GAMC approves sweeping changes to special offerings

$20 million goal by 2020 set, fall offering will support world mission

February 22, 2012


The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) today (Feb. 16) approved sweeping changes to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) four special offerings designed to meet a goal of increasing the offerings to $20 million by 2020, nearly double what they took in last year.

The Rev. Karl Travis, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and chair of the Special Offerings Advisory Task that has been working for more than three years, said the group has engaged the most extensive review of Special Offerings since reunion in 1983. “This opportunity to review Special Offerings and provide recommendations comes at a crucial time, as the Offerings are no longer working as they once did for the church.

The four offerings ― the One Great Hour of Sharing offering, the Pentecost Offering, the Peacemaking Offering and the Christmas Joy Offering ― have declined 25 percent in the last 10 years and 15 percent in the last 20 years. “If we’d just kept up with inflation,” Travis said, “the offerings would be $30 million.”

Travis said the $20 million goal can be reached “if we increase the number of congregations receiving one or more of the offerings from 7,500 to 9,000 goal and increase the average per member contribution from $7 to $8.50.”

The most far-reaching change, Travis said, is to eliminate strict percentage allocations to GAMC programs for special offering receipts, choosing instead to allocate them to designated purposes aligned with the strategic priorities identified by the GAMC.

Currently, for instance, the One Great Hour of Sharing offering is divided between the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the Self-Development of People program. The Peacemaking Offering is committed to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program.

The new rubric commits OGHS funds to purposes such as “community development, disaster assistance, hunger ministries and peacemaking activities.”

The Peacemaking Offering, received in the fall, will be no more, replaced by the World Communion Offering. Congregations and presbyteries will retain 25 percent each of the offering ― just as they do with the Peacemaking Offering. The 50 percent committed to the GAMC will be used to support “global witness and outreach beyond the United States.”

And the 50 percent of the Christmas Joy Offering that has previously gone to racial ethnic schools and colleges and support of racial ethnic students will now go to “racial ethnic church leadership development.” The recommendations include creation of a task force of racial ethnic leaders to advise the GAMC on specifically how to use that money.

The other half of the Christmas Joy Offering will continue to go to the Board of Pensions for its assistance programs for retired church workers, their spouses and survivors in need.

The GAMC will “select, hire and empower a director of special offerings to be the public face for the offerings.” The task force’s report noted that “currently responsibility for special offerings is spread across several individuals, with no one person specifically responsible for a strategic, coordinated effort to achieve measurable goals.”

Other changes include:

  • strengthening the link between each offering and its liturgical season;
  • strengthening the link between the ministries supported by each offering;
  • increasing the level of public accountability for each offering through annual reviews and monitoring reserve levels;
  • creating a pilot program with a “special opportunities catalog” for designated contributions; and
  • “engaging churches and individuals directly” through technology ― credit card subscriptions, social media messages, online video, etc.

Travis told council members that “I’m sure there’s anxiety for staff and programs who have received specific percentages [from the offerings].” Steadily declining special offerings, he added, indicate that “we haven’t done a good job of telling our stories and they are compelling.”

Travis called for a theology of abundance. “People will support high-impact ministries,” he insisted. “A bigger pie means a bigger piece for everyone. You can look at the trends and see that the pie is shrinking. Let’s fix that.”

  1. Was looking for Peacemaking Offering info to help the new chair of our Stewardship Committee. I'm not sure the changes to the five special offerings will increase giving to the special offerings. The past ten-years, seems giving within the church has been impacted by various factors, including the overall economy - becoming more "generic" with the special offerings' missions doesn't seem like the solution.

    by William Morris

    September 27, 2012

  2. I am Black and Presbyterian. I am very concerned about the re-allocation of the Christmas Joy Offering. As the cost of higher education continues to increase, some racial-ethnic colleges work to continue to provide a quality education to students who do not have financial resources. Funds from the Joy Offering assist these institutions. Many of the Black Presbyterians that I know trace their first knowledge of the Presbyterian Church to their experience as students at a racial ethnic college that they perceived as somehow connected to the Presbyterian Church. Some also talk about receiving scholarships and other support from the Presbyterian Church. What will be some of the long-term effects of the re-allocation of the Joy Offering? Will traditional Presbyterian Church campus ministries be able to reach and minister to non-Presbyterian Black students attending traditionally White institutions (TWIs), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), or minority serving institutions (MSIs)? Will the Church's U.S. population become more homogeneous? What will be the relationship between these schools and the Presbyterian Church? How does racial ethnic church development and church growth ( as related to Black folks) fit into this plan? At a time when there is such a need for education, it would appear that the Church may be saying that its commitment to racial ethnic education is no longer a priority.

    by Jacqueline W. Currie

    June 19, 2012

  3. Any comments on the Pentecost offering is conspicuous by its absence. Was its use discussed? If so, what changes were proposed?

