(Good News newsletter, January 2015)
There have been some significant changes to our funding guide for 2015 which every West Sider needs to understand. If you were not among the 10% of the congregation at our annual meeting, you will have missed the detailed explanation, but let me try to share what we all need to know.
Maintaining our basic ministry and mission commitments requires us to contribute nearly one and a quarter million dollars annually. We have consistently met our obligations every year, and perhaps have become a bit too complacent, assuming rising financial challenges will take care of themselves. Over the last several years, giving has continued to increase, but costs have risen faster, reducing our margin for meeting our budget.
Every funding guide includes hard and soft dollars. Hard dollars are fixed commitments, like salaries and utility bills, insurance and essential maintenance to keep the building and equipment functional. Soft dollars are more discretionary, like potential program costs or any visionary programs aimed at growth or broadening mission.
For many years we have been cutting nearly all soft dollars out of our ministry budget. There are virtually no dollars designated for non-essentials, or for visionary growth goals. Since we have followed a policy of putting 25% of our annual income into missions beyond West Side, however, there has been no necessity of making any of the same restrictive cuts to that portion of our budget.
Giving to West Side has tended to average just a little above 90% of our funding guide each year. Until recently, we were not fully staffed, so there was always a small buffer to absorb that shortfall in giving. Now, however, all staff positions have been filled. When increases in missions giving were proposed as well, it became evident that it would be irresponsible to approve a funding guide which would now require over 95% just for absolute, fixed commitments, plus another 6 or 7% minimally just to continue our present discretionary programs.
It became apparent that our only choices were to cut staff, or to restrict the growth in missions. The unanimous conclusion of Session was that cutting staff would effectively cut back both our present ministry, and the potential for future growth in missions. As a result, we spent many hours working out a creative way to be responsible with hard dollar fixed commitments, and at the same time leave room for expansion of potential mission and ministry, if the congregation is committed to supporting it.
Since all our missionaries have other sources of support (which of course is not true of our staff or any of the church’s fixed obligations), Session’s solution was to commit to funding 75% of the mission committee’s proposed support of individual missionaries, with the promise of increasing to as much as 100% if funding comes in at above 95%.
We know this sounds a bit complicated, but what it amounts to is being responsible with fixed commitments and allowing for greater generosity to match the growth in faith of the congregation. We can do as much mission and ministry as this congregation is willing to support. It will be important for all of us to seriously ask the Lord if we are doing our part to make sure Christ’s mission continues to thrive at West Side.
—Paul R. Smith
Moderator; on behalf of West Side’s Session