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Prepared by Ken Floyd, MARBC Executive Ministry Director
The purpose of this summary is to help the constituency and friends of the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches have a greater understanding of our financial base and the current needs with which we are dealing. I have chosen to highlight various opportunities and challenges we have faced and are facing during the seven years in which I have served as the MARBC Executive Ministry Director.
Special letter appeal:
We have received approximately $3,500 in new income in response to a letter sent out by Chairman George Coon on behalf of the MARBC Council of 16 in early 2013. Some of this giving came through the increase of current support, some churches added the MARBC to their budgets, and most gave one-time love gifts. Additional churches still hope to share a love offering near the end of this year through Thanksgiving and Christmas offerings. A few other churches are monitoring their budgets each quarter to see if there is a way to give a special gift or increase their support.
Brotherhood Mutual dividends:
We are grateful for the stewardship investment that approximately 50% of association churches have made by joining the MARBC Group Dividend Program offered through Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company. Through this program, the Association receives a dividend from Brotherhood Mutual for low claim performance in a given calendar year. We are prayerful and hopeful each spring that we will receive a dividend check from Brotherhood Mutual as a part of their partnership with participating MARBC churches. Some years the checks are very large (the largest has been $76,000), other years smaller (in the single thousands). The size of dividend is based upon a formula that calculates the number of churches involved, their premiums paid, and the claims submitted for a given year. This means that every year is unique and that the association’s dividend is vulnerable to catastrophic claims that occur as a result of weather related issues, accidents on church premises, criminal acts, and other sizable claims. We certainly want every member church to be good stewards in utilizing its property insurance when needed. That is why it has been purchased. However, we live with the reality that every year may bring circumstances that could limit or eliminate a refund check.
In past years, this dividend check was used for special projects: replacing the car used by the director, office equipment purchases and upgrades outside of budgeted ability. As the checks grew in size and churches would see the size of them, some would back off in their giving assuming that everything was fine. Like a church that has a large designated account but a lean general fund, when those funds are combined at the bottom line of a spreadsheet it can create a false sense of security. Some Brotherhood Funds were used some years to make up a shortfall in the budget. This was a legitimate use, but not what the main intention of the partnership when it was established.
When I first took the role of Executive Ministry Director, I shared with the Council leadership and the churches that my intention was to use the monies received outside of normal church support for special ministry projects, specialized seminars, and conferences. This is what we did the first three years of my leadership, providing regional seminars for ministry development, helping two area impoverished regions of our state develop retreats for couples, church leaders, etc., where the MARBC covered most of the expense. And, most significantly, we developed and implemented the CPR ministry (Church Partnering Relationships) that have led to about 100 churches involved in special ministry projects through out the state in the past 6 years. Funds from Brotherhood and special love offerings received for CPR have been used to help underwrite these projects, which have included outreach events, church building maintenance and improvement projects, etc.
I would ask each church to prayerfully consider a partnership with Brotherhood for their property and liability coverage. They offer competitive rates and have various programs available to assist churches, not only with insurance, but also with counsel and assistance in both legal and practical ministry matters. It is a wonderful way for your ministry to be doubly effective stewards by providing protection for your church while also offering practical financial assistance to the MARBC.
A few factors have had a major impact upon both the MARBC income and expenses:
(1) The great economic downturn greatly impacted our state and therefore our churches. Several churches have lost key people to job loss and relocation. This has impacted their ability to maintain their missions budgets. And, while fine-tuning those budgets, choices have been made by necessity to reduce or eliminate support to stateside ministries in deference to those serving overseas. I agree with this decision-making process and have encouraged some to cut our income if it meant keeping another missionary on the foreign field.
(2) The blessing of Brotherhood monies given to the MARBC has caused some to assume that the ministry would remain in good shape financially as long as monies were received annually from the program. For a few years, this appeared to be the case. However, with the regular decreasing of church support income, more and more of the Brotherhood money has been needed for operating expenses.
(3) Yearly we have sought to speak as many times as possible in various locations in order to minister to churches and pastors, share the vision of the MARBC partnership, and to help out the MARBC finances through the honorariums we receive. I am paid a salary and any honorariums I receive go to the MARBC general fund. We have now started a Personal Ministry Expense Fund where we are soliciting support from individuals to help defray the cost of our travel and personal ministry to pastoral couples from the MARBC General Fund. Some have accepted our invitation. However, due to the limited regional scope of our personal ministry it is difficult to generate much support outside of our own constituency. I will expand on this point at the end of this summary.
