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.”