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Mission & Money, Church Vitality 2012 Workshop, United Church of Christ of La Mesa

by Mary Domb Mikkelson

     Edith Wharton’s 12th novel, The Age of Innocence, looked with brutal irony at New York society of the 1870s, an old-fashioned world tottering perilously – and incredulously – on the brink of change.

     Innocence came to mind Sunday, February 12, 2012 at the Mission & Money, Church Vitality 2012 workshop at the United Church of Christ of La Mesa (CA).  A program of the Southern California Nevada Conference (SCNC) of the United Church of Christ (UCC), its speakers explored challenges facing churches as they seek to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of societal change.

     After bringing greetings from Conference Minister Félix Villanueva, event director Keith Clark introduced the SCNC’s new Young Adult Ministry Coordinator, Dave Palmer, who brought participants up to date on what’s happening at Pilgrim Pines Camp and Conference Center (yes, we will have summer camp and no, it is not being sold).  Participants were also encouraged to connect with each other and with people throughout the Conference via the SCNC’s Connecting Voices Magazine and E-News.  

     “Preschools,” presented by Tom Buchenau, SCNC’s Conference Attorney, brought a first taste of both challenge and change.  “Is,” he asked, “running a preschool a burden of love or a revenue growth opportunity?” (the answer is “Yes”)

     “Why do it?” was a primary point, one impacting all of the legalities and concerns discussed.  If under church auspices, for example, being – and being clearly identified as – a mission of the church was stressed.   “Know your church’s mission, focus on it, get educated about what you’re doing, plan, be sure it’s well-managed, use professionals where appropriate,” were among the points made.  If a preschool is not a mission of the church, monies derived from it are unrelated business income.

     Managing risks (insurance for everything from poison ivy to heat stress), preventing child abuse, background checks, self-assessment, etc. were examined.  Background checks, professionally done, are, as was re-emphasized in a later segment on fraud prevention, indicative of changing times and innocence lost – and absolutely essential.  Gone are the days of trusting long-time members or Johnny’s Aunt Susie with our children or our dollars – or of taking without question or checking the resumes of applicants and volunteers.

     Regulatory issues – do you know how many toilets per number of children are required? – were also discussed, as were tax concerns, unemployment compensation and a myriad of other concerns.

     (Note:  See end of article for links related to child care facilities.)

     Next up was David Coatsworth, Director of Development, Disciples Seminary Foundation, whose talk focused on reinforcing good practices by financial stewardship leaders, identifying obstacles to achieving goals and encouraging some practices contrary to tradition.  Stressing that stewardship is THIS BIG, involving ALL that God gives, he suggested that the designation of annual fund campaigns as “Stewardship Drives” does a disservice to the concept.  He further encouraged participants and their churches to “counter the societal message of scarcity with God’s message of abundance.”

     Illustrating local church finances with a “three legged stool” which turned out to have a fourth.  The original three are the Annual Fund, planned giving and capital campaigns; the fourth, major gifts.  Steps recommended included talking about stewardship – in its fullest sense – year round.

     Tithing as a spiritual practice and a privilege was discussed, with a couple of fascinating historical tidbits offered to provide perspective.  Old Testament tithing, for example, involved three separate gifts, two of 2% a year and, every five years, another of 10%.  Predating that, the early Egyptian warriors were said to “tithe” if 10% of their bodies were injured or lost!  Another point made was that if you ask “before or after taxes” you’re not on the right page.    Suggestions for teaching about tithing included telling stories of generosity, providing financial literacy training, promoting the “gift of first fruits” technique from the Bible – writing your check to the church first – and always viewing generosity and stewardship in relation to God.

     SCNC Conference Treasurer Harold Schultz’s presentation dealt with investment management, especially the need to balance risk and return.  Funds held by churches, he suggested, are often too conservative.   Stressing diversity, he pointed out that a portfolio should not be just a “collection of ‘great investments’ any more than a baseball team should be made up of all “great” outfielders.   

     In discussing gifts to the church, a series of equine metaphors were used to explain the need for a well thought out gift acceptance policy.  “Do look a gift horse in the mouth,” was one – to insure that the gift horse isn’t actually a Trojan horse (example:  real estate with environmental problems).  A “wild horse chase” is a gift whose purpose might divert resources and attention from the church’s core mission, a “hay burner” one requiring more effort to manage than it is worth.  Under “hold your horses,” he suggested having established policies regarding naming rights (“I’ll give you X amount of dollars if you’ll name the fellowship hall for my uncle”) and an awareness of the costs of disposing of non-cash gifts.  Also important:  knowledge of what can and can’t be done with restricted funds (see www.upmifa.org – Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act).  Schultz addressed, too, the often encountered hesitation to “dip into the principle,” suggesting churches need a spending policy on “when to break the glass!”

     Starting with a magnificent YouTube video on the blessing of being a blessing (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhmmeFuzGRkThe Gift of Generosity) Rev. Jane Heckles, Minister for Our Churches Wider Mission Development, broached the subject of legacy gifts.  “At the end of life we all give 100%,” she stated, “and if we don’t plan for its use, the government will!”  At a time when the “average Christian” gives only 2/8% of income to the church, this fact suggested a need to shift our focus to “what we need to do as children of God to become blessings.”

     After pointing out that only 50% of the folks in our pews have a will/trust and only 50% of those are up-to-date, she suggested exercising stewardship not only of our “stuff” but of what we’ve learned.  A recent study involved interviews with Baby Boomers (“What do you think you’re your children want to receive in your will?”)  and their Gen-X children (“What would you like to receive?”  The Boomers replied, “money;” the Gen-Xers (“money okay but what we really want is to know what your life meant.” 

     Planned giving to the church – deferred gifts (in will), life income gifts (give today and have income from the gift for life) – was discussed next, with an emphasis on gift annuities.

     Particular stress was placed on the need, on the church’s part, to make clear its mission in order to motivate congregants to support it with the time-honored time, talent and treasure.  This carried with it a warning:  “Unless your mission horizon rises about your own neighborhood, it won’t happen!”  Most people, Heckles explained, “give according to the church’s horizon – the BIG plan they want to be a part of.”

     Age played a major factor, too.  Did you know that UCC has the highest average age of people sitting in its pews of all mainline denominations?  Given that statistic, “we need to plan for what comes next.  We need to ask what aren’t we doing which should be done to attract younger people who care about mission, not maintaining institutions.”

     At the same time, she commented, we need to think in terms of, “will I leave more than an empty pew when I die?”  One possibility for leaving more was “tithing in your will” – leaving 10% after special bequests to the church – “you’ll be in your pew in perpetuity.”

     On a final note Heckles recommended that churches “celebrate giving” by capturing and preserving stories that share the joy of giving.

     The final presentation, “Fraud Prevention” by Executive Associate Conference Minister Keith Clark, returned the audience to the harsh realities of broken trust and innocence lost.  “You have money now, how will you protect it?” he asked.  Story after story of embezzlement, many captured in TV News clips of arrests and trials, poured out.  Two recent ones occurred in our own conference.  The figures were staggering – $27,000…$50,000…$2,000,000.  And yet, Clark reported, too many churches hesitate to take the necessary steps to protect their funds, fearful (in the words of author Richard Hammar) of “reflecting a lack of trust in the people who handle church funds.”  Churches, he added, are uniquely vulnerable to such theft.  They provide no tangible services or products in exchange for cash received.  They have high levels of trust, willingness to forgive, a lack of internal controls and a “flock mentality” (“something smells funny but no one else seems worried, so…!”). 

     Further discussion highlighted who to watch out for (stressed out employees, people living above their means, those who never take vacations, those in financial difficulty, those involved in drugs or gambling), the major reasons for theft (financial woes, revenge and ego) and some of the challenges facing those who hope to protect their churches (limited staff, resources, volunteers).  The need for extensive background checks, for checking references, for clearly stated expectations and consequences, for having probationary periods, for adequate insurance and for precise and painstaking policies and procedures to be followed in any money handling situation were emphasized. 

     For more detailed information and recommendations, Clark suggested the following resources:  http://www.churchextension.org/upload/treasurers-handbook-2007.pdf  , http://www.insuranceboard.org and http://www.cutlerinsurance.com.

     There was more, of course, much more than can be covered here.  Additional resources include:

     Organizational Issues: 
          Cutler issues – program as “mission of the Church”: 
          Planning/Development Issues:  http://www.buildingchildcare.org/uploads/pdfs/CCCManualFINAL07.pdf
      Business entity:
          Insurance Board:
          Youth Activity:  http://www.insuranceboard.org/safety_solutions/youth_activity.aspx
          Safe Conduct:  http://www.insuranceboard.org/safety_solutions/safe_conduct_workbench.aspx
     Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: 
          Self Assessment:  http://assess.securesites.net/selfassessment/authentication/login?redirect=%2Fselfassessment%2F
          Background Checking:
          Facilities:  http://www.buildingchildcare.org/
          Publications:  http://www.buildingchildcare.org/index.php?page=publications-ccc
          Regulatory Issues:
          Regulation highlights:
          Basic regulations:  http://ccld.ca.gov/res/pdf/CCAP04-04CCCbasicrequirementsbulletin.pdf
          Outline of Regulations:  http://www.cdss.ca.gov/ord/PG587.htm
           National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education:
          A-Z Child Care Information Links:  http://nrckids.org/RESOURCES/list.htm
     Fund Raising and Legacy Giving
     Financial Transformation


One Response to “Mission & Money, Church Vitality 2012 Workshop, United Church of Christ of La Mesa”
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