry-share allocation. This is to be submitted to the board by February 2017.

Delegate William Delleman of Classis Alberta North said the goal is to reduce what he termed “ministry creep.”

Kathy Vandergrift, president of the Board of Trustees, told delegates that the board already reviews programs regularly and sets priorities through the denominational ministry plan.

Some delegates objected to the phrase, “institutional footprint,” suggesting it didn’t belong in a church report.

Vern Swieringa, a delegate from Classis Zeeland, said said the problem with the ministry-share system “is that [the members] just don’t know what we are doing together.”

Another piece of the overhaul is to place more responsibility on classes (regional groups of churches) to explain and encourage participation in the ministry-share system.

In rejecting the ministry-share increase proposed by the board of trustees, some delegates suggested that setting a higher rate would be pointless, since churches ignore it anyway.

Rob Buikema from Classis Wisconsin said, “The number keeps going up, and it becomes a fictional number,” since the amount paid into the ministry-share system remains roughly constant.

Others, however, noted that it’s unfair to cut revenue after ministry budgets have already been established and received by synod. Bolt estimated that rejecting the increase will amount to about $200,000 less income. “Something will have to give,” Vandergrift told delegates.

At the end of the discussion, executive director Steven Timmermans told delegates that while listening to their debate he often heard language that distinguished between “us” and “the denomination.”

“You are the denomination,” he told them.

He added that he heard both hope and frustration during the discussion. “We are going to get better,” he said, pointing to the CRC’s new ministry plan and the evaluations of ministries that will accompany it. He said that the new Council of Delegates, approved by last year’s synod to replace the Board of Trustees as well as several agency boards, would help to bring everyone around the table.

“We are the church together,” he concluded.

For continuous coverage of Synod 2016 including the live webcast, news, video recordings, photos, liveblog, social media links, and more visit www.crcna.org/synod.

Comments

It would seem that the majority of delegates to Synod "get it." Some may be confused and so inclined to say "but you ARE the denomination," but it hasn't played and doesn't play out that way. There has been an increasingly growing differential between what the CRCNA bureaucracy thinks we should "do together" and what congregations think we should "do together."

The most revealing case in point is OSJ of course. I would suggest most CRC members do not believe the CRC should follow the mainline denominations into becoming another political lobbying institution, and that Church Order 28 means what it says (that we should take up ecclesiastical matters only as a institutional church). Of course this doesn't mean that CRCers (and all other Christians) shouldn't be politically involved, but they are, whether individually or as supporters/contributors of organizations ("institutions") like Center for Public Justice. And if the CRCNA were to be a political lobbying institution, most CRC members would not want it to be run like a page from the left wing of the Democratic Party. I have refused to join AARP because I don't want AARP to be able to claim me as another person they represent when they go to Washington DC to lobby. I don't agree with their political perspective. So why should I have to leave the CRC to keep it (OSJ) from claiming me as another person they represent when they go to Washington DC to lobby? Especially when the CRC rules (again, Church Order Article 28) says the CRC should ONLY be an ecclesiastical institution?

But, says those who happen to be the decisions makers within the CRCNA bureaucracy, "we" need to "do social justice," which means "we" need to "advocate" and we think is required. And of course that's the problem.

So thank you, majority of members of Synod 2016. Hopefully, when the BOT and office of the Executive Director get together to discuss priorities, they won't decide that being a political lobbying organization is anywhere on that priority list.

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In Canada we have the CRC office of dialogue with the government headed by Mike Hogeterp as Director. It was earlier called Committee for Dialogue with the government. This is just like the OSJ in the US and is a church funded lobbying group in Canada. I have over the years made lots of comments to this organization that I, as a member of the CRCNA do not want to speak on my behalf . Their opinions are not vetted by a local church, Classis and only in arrears by Synod. ( And not even sure of that.)

We have another organization call. cJL ( Committee for Justice and Liberty ) that is privately funded by largely Christian folks, a lot from the CRC in Canada. While they are a bit too liberal for me, I applaud their right to speak on behalf of their members. I am a member of Cardus and the Fraser Institute both funded privately. They clearly speak on my behalf 90% of the time.

John Bolt, Director of Finance, at Synod, made a very interesting and true statement that Ministry Shares cost 20 cents !! per hundred $ while other fund raising efforts are $25 per one hundred dollars. So there is is another vexing problem for the CRCNA. Each of the large ministries except World Renew have their own fund raising groups. In my own research of charities, I do not support any where the fund raising costs re above 20% of gross revenue. In Canada you can easily find this information if you have the charity registration number and plug it into the Canada Revenue Agency website for charities.

The committee charged with looking at this will have a major challenge and I wish them well.

Harry Boessenkool

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I was listening to the committee's presentation yesterday, and was surprised to discover that the BOT had already approved the 2017 Budget. Having worked on budget development for major public corporations it seems that approving the budget before having dealt with ministry share approval is putting the cart before the horse adding to the disconnect between CRCNA administration and the local church.

The budget approved by the BOT for fiscal purposes cannot reflect what is put forward for delegates to approve since it needs to set out what might be realistically remitted for fiduciary and due diligence reasons. That budget is nowhere to be seen in either in the Acts of Synod, or the Supplement. Also, the documents give no indication of how the Ministry Share is to be apportioned among the agencies that would meet best practice benchmarks for public scrutiny.

Having the delegates vote on the Ministry Share allocation that has no bearing to the actual adopted budget under these circumstances makes no sense.

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The role of the church is to help members develop rich, vibrant spiritual lives - lives that will explode in acts of gratitude. Instead, much of our denominational mission creep comes from our insistence on prescribing specific acts of gratitude in the hope that such acts will create rich, vibrant spiritual lives. This backward approach inevitably is contentious because it is almost impossible to have universal consensus on which acts of gratitude should be funded and which should not. The discord so created will, by definition, tear the church into smaller and smaller pieces until it ceases to exist. Rather than having in-house ministries, we should either help them to become stand alone charities, or abandon them and then encourage members to express their gratitude by getting involved in any of a thousand organizations already in existence. Unless such a change is made, the CRC cannot develop unity of purpose or meaningful communion of the saints. Without such a change, the future of the CRC is bleak.

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