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Mennonite Mission Network cuts 2004-2005 budget by 10 percent


October 3, 2003
-by Tom Price

ELKHART, Ind. (Mennonite Mission Network) - Facing a variety of factors, including a tenuous economic environment, Mennonite Mission Network will cut its spending plan for the upcoming year by 10 percent.

Because Mennonite Mission Network works in partnership with other agencies, Mennonite Church USA congregations and conferences, and international church partners, the scope of changes will take some time to clarify, especially those in international settings. Already conversations have included leaders of Mennonite Church Canada Witness, the Mission Network's counterpart in Canada, with whom a significant portion of international ministry is shared. And Mission Network leaders have worked to minimize the potential impact on those involved in direct ministry.

Still, the reduction comes in the wake of a growing vision for cooperative global mission efforts around the world, highlighted in August during the Global Anabaptist Mission Fellowship meetings held in conjunction with Mennonite World Conference's assembly in Zimbabwe. At the same time, across the street, there continues to be a strong commitment within Mennonite Church USA to becoming a missional church.

"This does reduce our capacity to do what our constituents and we know we need to do to respond to God's call and our brothers and sisters around the world," said Stanley W. Green, the Mission Network's executive director. "But we have tried working strategically to minimize the impact on our ability to respond to our partners."

The $1,031,000 reductions include some level of reduction in positions affecting 16 staff in Elkhart, Ind., Harrisonburg, Va., and Newton, Kan. Here is a breakdown of the impacts on the Mission Network's administrative divisions:

  • Half of the cuts, about $521,000, came from the Global Ministries division. This division accounts for almost half of the Mission Network's overall budget. Global Ministries includes international mission efforts and Service, Learning and Discipleship programs. With the division's overall budget reduced nearly 13 percent from the current year, many reductions will come as a result of not seeking to replace workers who were completing assignments or through other previously planned program terminations.
  • About one-fourth of the cuts, $236,000, came from the Missional Church Advancement division, which was reduced by nearly 11 percent compared with its budget for 2003-04.
  • The budget of the Mission Network Services division, which includes the Finance, Human Resources and Information Technology departments, was reduced by $159,000 or by 11 percent compared with current budget.
  • Two other areas accounted for the remaining reductions.
  • Mennonite Media, a ministry of Mennonite Mission Network based in Harrisonburg, Va., was cut by $89,000, which represents 15 percent of its current budget.
  • The Executive Director's office will be reduced by $26,000, a 13-percent reduction from the current year.

As the mission agency of Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Mission Network supports ministry in more than 55 countries, placing more than 170 overseas workers in 46 countries. In the United States, the Mission Network operates eight Service, Learning and Discipleship programs, including Mennonite Voluntary Service, and has created nine formal mission partnerships that involve congregations, area conferences and other groups organized to achieve specific mission objectives. In addition, the Mission Network provides mission-related resources - including people like urban ministry directors in 11 U.S. cities, programs like City on a Hill and Instituto Bíblico Anabautista (Anabaptist Biblical Institute), and materials in a variety of media.

The cuts will affect the scope of ministry and staff activity across the organization. "We are going to be engaged in a similar variety of ministries, but not necessarily on the same scope," Green said. "There are some things we will not be able to do as well as we've done in the past."

Many cuts will take effect Feb. 1, 2004, with the start of the Mission Network's next fiscal year.

Contributions to the Mission Network for the current fiscal year (Feb. 1, 2003 through Jan. 31, 2004) are down by 13 percent through Sept. 30 when compared with the same period last year. "We thank the many individual donors and congregations who continue to be generous in their giving toward God's mission," Green said. Still, the reductions also grew out of a need to have sufficient cash reserves on hand for cash-flow purposes.

"We needed to make some adjustments to our overall budget in order to live within the contributions we receive from Mennonite Church USA congregations and households," Green said. "These have been challenging, difficult days, and we were aware that we were being lifted up in prayer by many people."

The Mission Network's situation is similar to that of other Mennonite Church USA organizations. In September, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board announced it was reducing its staff by 10 percent and making adjustments of about $150,000 in other expenses. In addition, many area conferences have reported difficulty meeting budgets. Even beyond Mennonite circles, Christian denominations and parachurch agencies have reported declining contributions accompanied by budget reductions ranging from 3 to 20 percent.

Another factor that impacts contribution trends is the need to rebuild connections following the transformation process, which gave birth to the Mission Network as the U.S. successor to Commission on Home Ministries and Commission on Overseas Mission (General Conference Mennonite Church) and Mennonite Board of Missions (Mennonite Church). Green also noted a challenging perception among some Mennonites: the idea that becoming a missional church means spending resources across the street instead of around the world. This is hard to reconcile with the call heard at Mennonite World Conference from our partner churches and with the example being set by churches of the South.

Mennonite Mission Network depends on gifts through congregational offering plates for three-fourths of its annual contribution income. (Most of the remaining 25 percent of contributions comes from contributions designated by individuals and families and sent directly to the Mission Network.) Overall economic conditions and other factors have resulted in a 20-percent decline in contributions since 2000.

The $1,031,000 million represents a reduction of 10 percent from the current Mission Network expenditure budget of $9.9 million for the Feb. 1, 2003, to Jan. 31, 2004, fiscal year.

Although the cuts will diminish the depth and scope of ongoing ministry opportunities, Mission Network leaders remain hopeful about the commitment of Mennonites in North America to God's mission around the world.

"We hope that our vision for the future and these strategic reductions put us in a place to expand ministry in the future," Green said. "We have exciting invitations from our sisters and brothers around the world to join them in mission in new ways. Responding to our global partners will require an increase in giving from congregations and households across the church for ministry. We have hope and confidence that our constituents will respond with generosity."