What Are Your Assumptions?
The missions committee wants permission from this board to schedule a special appeal for the second Sunday in March," announced Hank Powell who chaired the committee. "We hope to raise at least $2,500 extra for the relief of hunger in various parts of the world. This would be in addition to what we have in the budget for missions."
"That's a worthy cause, and I would like to support your request, but three years ago we adopted a rule limiting the number of special appeals to six per year, and we already have approved six for this fiscal year," cautioned Pat Harrison who chaired the meeting.
It was the September meeting of the governing board at First Church. The twelve-member board consisted of the pastor, the treasurer, the secretary, the president of the congregation, who also chaired the board, and one person from each of the eight standing committees at First Church. The president, secretary, and treasurer were elected each year at the annual meeting in January and each committee chose its own representative to the board. In most, but not all, cases, this was the person who chaired that committee.
Proponents of this system contend it reinforces the internal communication and reporting systems, facilitates coordination, strengthens the committee structure, improves accountability, reduces conflict, and centralizes administration.
The opponents argue it places too much authority in the hands of a few, reduces participation, produces an elite leadership cadre, overloads a few people, leaves most members feeling powerless, unnecessarily limits the authority of the committees since most committee decisions have to be ratified at the monthly board meeting, and undermines the authority and leadership role of the pastor.
Others recognize the perfect system does not exist, every structure for congregational governance requires tradeoffs and conclude there are more important issues to worry about in today's world.
"I have no objection to raising more money for missions," declared Terry Williams who chaired the finance committee, "but there is a limit to how often our people should be asked to give. I think six special appeals a year is near that limit."
"If we raise more money for missions, that means less money for something else," reflected Jimmie Hall. "If we raise an extra $2,500 for world hunger, that means we're going to end up the year short in some other area. I'm afraid I will have to support the policy we adopted that limits special appeals to six a year. There's only so much money out there. We have to draw the line somewhere, and I believe six special appeals a year represents that line."
"My problem is a special appeal in early March will conflict with the special offering we always receive at Easter," objected Clara Phillips. "I'm afraid two special appeals that close together will compete with each other and neither will reach its goal."
"While I agree world hunger is a worthy cause and we should help alleviate it, I don't believe that's the issue before us tonight," declared Tim Griffin. "The real issue is stewardship. I'm convinced that if we could schedule an intensive stewardship education program here for the next two years, that would eliminate all of our financial problems. If we could teach our people to be good stewards of what God has given them, we could send fifty cents out of every dollar to missions."
"You've heard me say this before, but I feel compelled to bring it up again," commented Max Rizzo. "What we should do is go back to the system of a unified budget like we used to have here and eliminate all special offerings. Once you open the door to one or two special appeals, you'll always have people wanting to increase the number and ask for more. In the old days we used to go to our people once a year with everything in one budget and that was it. Every committee got a fair shake in the budget preparation process, and they had to live with what was allocated to that committee."
"That's not quite true, Max," objected Ruth Hawkins. "I've been a member here for nearly thirty years, and I can remember two different occasions when we followed the system of a unified budget we also had big special appeals. One was in 1972 for the building fund for the new educational wing, and a second came about ten years later to finish paying off that mortgage."
"Those were capital items and of course we had to have special appeals to raise that much money," patiently explained Max. "There's a big difference between special appeals for capital improvements and a unified budget for operating expenses."
"I have difficulty believing it is acceptable in the eyes of the Lord to have a special designated second-mile financial appeal for a new building for ourselves," challenged Ruth, "but unacceptable to the Lord to schedule a special appeal to help feed starving children."
After several seconds of embarrassed silence, the treasurer changed the subject by noting, "One thing that hasn't been mentioned is that as of August 31 we were still holding nearly $7,000 of bills we don't have the money to pay. I expect that by mid-October we should be nearly caught up. The fact remains, however, that for the first three months of this fiscal year, which runs from the first of June through the end of May, our expenditures have exceeded our income by nearly $7,000. Maybe before we talk about helping others, we need to get our own financial house in order."
"Well, we only have two sources of income contributions by our members to our regular budget and special appeals," summarized Pat Harrison. "The issue before us now is to act on this request for a seventh special offering for this fiscal year. Is anyone ready to offer a motion on this subject? We should get it settled tonight."
Pat Harrison was right. On the face of it that appeared to be the issue being raised by Hank Powell and the missions committee.
Pat Harrison was wrong. From a long-term policy-making perspective that was only a symptom of a far larger and more fundamental question that was being discussed. Instead of focusing their discussion on the request to approve an additional special offering, this group of policy-makers would have been well advised to review the basic assumptions on which they were basing their discussion. Several of those operational assumptions surfaced during this discussion. A review of ten of these operational assumptions will give you a chance to reflect on the assumptions on which the financial program in your congregation is based.
Copyright © 1989 by Abingdon Press