UMCSC financial leaders expect leaner budget for 2025, urge ministries to prepare
By Jessica Brodie
South Carolina Conference financial leaders are asking ministries to take a hard look at their essentials in crafting their budget, as they anticipate a leaner budget for the conference as a whole.
Given the 113 South Carolina churches that separated from The United Methodist Church in 2023 and in anticipation of more separating churches in 2024, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration held two budget planning meetings in October to help ministries prepare for new budget realities.
Those who attended are ministries who receive apportionment dollars from the conference, from clergy services and campus ministries to congregational development.
The discussions were intended to help ministries prepare not only for the 2025 budget year but to think about the long-term future of these area and how they deliver their mission and ministry through apportioned funds.
“It won’t be business as usual into the foreseeable future,” said the Rev. Wayne Smith, chair of CF&A’s budget committee. “We anticipate a hard reset regarding funding.”
The meetings were held Oct. 4 and 11 and led by Smith with Conference Treasurer Beth Westbury and other CF&A members: Katie Woodfin. Smith said CF&A is hoping ministries will take a new look at their operations and explore their priorities. He noted that often groups come before CF&A with the same budget every year like it’s a blank check, but things will be different now with a smaller amount available to give.
“You need to look at your ministry and what is essential,” Smith said.
The 113 churches that left the UMC this year were required to pay 100 of their apportionments upon leaving, which amounted to roughly $2.4 million. That led CF&A to recommend the 2024 budget be reduced by $2.4 million. For the 2025 budget year, conference leaders know the overall budget needs to be even less than 2024. But with more churches discerning now whether or not they also wish to leave the UMC, as well as an economic downturn for the nation in general, they know they need to be conservative in their expectations.
“We have to project for 2025 but we’re still in 2023, so it’s hard to do that, but be ready—we’re projecting a reduction,” Smith said. “As with any nonprofit, we can only give what we receive.”
“This is a moving target,” added Patterson.
CF&A wants ministries to begin having uncomfortable conversations about how to pivot given the less apportioned funds they will receive, as well as to explore funding outside of apportionments, such as grants or individual donations.
For instance, the Advocate receives some conference apportionments but also subscriptions, advertising revenue, revenue from book sales and tax-deductible donations from newspaper supporters.
“Be prayerful about this, please,” Smith urged. “We want to keep doing ministry, but we’re going to have to do it with less. That’s the new reality. It may not be a comfortable reality, but that’s where we are: to do the most we can with what we have.”
To accomplish this practically, CF&A leaders encouraged ministries to start with exploring what two-thirds of their current ministry might look like.
While numbers are nowhere near ready, Westbury speculated that the conference will be looking at a $10 million budget for 2025.
The 2024 budget is $13.2 million, while the 2023 budget is $15.6 million and the 2022 budget was $15.9 million.
Patterson reminded all that before the next annual conference, the UMC will finally be holding its long anticipated—and long postponed—General Conference.
“Who knows what financial repercussions will come out of that,” Patterson observed.