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MC Canada report seeks to understand long term funding in context of projected shortfall


October 19, 2005
-by Dan Dyck


Al Rempel (left), resource development director for Mennonite Church Canada reviews various funding issues with treasurer Claire Schlegal during Mennonite Church Canada Support Services Council meetings in Winnipeg on Oct 15-16.

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Winnipeg, Man.— At the same time as a $120,000 shortfall is being projected for Mennonite Church Canada for the 2004-05 fiscal year, a research report on how MC Canada congregations direct their giving has been submitted to the General Board.

Where the Money Goes: An Analysis of Congregational Giving Distribution in Mennonite Church Canada is based on data gathered from congregations’ tax records submitted to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and available to the public from the CRA web site. The data is for the years 2000-2002.

The impetus for the research stems in part from delegate concerns expressed at the assembly in 2003 (St. Catharines) about how much MC Canada money is directed to international ministries relative to home-based or national ministries. The report looks at how congregational dollars are distributed. On average, 5.4% of congregational distributions are aimed at international ministry, including the work of agencies such as MCC. Meanwhile, 40% of MC Canada denominational budget is targeted to International Ministry.

While congregational giving to international ministries decreased by only 0.44% between 2000 and 2002, it represents $200,000, says the report. In real terms, it could mean the recall of up to four international mission workers from abroad.

The findings also reveal that while overall area conference giving increased slightly over the three-year study period, national conference giving remained stable over the same time period. Contrasts were Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, where average area conference giving declined over the three year time period, and Mennonite Church Manitoba, where national conference giving jumped significantly in 2002.

The report is upfront about its intentions, stating that, “This effort attempts to understand the choices congregations make when deciding how to distribute their generosity. It is not a judgment of congregational decision making.”

The report concludes that the pattern of increased congregational disbursements to home-based ministry has continued over time. In 1964, congregations on average spent 55% of received donations on local ministry. That figure increased to 63.6% in the early 1990s, and again to 75.3% in this study.

Al Rempel, director of Resource Development for MC Canada and author of the report, said, “This analysis helps us understand how and where we as a collective community of congregations are directing our generosity, and invites us to think about how we balance our giving to address needs at home and internationally.”

The report is cautionary about how study results should be interpreted. “Three years is a relatively short time to conclude a trend is present and that it will not change. Congregations may wish to discuss whether the increased expenditures in home ministries are appropriately addressing the needs of being a relevant and vibrant ministry [in a global sense.]”

A second conclusion points out that the trends identified in a Conference of Mennonites in Canada (CMC) study have not yet been adequately addressed. The 1993 report entitled Strengthening the Links states that “…a long term financial strategy cannot be developed without first ensuring that the CMC constituency feels that its goals and priorities are reflected in CMC’s activities.” Rempel adds that “We need to continue to develop greater ownership and appreciation for Mennonite Church Canada’s ministry, but there also needs to be a fuller conversation about how to fund, into the future, the work that we can best do together.”

The report provides a backdrop for the projected $120,000 shortfall this year. Dan Nighswander, general secretary, said, “We heard loud and clear that congregations wanted more time to help turn around our financial situation in 2003. This new report helps us understand how we share our giving as a nation-wide church, and offers an opportunity for deeper congregational conversation around how we balance our generosity.”

MC Canada staff has already begun adjusting next year’s budget downwards, but are hopeful that the projections will not come to fruition. One staff person was reminded of the hopeful question asked by a delegate at Winkler 2004: “What could we do with a 1% increase?” Janet Plenert, executive director of International Ministries, responded that 1% or an additional $450,000 per year (MC Canada congregations disburse about 45 million dollars/year),would allow ministry growth in places like Thailand to support new partners for the ambitious plan to plant ten churches in twenty years.

Where the Money Goes will be discussed by the General Board at its Nov. 12-13 meetings in Saskatoon. A summary of the report is available on request.

A series of meetings has already been scheduled to engage to wider church about the projected funding shortfall this year. Area conferences, congregations, and individuals are encouraged to attend the meetings in their respective area conferences:

  • Nov 3, 7:30 pm, Foothills MC, Calgary, AB
  • Nov 10, 7:30 pm, Rosthern MC, SK
  • Nov 16, 7:30 pm, St. Jacobs MC, ON*
  • Nov 21, 7:30 pm, Bethany MC, Virgil, ON*
  • Nov 23, 7:30 pm, Grace MC, Steinbach, MB
  • Nov 25, 7:30 pm, Home St. MC, Wpg, MB
  • Nov 29, 7:30 pm, Eben-Ezer MC, Abbotsford, BC.

*These locations have exchanged time slots as of Oct 29, 2004.

Sidebar: One percent more
-by Janet Plenert

The question came from the Assembly floor at Winkler 2004: “What could we do if congregations gave just one percent more?”

We’ve recently learned that Mennonite Church Canada congregations disburse about 5% of their receipted donations to some kind of international ministry. In all, our churches receipt about $45 million in donations each year. One percent more from each congregation directed to Mennonite Church Canada ministries would make a difference of about $450,000.

My mind raced with delight as I began to imagine the possibilities. We could finally send another couple to Thailand to help with the vision of planting 10 churches in the next 20 years, thus establishing new communities of faith, hope and peace. We could nurture more leaders around the world by providing more teachers, both long and short term, and by guaranteeing support for local leadership training efforts like the Seminary in Colombia.

One conversation at Assembly highlighted a person, trained, experienced and prepared to serve in Latin America in exactly this kind of capacity. We could respond to the Brazilian church and other sister churches through the Global Mission Fellowship as they mobilize their members to be faithful to their own calling to cross cultural mission.

From Mennonite World Conference (MWC) we have learned that 25% of MWC members are in North America, yet we control 88% of the MWC family wealth. So while the churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America increasingly have people prepared to be mission workers, they lack the financial resources to support them. We could multiply our loaves and fishes and our efforts by sharing our resources with them. We could begin to dream about new ministries that the Spirit is nudging us towards, perhaps in North Korea or Cambodia.

And there is another critical component to increased support. Not only would more ministry happen in other countries, but it would have a significant impact right here in our own congregations. An increase in giving would result only from increased awareness, involvement and commitment to mission by our own congregations.

When we allow ourselves to be engaged with our whole selves in the activities which we support, we ourselves are transformed, slowly and surely. We begin to listen anew to world news and ask about our roles in world events, how systems of power created certain issues, or we could be used to change things. We see ourselves connected to our global brothers and sisters in ways we had not imagined. We begin to worship God in ways that are more inclusive to those on the margins of the church. We become aware of the gifts that the global church is offering to us. We connect in intentional relationships with workers and churches around the world and thus learn to know the joys and challenges of others, and know that our new friends are praying for us.

One percent more from each congregation’s receipts is all it would take to make our dreams and vision a reality. I pray that each church would take this challenge seriously, believing that together we are Mennonite Church Canada, together we can make a difference in our own congregations and around the world.