January 2019 Member Letter
January 3, 2019
It is an understatement to say that we live in stressful times. The apostle Paul describes the last days as being “perilous times” (2 Timothy 3:1)—or “times of stress,” as the margin of the New King James Version puts it. In the latest issue of Discern, Joel Meeker introduces his lead article with this description: “Corruption, dysfunction, division and dissension are contributing to a crisis of trust. Conflicts of all types are fueling a climate of instability in the world as we begin 2019.” While there is much uncertainty in the world, exactly as was prophesied in the Bible, the work of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, is pushing ahead.
As an organization, we operate on the calendar year, which means Jan. 1 is the beginning of a new fiscal year. With that in mind, each year in the month of November, we review the past year, while making plans for the next one. Then the Ministerial Board of Directors approves a new budget, strategic plan and operation plans during its December meeting.
We ended 2018 with our highest income ever and a very nice increase over 2017. We surpassed 37 million unique visitors to Life, Hope & Truth since it began in the summer of 2012, and our total number of contacts (those who attend services, have donated money, or have given us their contact information) has risen to 9,766. Since our U.S. attendance consists of approximately 3,500 family units, we have approximately 6,000 contacts who are not yet attending services. This is a solid number and provides hope for future growth.
It is our desire to be good stewards of the resources God has provided. With that in mind, we have come in under budget in our expenditures each year since we began, allowing us to build up a cash reserve. This past year (2018) we hoped to complete our new office building, but due to weather delays and the slow responses from the city of McKinney, that did not happen. Our completion date is now projected to be the last week of January, and we hope to be operational in the new office by the first week of February. Once in the building, we are planning an open house for the local congregations of Dallas, Fort Worth and Sherman. We are also planning a formal dedication during the International Ministerial Conference scheduled for May 19-21, 2019. It will be an exciting time, with approximately 300 visitors in town for the conference!
In 2017 we were able to pay cash for 7.4 acres on which to build the new office. The cost of the building is being paid by a mortgage and money from our cash reserve (including the building fund), without taking anything from our current operational budgets. The amazing thing that has happened this year is that we have paid all the added costs for the building to date from our cash reserve, yet we ended the year with a higher bank balance than we had when the year began! On Jan. 1, 2018, I could not imagine that I would be writing a letter to all of you in January of 2019 with that type of news. We give God the credit for these wonderful blessings (James 1:17).
After eight years of operation (we incorporated in Florida on Dec. 23, 2010), I am happy to provide you with such a positive report. But I am also cautious about the future, knowing there are several challenges on the horizon. A downturn in the economy, higher rates of unemployment and a higher cost of living could all contribute to an uncertain financial future, which could translate into a major challenge for the Church. Given the uncertainty of U.S. economics, we don’t want to carry debt into the future; therefore, it is our goal to pay off the mortgage on our new office in six years or less. We have a plan for accomplishing that, but it will depend on our selling the portion of the property that is unneeded, and carefully managing the needs of the Church going forward.
During the recent Ministerial Board of Directors’ meetings, I shared with the board my view of the challenges ahead. Others may see future challenges in a slightly different light, but I believe we can all agree that these are real issues that will need to be addressed in the months and years ahead. Let me share with you what I presented to the MBOD in early December. These are in no particular order.
- How do we get the gospel message out to the world in the most effective manner? We have a very healthy number of unique visitors every month to Life, Hope & Truth. But how can we increase that number? We plan to upgrade our current video content, produce more videos and have more people involved in our videos. We need articles and videos that teach, and we need articles and videos that preach with strength and emotion. There is a difference between teaching and preaching.
- What can we do about the slow growth in Church membership? We have seen some growth since we began in 2010, but not much. Our actual worldwide attendance shows an increase, but only by a small amount. Since we know that God must call people (John 6:44), our job is to find a way to spread the gospel to a wider audience—to sow more seed (Matthew 13:1-9).
- How will we replace ministers who will retire in the next seven years, either because of health or age? In the next seven to 10 years up to half of our current pastors will likely retire. Not only do we have a financial responsibility to provide for them when they retire, but how do we replace them? To continue providing pastors for every congregation—which we are committed to doing—will require judicious use of our resources and an increase in our income.
- What can we do to increase our ability to help our international areas? This year we have seen the largest increase in requests for international subsidies. In our budget for 2019, we will be spending approximately $2 million to support congregations and ministers outside the U.S. We have requests to upgrade Feast sites, build new meeting halls (there are still some areas where the members meet in the open) and train new leaders.
- How will we develop leaders in all congregations? Through our various programs, we are developing a database of men and women who desire to serve in the Church. From this group, we hope to find new and younger leaders to take on more responsibility. Our new International Leadership Program, or ILP, is already beginning to bear fruit, and we haven’t yet completed half the conferences.
- Are we adequately educating our membership on the most basic teachings of God’s Word? We understand that doctrinal challenges will always be present. Paul, Peter and John all warned about false teachers and false prophets that will come from among us (2 Peter 2:1). This will become more important as the end draws near (2 Timothy 4:3).
We here at headquarters are excited about the future. Thank you for your generosity this past year, but please continue to pray for the work of the Church. Jesus Christ gave the parable of building our house on rock, not on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). We have a solid foundation, which makes us optimistic about the future in spite of the challenges that lie ahead.
Sincerely, your brother in Christ,