Tithing Task Force Proposal

June 03, 2013

By the Rev. Rod Brayfindley
Chair, Tithing Task Force
Pastor, First UMC Redding

There is growing enthusiasm for the proposal to make our apportionment formula a simple tithe on congregational General Fund income. I was convinced, almost from the start, that it could be a trust-building revolution from local churches to the Annual Conference. There are also still some vigorous opponents.
The proposal, to be voted on at the Annual Conference session, is to let go of the complicated formulae that we have used in the past (in honorable attempts at being equitable, by the way). Each formula eventually became the stuff of higher math, and then could feel "decided on" by "somebody" or even "imposed" "from above" to some. That sense can make local budget conversations rather strained.
The tithe has the potential to reverse this dynamic entirely. First, it is a biblical pattern that makes sense of our shared faith work. In fact, just in being so, it may be a wonderful tool for communicating the call of the tithe at a personal level. If we as congregations function from the logic that it is just honorable to share 10% of our income with the greater work of God, that might well be a witness to what can become a new ethos in stewardship for members of our congregations.
Second, it is built on the local church's numbers in a straightforward way. It can be "calculated" by anyone who sees financial reports in a local church, as much as by the conference center. On line 67 of our Year End Reports, we indicate total General Fund income of our churches. This proposal would mean that we tithe on that income.
Last year, it was moved on the Annual Conference floor that a group be constituted to study the possible ramifications of the tithe proposal. Bishop Brown asked me to lead the Tithe Task Force to accomplish the task. We found using last year's numbers, about half of local churches will see a rise in their apportionment, using the tithe, and about half would see a decrease. Most of the churches seeing changes, will see modest change, whether up or down. Some churches will face bigger changes. We couldn't find easy predictors for "types" of churches that might see changes either way.
We saw many questions about parsonage income. This became harder. As General Fund income, it would be tithed on. This is one predictable feature for some of the churches that would see their apportionment rise. It's hard to be in favor of something when it costs you more. But in looking at costs and benefits, our team came to believe there will be transforming positive potential in trust, when at the local level we see every day the indicators that will determine our tithe. Even beyond that, this may catalyze a greater revolution in stewardship (talking and thinking that may result from this shift) that may well outweigh costs for local churches in both the long and short run.
Does the plan change anything about how the collection of the apportionment occurs? And about the allowances made for churches that pay less than their full apportionment? No. This plan doesn't come with any change in the trust, and encouragement system, we have for collecting the apportionment. We trust local churches to do their best, and we encourage them to pay their share. That will not change if we adopt the tithe as our standard, at all. 
I realize that there is nervousness any time we approach the apportionment numbers. I'd be glad to take emails to discuss specific questions. My email is pastor@reddingumc.org. We've produced a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet to keep my email box from filling, but really, if you have concerns, email me. I'll respond. We'll also provide specific numbers to your local church by the time you get to the Annual Conference session, even though I hope the principle and potential far outweigh the strict calculations from last year's numbers.
[Also read "Tithing Proposal" written May 21, 2013]