    by Alex. F. Burr

    May 20, 2012

  4. I fear this change will have counter productive results. Our rural church has a history of generous giving. However, as a member of the Mission & Stewardship Committee, and a counter of the Sunday offering, I see how many of our members prefer to designate where there gift is to be used. Most likely, this church will see a reduction in receipts for the four special offerings, when the members see that they don't have the final say on where their money is being spent.

    by Al Stephenson

    April 26, 2012

  5. I fear this change will be a counterproductive one. I am a member of a rural church and my involvement includes participating in the rotation for counting the Sunday offerings, as well as being a member of the Mission & Stewardship Committee. This church has a history of generous giving, and many do so by designating which outreach program they wish to support. I believe it is quite probable this church will see a drop in receipts for the four seasonal offerings, when the givers realize that they will not always have the final say on where their money is being spent.

    by Al Stephenson

    April 26, 2012

  6. As a former SDOP chair and current committee member, I have watched donations decline over the years. Now, without a focus on what we do for poor and oppressed people but instead "community development, disaster assistance, hunger ministries" without SDOP's guiding criteria of ethnic composition and self-development, I fear a sharp decline in donations. And adding admin costs worsens the problem! Greg Plant

    by Greg Plant

    April 26, 2012

  7. I have been promoting all foru offerings at my church for the last 13 years. I do not like adding anything more to the One Great Hour of Sharing offering. Adding the peacemaking work to this offering will not increase donations. It is already divided 3 ways. Adding a fourth will not help. You do not mention any changes to the Pentecost offering. Add Peacemaking to that or leave it alone as its own offering. To increase donations, encourage and help congregations to do a better job in promoting the offerings. Also stop making changes to our denomonation that encouages members and congregations leave. This reference should be obvious and certainly cuts donw on donations. I have had members tell me that they will never donate to special offerings again because of changes taking place in the PCUSA.

    by Gene Eblen

    April 24, 2012

  8. I am not sure that the people who have raised concerns about the proposed change are wrong, but the stated intent for the use of each offering sounds as clear to me as any percentage designation from the past, except perhaps in relation to racial ethnic institutions. With regard to that part of the proposed change I am not sure that focusing on leadership development would take anything away from those institutions in the long run, and the flexibility to target leadership development without always having it located in a traditional institution may serve the same community better. I was surprised not to see any resp0nse from those who developed the proposed changes or from those who may be affected by them to show why they presumably see more positive results. Where are those with experiences that would affirm the proposed changes? Where are those who have answers to the concerns that have been raised?

    by William H. Dent, Jr., HR

    April 21, 2012

  9. I am concerned that percentages of division for OGHS money will no longer be in operation. If the division of money is not clearly delineated at the outset, I fear that the hunger and peacemaking programs will be absorbed into some thing else, and their clear focus will be lost. I have seen this happen before, especially with peacemaking...a program of the church with which my husband and I have been involved in various ways for over 20 years. You don't have to continue the peacemaking offering, but please clarify a significant percentage of OGHS money for hunger and peacemaking. One reason I have remained in the PCUSA is because of our concern for the areas of brokeness amongst humanity, rather than just discussing theology and sexual issues ad nauseum. If these two areas of physical and spiritual suffering are not addressed by the church as a priority, then we have truly forgotten Jesus' message!!

    by Carla

    April 20, 2012

  10. As a pastor who has supported all the Special Offerings in each of my congregations, I must say that I think this is a disastrous move! Like many of my parishioners, I will not give to the local United Way because I have no say in the recipients of the gift, and I am not alone in saying that I will not give to a denominational "United Way" either. The whole point of these particular Special Offerings has been to allow those Presbyterians with particular passions and concerns to support their special cause. And we certainly do not need to be adding more administrative staff to decide how that is to be done! Plenty of well-told stories are available for congregations who wish to make use of them. I am particularly unhappy to think that peacemaking will lost its singular opportunity to receive directed funding.

    by Bobbi Neason

    April 20, 2012

  11. I am concerned that eliminating the Peacemaking Offering will make it very difficult for our local church, Overlake Park Presbyterian in Bellevue, WA to continue the work of the Social Justice and Peacemaking Committee. We depend very much on our share of that offering to do the work of our committee. I do hope this will not pass the GA .

    by Inez Allan

    April 20, 2012

  12. I speak from a church that has incorperated the "Five for Five" campaign. We think the giving will go down The community giving will probably take place of the current four designated offerings.

    by Lucinda Michels

    April 20, 2012

  13. Is the Pentecost Offering being eliminated?

    by Diana Lim

    April 20, 2012

  14. I'm particularly alarmed by the decision, apparently without review or confirmation by other bodies, to hire more executive staff to drain administrative costs from the offerings. This staff position becomes the most readily identifiable purpose of the offerings, and it is not one to which I want to contribute or that I want to defend or promote. I believe this shift of focus to collecting rather than giving, directly counter to a theology of abundance, will decrease rather than increase participation in the special offerings.

