By Ben Disney
Arborlawn is a remarkable congregation because of the faithful dedication of our people and the utter goodness of God. This year, 2011, has been an extraordinary year of tremendous challenges and opportunities. Arborlawn made the bold decision to step out in faith to construct new facilities which would give us the resources to reach deeper and farther into our community to make disciples for Jesus Christ. What you’ve done as a congregation is remarkable. It’s a testament to the power of God and the faith of our people. I marvel at what you’ve done in the midst of an uncertain economy.
We have so much to celebrate. But with any significant endeavor there are challenges. I simply want to share with you where we are in the journey and to communicate openly, honestly, and transparently. Stewardship is not about you meeting the needs of the church or institution. It’s about our need to be faithful, generous followers of Jesus Christ in all that we do, all that we have, and all that we are.
Here is a brief synopsis of where we are at this point:
1) In a major expansion such as ours the majority of the costs are front loaded; meaning the current congregation has pledged to build a facility designed for a congregation that is to come. It normally takes a year to a year-and-a-half in a new facility to welcome and receive the number of new people who will begin to come because of the visibility and vibrancy of a congregation like Arborlawn. As new people come to the church, it takes a period of six months to a year for those individuals to find their place in the life and ministry of the church and to establish giving patterns that reflect their commitment to the ministry and discipleship. In short, we’ve built a church with the anticipation and confidence that we will grow significantly. In reality it takes some time before the initial commitment of funding is offset by those who come in the first twelve to eighteen months.
2) Until May the church was making adequate progress toward the funding of our apportionments which represent our commitment to giving beyond the local church through the connectional system of the United Methodist Church. Apportionments represent Missional giving to various ministries locally and globally. Summer is normally a more difficult time financially for the church with people away on extended vacations and sporadic attendance patterns. Normally we begin to turn the corner in September and finish strong in December with generous year end contributions. This year has been somewhat of an anomaly. The normally expected rise in giving was offset by numerous costs related to the completion and opening of our new facilities. Cost escalations, unexpected but necessary expenditures, and expenses related to our opening made a significant impact on our ability to cover the apportionments.
3) Our expenses have also increased in terms of increased utilities, insurance, and debt service. Again, those front loaded costs are being borne by the existing congregation but will be offset as we continue to grow in the coming years.
4) To date we’ve paid $80,792.00 of our 2011 apportionments which total $265,274.00. The good news is that our overall giving has increased this year. Unfortunately, the costs related to the opening of the building are having a negative impact on our ability to fulfill our commitments to apportionment giving.
5) The staff and leadership have been diligent in seeking creative ways to be good stewards of our resources. To bridge the gap as we continue to grow, the finance team and staff have reduced our expenses related to programs and administrative costs by at least 10 percent and much more in other ministry areas. For the second year in a row the staff has declined any raises. We are willing partners with you in bridging the gap of the first year in our new facility as we continue to grow.
Here’s what you can do to help partner with others in the church:
1) Pray. Pray not for the financial well being of the church but for spiritual health and maturity of a congregation that seeks to do more than raise funds. We are about building the kingdom and changing lives. Pray that we will be true to our mission and that we will honor our vows to uphold the church through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.
2) Return the 2012 commitment card or go online at ArborlawnUMC.org/give to set up your contributions and commitment to the ministry of the church. It’s an important statement of faith and a key barometer of confidence as we move forward in ministry as a church. If every member made a commitment to the church we would truly be a healthy, vibrant body of Christ.
3) Remember. This is not simply a financial challenge. It’s a very real opportunity to reexamine our priorities and align them with our faith and values as individuals and as a church. With every challenge comes an opportunity to learn the better lessons of who we are and what we are called to do.
As someone much wiser than me once said: “If it’s not hard, it’s probably not worth doing.” Often the work of the church is hard work. But God knows it’s worth it; which means it’s worthy of our best efforts. You are remarkable. I look forward to what God has in store for all of us in the coming years. I am honored to serve with you.
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