by Jeff Jeremiah
EPC Stated Clerk
On April 24, the National Leadership Team (NLT) reported to you the following recommendation:
The administration and strategic initiatives of the General Assembly ought to be supported by the giving of EPC churches. The expected giving amount from each church should be either $23 per member or one percent of that church’s annual budget. Following fiscal year 2020, the expectation is that all giving should be at the 1 percent level.
On May 23, the NLT announced this change to the recommendation:
The administration and strategic initiatives of the General Assembly ought to be supported by the giving of EPC churches.
Since May 23, many people have asked members of the NLT and me, “What happened?” The short answer is that the NLT asked, listened, and responded to you.
The feedback we received focused on two elements of the April 24 recommendation. The first was reaction to the word “Expected.” There was resistance by too many who took the word “expected” to mean “requirement” or “mandatory requirement.” We also heard, “By doing this, the NLT is moving the EPC to become a ‘top-down, bureaucratic denomination no different from the PC(USA).” The NLT was stunned. Their knee-jerk reaction was to delete “expected.”
There also was resistance to “one percent.” This came from our historically high-supporting Per Member Asking churches.
Per Member Asking (PMA) is the primary way our churches fund the budget of the national level of the EPC. For some of these churches, moving from PMA to one percent meant they would have to increase their giving. Those churches know how much they give, and they are aware of churches who are every bit as capable of giving but do not. They are justifiably frustrated with this situation. They have no interest in increasing their financial support until under-supporting churches step up. The NLT had no interest in antagonizing the churches who have faithfully invested in the EPC for years.
A secondary concern was this: A number of churches expressed support for the move to one percent of their budget because it would decrease their giving to the EPC. For the NLT, this was not the motivation we were looking for as we seek to fund a mission- and vision-driven denomination!
Based on these responses we received, the NLT pulled “expected” and “one percent” from the recommendation, leaving only the strategic initiatives portion of the original recommendation in the proposal. This begs the question, “Where did ‘expected’ and ‘one percent’ come from?” The short answer is that the NLT asked, listened, and responded.
At the end of 2015, support for Per Member Asking was at 61 percent of the goal. Two groups were mostly responsible for this shortfall. The first was a number of recent arrivals to the EPC who had to pay large ransoms in order to come to us. They were not yet in a position to support the EPC. The second group was comprised of some churches who have been in the EPC for a long time. They simply choose not to give, or give very little.
In January 2016, the NLT directed me to engage in what we called a “Listening Tour.” I’d talk with EPC church leaders about how they felt about their relationship with the EPC, let them know that the EPC is becoming a mission- and vision-driven denomination, and asked about their level of financial support to EPC. In April, the NLT received my partial report, and decided they needed more feedback than what I can glean from my one-on-one meetings. They decided to hold focus group meetings at our 2016 General Assembly, which were led by a communications consultant.
As a result of those focus group meetings, we found out there was strong support for funding the strategic initiatives—church planting, church revitalization, effective biblical leadership, and global movement—in the EPC budget. And there were two surprises.
First, we were told that “voluntary” giving to PMA is problematic. The word offered to replace it was “expected”—giving to the EPC should be “expected.”
Second, “PMA” itself is problematic. It’s not a good way to measure a church’s capacity to give. In its place was proposed one percent of a church’s budget.
The NLT received these results in August and asked, “Is this accurate?” We decided to survey the lead pastors of our 600 churches, as we wanted feedback from each church. The results of the survey:
- Put the strategic initiatives in the EPC budget
- “Voluntary” giving to the EPC is “problematic,” and “expected” was offered in its place.
- “PMA” is “problematic,” and “one percent” was offered in its place.
The NLT asked, listened to what you said, and was confident that the original recommendation is what you wanted. We found out differently between April 24 and May 23.
Upon reflection, I realized this mistake. We did not serve you well in that we should have reported to you the results of the focus groups and survey in late October or early November. We could have done this and we didn’t.
In keeping with our “Generation to Generation” General Assembly theme, and paraphrasing Scott Griffin’s sermon in the Moderator’s Service of Communion and Prayer on June 23: I’m a Boomer. Reaching out to Builders: I apologize for that mistake. The buck stops here. Reaching out to the GenXers: I am not the “savvy guy” in this. Reaching out to the Millenials: The National Leadership TEAM will do better in the future.
Let me finish with good news.
Earlier, I reported that 2015 PMA was 61 percent of the goal. Simply by asking what you think about a mission- and vision-driven denomination and listening to what you’ve said, look at what has happened: 2016 Per Member Asking came in at 68 percent of the goal.
We still have work to do. I believe that an acceptable minimum level of support is 80 percent. We’ll keep working on this until you tell us otherwise.
Thank you, and God bless you!