Sep 08, 2020

UM News has published at least three recent news stories that report on UM churches, annual conferences and general agencies all trying to shift their ways of functioning in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most are trying to survive losses in finances, ministries and staff and to discover new, creative ways to serve people and congregations in uncertain times.

For churches that primarily means changing how they worship, as some begin to return to their sanctuaries for in-person worship, while others wait. But most see the necessity of continuing their growing, online worship efforts as well, as many members say they don’t plan to return to church in person for the “foreseeable future.” See “Churches begin returning to in-person worship.”

The General Council on Finance and Administration heard how the pandemic has severely impacted church, conference and agency financial ledgers overall, despite a small rebound to giving to denomination-wide ministries slightly in July. While many benefited from the temporary federal funding relief (the CARES Act and Payment Protection Plan), that source of support has ended.  

Board members also received some guidance on ways churches should calculate and report online worship attendance in this new age. And they reviewed steps some conferences have taken to assist struggling churches with apportionment and clergy benefits payments. See Board gets update on giving, online worship.

The combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty over what the denomination will look like in the future is affecting funding, staffing and programming for The United Methodist Church’s 13 general agencies. Trying to negotiate this changing landscape has meant adjusting ongoing ministries, starting new grant programs to respond to current crises while cutting back on others, streamlining staff and looking for new revenue streams at a time when giving patterns have become less predictable.

“2021 is looking to be one of our most challenging financial years yet,” said the Rev. Junius Dotson, top executive of Discipleship Ministries The United Methodist Church’s shrinking U.S. membership, combined with both the strong possibility of a denominational split over differences on LGBTQ inclusion and the financial stresses of a global pandemic, has resulted in long-term financial uncertainty for agencies. See Church agencies cope with new realities.