    by Barbara Kellam-Scott

    April 20, 2012

  15. As an elder and active participant in my local church and in the denomination, I share many of the concerns mentioned above. It appears to me that we have moved more towards a denomination that prefers to give to designated issues than to a "general" pot. I am requesting that our presbytery discuss this in some way, so we can have a voice in this as a presbytery.

    by Dottie Villesvik

    April 20, 2012

  16. As a presbytery executive of a one time top ten giving presbytery to special offerings, I am alarmed by the recommendations of the Advisory Task Force concerning the future of special offerings. While I applaud transparency and accountability, I fail to see how abandoning current designations are going to stimilate growth in giving. If, as the Advisory Task Force believes, we have not done a good job of telling our story, let's do a better job. Our presbytery's SDOP Committee funded two projects in 2011 and are reviewing two additional projects for funding in 2012. Our SDOP Committee told its stories to promote increased giving to the OGHS. The solution to increased giving to special offerings does not reside in Louisville. It is found in the 173 presbyteries.

    by Dan Schomer

    April 20, 2012

  17. A disaster! Giving to the special offerings will decrease, not increase. In 2012, people want to know as exactly as possible what their gifts will be used for. I personally will find it difficult to make "minute for mission" pitches for the special offerings in the future (something I have done at least twice a year in recent years).

    by Norman Carlson

    March 29, 2012

  18. In several comments there was a question about the timeline for implementing the changes referenced in the PNS story. Some of the recommendations were adopted by the GAMC in February 2012, such as, GAMC support for the $20M by 2020 goal, hiring a director for special offerings, and using technology to promote and receive the offering within a new generation. Other recommendations, such as the guidelines and criteria for Special Offerings, as well as the new seasons and ministries of Special Offerings, will be considered by the General Assembly when it meets this summer. If adopted by GA, the new pattern would take effect in 2014, with the exception of the changes to the Peacemaking and World Communion Offerings, where an additional year for implementation has been requested (2015).

    by Barry Creech

    March 27, 2012

  19. As a former stewardship and mission chairman and as newsletter editor I have serious concerns about these changes. My church has tradionally been one of the highest per capita givers in our Presbytery, but with such nebulous designation, how are we going to convince our members to continue their support? I can easily see our donations going to a specific cause elsewhere because the congregations understands a specific need.

    by Esther Rickelton

    March 1, 2012

  20. As a former pastor, SDOP Committee member, and Foundation Development Officer, I am grateful for a goal of growth. However, without specific percentages there is a distressingly vague, top-down opaqueness to this proposal that will seriously undermine clear and effective interpretation.

    by Dave Winters

    February 27, 2012

  21. My congregation has been a loyal supporter of all four denominational offerings. Our giving, rather than declining, has increased across the board. I fear that this change will not help with the identified problem...and only make it worse. It sounds like an interpretive nightmare at the congregational level.

    by Jeff Clayton

    February 24, 2012

  22. One of the co-pastor's of my church forwarded the announcement by the GAMC about the special offerings to me because I am the chairperson of our Outreach and Mission committee. This announcement brings many doubts and a few questions to mind. One of them being that I can't see our congregation increasing our OGHS offering by the amount of our Peacemaking offering, so the end result will be less money for all four programs. Without percentages, we will not know how much is going to Peacemaking so that we can figure out how much we can keep for our peacemaking efforts which we take seriously in our city of Albany, NY. It also seems that this method will pit one program against another and cause unnesscesary inhouse fighting. So my questions are: Does GA have to approve this change or has it become a done deal? When will it go into effect? Is this year's OGHS going to come under this new procedure? I do hope that GAMC realizes that congregations may do some creative planning to get around this. Debra Fagans Chair, Out and Mission First Presbyterian Church of Albany

    by Debra Fagans

    February 23, 2012

  23. Very good. Our Western Colorado congregation has traditionally given generously to special offerings. At the same time, special denominational offerings have been received as yet-another-ask without a sense of how they're connected to the life of the church or the liturgical season. This pattern has helped structure the congregation's giving patterns into a series of special (local and denominational) offerings ... instead of a focus on intentional mission. We are re-evaluating this to keep our mission in our foresight, an essential for us. Timely, opt-in online communications ... as well as online giving ... are very helpful. This year, we anticipated OGHS thanks to a member on the SDOP team. The youth then challenged the adults in giving (really? I JUST arrived with 10:1 adults 60+ to youth) ... and we have adult defectors claiming "young at heart" and competing to prove abundant giving toward the winning team. And we're planning an SDOP presentation to our local rural community, encouraging worthy community development projects. Grateful for this team's effort. Rev. Alisa Secrest Pastor, Delta Presbyterian Church Delta, CO

    by Alisa Secrest

    February 22, 2012

  24. When will the changes take effect?

    by Elizabeth Godbehere

    February 22, 2012