We all know that filling out tax returns is serious business. One decimal point in the wrong direction and the return can slip from good news to mind boggling debt. We take care with numbers on our personal income tax return protecting ourselves from any mistakes because “Numbers Count!”
Much like an annual tax return, each year in January, pastors are responsible for filling out statistical tables. The tables come to us from the general church. All 35,000 congregations in the UM connection fill out the same table. These statistics are used in a myriad of ways within our conference, the general church and outside the denomination.
Last month the Council of Bishops met in Oklahoma. One of Bishop’s Dyck’s homework assignments (yes, Bishops have homework assignments) was to examine her conferences trends in “Professions of Faith” and dig for some success stories to share with all the Bishops present. When learning about the work of our local churches “Numbers Count!”
A congregation is more than its numbers. It is a composite of stories and ministries, leadership, spiritual growth, economic situations, population trends, of lives graced by God’s love. The local church is mission and fellowship, community and disciple making. Most of this is hard to research and measure. We have many dynamic congregations across Northern Illinois and one of the ways we track this dynamic is through the statistical reports.
What do we do with those numbers once we have them? Well, for one, they help the Bishop do her homework. The numbers also guide our church development work, they help us resource one another in successful ministry, and they influence where resources are invested. In the NIC, answers from the statistical report are used in the apportionment formula. Numbers Count!
When our Conference Committee on Finance and Administration saw that there were a significant number of churches struggling to cover their mortgage or refinance in a time of economic downturn, it was this statistical information that helped drive the formation of the Red Door Fund, consolidating debt and putting an estimated $ 5million in funds back into the hands of local congregations for ministry and mission.
On the national level our statistical reports help the general church track trends and needs. The growing number of Hispanic congregations in the denomination prompted the United Methodist Communications to produce more resources in the Spanish language. The apportionment assigned to the Northern Illinois Conference from the general church is also derived from the statistical report of the annual conference. General church funds returned to the conference, the number of Bishops assigned to a jurisdiction, the number of delegates the conference can send to General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference are all derived from the statistical reports. Numbers Count!
In January as we enter the season of statistical reports, the NIC Cabinet, in conjunction with Lonnie Chafin, the Director of Administrative Services, and our conference Committee on Finances will be offering resources, coaching and support. We are not H&R Block but we will try to give you all the tools you need to file a report that truly reflects your ministry.
Next month, when your pastor looks cross-eyed and is mumbling about numbers take heart – it is simply the annual ritual of filling out the statistical tables. Offer support and encourage accuracy – this is more then an exercise in math skills, this is a report that shapes the local church, our conference work and the denominational connection, “Numbers Count!”
Published Dec. 10, 2014