(1) Another implication of the national economic crisis of the past 5 years is that costs have escalated. When I first assumed the role of Director, gas was averaging near $2.00 a gallon. Oh, for the good old days! IRS approved mileage rate when I started was 44.5 cents per mile. This year it is 56.5. We have driven over 210,000 miles for ministry purposes in our 7 years as Ministry Director. And all you have to do is reference the daily news to know that health insurance costs continue to increase dramatically. We praise God for the fact that the MARBC has never denied a ministry opportunity to a church or a servant in need due to their ability to cover our expenses. Nor have we limited where I speak due to a church’s ability to give an honorarium. We are blessed to go to any ministry opportunity regardless of any anticipated remuneration. Several other groups have now established “fee based” ministries and consultations. I am hoping that this ministry won’t have to consider that approach.
(2) Postage rates have increased 8 times in the 7 years we have served. This has a great impact on the cost of distributing the Baptist Testimony and mailing other materials. To offset the postage costs, we went to a bi-monthly format for the BT in 2008 and then a quarterly format in 2013.
(3) Because we are “relatively” younger, healthier, and therefore more active than our predecessors at the time of their retirement, we have been more fully engaged in ministry across the state. This has meant more investment as a result. Much spiritual fruit is being born from this, but it isn’t always translating into increased income.
(4) We have sought to keep a tight line on each year’s annual budget. The MARBC’s budget has increased by half a percent in the 7 years since we became Director. We have only accepted one salary increase in the 7 years we have served and that was a cost of living increase. Most of the budgetary increase is the result of escalating gas prices, mileage expenses, and ministry investments. We have cut as many areas as possible to bare bones. We have produced most of our materials, etc., “in house” therefore printing materials only as needed in order to keep costs low. In the past four years we have made significant cuts to the operating budget in order to be wise stewards.
We all certainly understand that these types of critical financial needs are not isolated to our association. I am often in dialogue with other ministry servants who are facing similar issues. We seek to encourage one another as we share ideas and offer mutual prayer support. As I have considered the significant challenges that the MARBC faces in comparison with other missionaries and ministry groups I have found one radical difference that I would like you to consider. Before I share it, please understand that I am neither minimizing nor slighting the real and obvious needs of other sister ministries or their faithful servants. They, too, are worthy of our prayerful support.
However, here is the key difference: the vast majority of other ministries are not limited in their fund raising and promotional scope to one specific region and one specific constituency. We are the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Our mission and ministry focus primarily upon service to those churches and ministry servants who are a part of this association. We are not able to go outside the realm of that limited constituency in order to raise additional finances. I have personally experienced this as I have sought to raise personal support as well as funds for specialized MARBC ministry projects. Therefore, it is imperative for those who associate with, embrace the viability of, and benefit from its diverse and practical ministry to accept ownership of its practical functionality. To assume that others will do it for us is to promote the demise of this great association.
Those who gaze across the fence to admire other groups who seem to have more financial resources often ignore that such resources are gained at another cost. To partner with such groups means that a church gives up some of its autonomy and becomes subservient to the directives of other decision makers. Part of the genius of our movement is the independence and autonomy of each church. If fact, this summary is written with the intent of sharing helpful information and not to mandate participation.
Allow me to conclude with this positive perspective. While this financial situation is certainly challenging, it should not distract us from the great things that God is doing through the ministry of the MARBC. New initiatives have been established and are making a difference in the lives of churches, pastors, and the regions where they minister. New churches are choosing to officially partner with the MARBC as association churches. Church plants are being developed and formerly struggling churches are being renewed. Pastoral couples and churches in isolated areas that felt like they were hanging on by their fingernails, now have a sense of hope because the MARBC has come alongside of them through special initiatives like CPR. These ministries are crucial since there is no other Gospel witness in their region. Christ is using the MARBC to help “keep the light on” (Gospel wise) in those areas. The more we are involved, the more we believe in the purpose of the association!
I share these thoughts with you in the same spirit recorded of the early church in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:44-47; 11:27-30) and Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and Philippians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15; Philippians 4:10-20). While none of us can carry the whole load, we can all offer our faith driven assistance. Thank you for partnering with us by upholding us in prayer as we seek God’s enablement through these unique times.
Partnering with you for God’s glory,
Executive Ministry Director
Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches