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Church leaders, members feel 'strain' of turbulent economy, but giving remains faithful

2012 budget reallocations free up funding for unreached region; Hope Channel now separate financial entity

Church leaders, members feel 'strain' of turbulent economy, but giving remains faithful

Robert E. Lemon delivers the treasurer's report to Annual Council delegates at church headquarters this morning. The world church treasurer said next year's budget allocations respond to growing financial needs in some of the world's most unreached areas. [photo: Ansel Oliver]

Every Sabbath last year, Seventh-day Adventist church members put an average of US$40 million into offering plates worldwide for an annual total of $2 billion.

"To me, that is a miracle," world church Undertreasurer Juan Prestol told Annual Council delegates during a treasury report at world church headquarters this morning.

"No one is forcing anyone to do this. People do it voluntarily because the Lord impresses them to give. This is a tremendous testimony," Prestol said, particularly amid today's turbulent economic climate.

Part of that $2 billion in tithes and offerings received worldwide in 2010 is the foundation for the church's 2012 budget, church leaders said. Delegates voted today to budget $166.7 million for the church's appropriations next year.

One-third of the increases in the appropriations budget will go toward outreach, ministry and leadership to the 10/40 Window. The church's Loma Linda University, South American Division and Inter-American Division were among institutions and entities to see decreased funding as the church frees up money for the largely unreached area of the world stretching from Northern Africa across the Middle East and Asia.

The reallocation, recommended in 2008 by the church's Appropriations Review Commission, recognizes growing self-sufficiency in some areas, transferring additional funds to meet needs in other regions.

"In the past, we have had a tendency to pay financial attention to regions with high membership, but many are now capable of carrying their own weight," world church Treasurer Robert E. Lemon told delegates.

The church is seeing a dramatic shift in funding as Adventist membership worldwide grows. Between 2006 and 2011, church income from outside North America nearly doubled. While tithe from North America still funds a majority of the church's world budget, the church's finances are more vulnerable to fluctuations in currency exchange rates than in previous years.

The strengthening of the U.S. dollar against many of the world's currencies has a "major effect" on the church's work worldwide, said world church Treasurer Robert E. Lemon. While a strong dollar can cramp the world church budget, regions that receive appropriations in U.S. currency now find the amount stretches further, offsetting some of the loss, Lemon said. Church financial officers deal with the opposite effect when the dollar weakens.

As the church, especially in the U.S., continues to emerge from a tenacious recession, Lemon said steady tithes and offerings are a blessing. Church members have felt the "strain" of uncertain financial times, but remain faithful, he said.

Tithe returned by members in North America is up 3.5 percent as of August 2011 compared to the same time last year, Lemon told delegates. Outside North America, tithe grew 17 percent in the same time period.

While some of that increase can be attributed to currency exchange rates, tithe in local currency has also seen "substantial increases," Lemon said said.

Likewise, mission offerings from outside North America increased 20.5 percent or $7.2 million, due to actual offering increases coupled with favorable exchange rates, Lemon said.

World church Stewardship Ministries Director Erika Puni asked the chair to consider including a line in the approved budget expressing gratitude for the work of local stewardship leaders.

Educating members in Biblical stewardship is a "crucial area" of work, said Ted N. C. Wilson. Last year, the world church leader challenged regional church leaders to hire full-time stewardship directors. "Some of you have done that, and I believe you are seeing an incredible return on that investment," Wilson said.

Responding to another delegate's question, Wilson also pledged to make the church's financial reports available to the world church in an "easy electronic format." For members back home who sacrifice to return faithful tithes and offerings, knowing how the church handles those funds is rewarding and motivating, the delegate said.

Delegates also voted today to establish the church's official television network, Hope Channel, as a separate financial entity and provide it with the appropriate working capital as of January 2012. The network is already separately incorporated.