"God is in control and He watches over His Church," said Glynn Scott, Lake Union treasurer. "We can trust Him with all of our concerns and all of the perplexities that we face." | Credit: Jonathan Logan
In March 2020 across the country, states began to issue stay-at-home orders as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. All four states within the Lake Union voted to follow stay-at-home orders. As a result, for the first two weeks of March, most of our churches held in-person meetings, while the last two weeks of March all of our churches were closed. Immediately, there was great concern across all levels of our church structure regarding tithes and offerings, and the year-to-date tithe report for March confirmed our concerns. The Lake Union tithe was negative (-4.6 percent), the North American Division (NAD) tithe was negative (-4.7 percent).
With the negative year-to-date tithe performance, leaders began to brace for the best-case scenario of a 20 percent annual decrease for 2020 tithe and offerings. Church leaders at all levels immediately began implementing strategies to reduce expenses. Expense reduction measures included a travel moratorium, hiring freeze, furlough of workers and reduction in program expenses.
As a result of our churches discontinuing in-person services, pastoral teams had to pivot their thinking regarding the delivery of worship services. Consequently, online services were produced with creativity, allowing participant engagement by pastors and members directly from their homes. With this worship shift, our tithe experience from June through November was flat, ranging from a positive percentage low of 0.09 percent to 0.64 percent.
During this time span, only three of nine unions experienced a positive tithe flow. To assist the conferences in mission and ministry during these months of uncertainty, special stimulus appropriations from the Lake Union to the conferences were made on a pro-rata basis that totaled $300,000. Only God could render such blessings upon His people who in turn were faithful in tithes and offerings to the local church.
The month of December — across the NAD — is traditionally the month we receive the highest return of tithe by our members. This is due to multiple factors. One major factor would be members who own private businesses and calculate their annual income in December. With COVID-19, we had no idea how our members would be impacted financially and thereby be reflected in our December tithe remittance. We can only praise the great God that we serve. Lake Union tithe for December was up by $909,000 or 8.7 percent. December year-to-date was up $972,000 or 1.28 percent. NAD’s December year-to-date tithe was up $18.4 million or 1.71 percent. LUC’s $77 million tithe total, along with the NAD’s $1.1 billion total, represent the highest annual giving in our history by our membership. For the year 2020, seven of the nine unions were in positive tithe territory. For some context in how we placed among the other unions, North Pacific led all union gains at 5.84 percent with the Southern Union Conference a close second at 4.85 percent.
The NAD Stewardship Department is currently studying reasons for our 2020 exceptional tithe experience. The following are contributing factors to the positive tithe experience across the Lake Union:
Online giving by local churches was 40 percent or less as of March 2020 but, by December 2020, 85 percent or more of our churches had signed on for online giving. This provided a greater demographic opportunity to contribute financially.
Lake Union Conference administration committed to monthly stewardship articles in the Herald during 2020.
Leadership across the Lake Union Conference focused on Stewardship, with promotion at the local church.
Government stimulus checks issued to households and members returned tithe on funds received.
The increase in funds at the local conference level will be used for creative evangelism and community engagement projects. Our entity executive committees are voting budget and programs during this first quarter of 2021 that will result in the highest and best outcomes for mission and ministry. At the Lake Union level, this increase in funding allows us to increase special appropriations to the local conferences for programs at the conference and local church level.
If we want individuals to give financially, we must:
Provide multiple options/ platforms for them to contribute to the needs of the church; and
Share how funds received are used for mission, ministry and the communities we serve.
God is in control and He watches over His Church. We can trust Him with all of our concerns and all of the perplexities that we face.
I want to express special thanks to our members for their faithfulness in giving, especially during a year that has been financially challenging for all. Malachi 3:11 (NKJV) states: “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,” says the Lord of hosts. . . This is God’s promise to all who seek to prove His faithfulness to us.
Of concern, however, is the December 2020 year-to-date NAD World Mission funds which were down 21 percent. These funds are used by World Divisions for special projects and appropriations. As you give during 2021, please continue to remember local church and World Mission funds.