November 4, 2021 | Miami, Florida, United States | Inter-American Division News
“It is a privilege for me to present a report on the status of church finances in the Inter-American Division (IAD) to the Executive Committee meetings,” Pastor Filiberto Verduzco, IAD treasurer, said. “Once again, I am reminded of a very well-known statement we often quote, ‘We have nothing to fear for the future, except that we shall forget the way the Lord has led us,’” he read, quoting Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White.
Verduzco’s comments introduced his Treasurer’s Report on Nov. 4, 2021, during the region’s Year-End Executive Committee Meetings, which this year are held online and have been live-streamed from the division’s headquarters in Miami, Florida, United States.
Before delving into details of the region’s finances, Verduzco thanked Paul Douglas, the treasurer of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, who attended the session virtually. Douglas, who was born in Jamaica, expressed his appreciation for the invitation. “It is good to be home, since I am a missionary from the IAD at the GC,” he explained. “It will always be that way… It is just my delight to be with you today,” he added.Importance of church members
In the first part of his presentation, Verduzco emphasized the essential role of the local church member in the financial structure of the church. “It is the church member that makes mission funding possible,” said Verduzco, adding that he wanted to thank God for church members in Inter-America. “When church members give their tithes and offerings, they make mission possible. Thus, they should be taken into account in every decision,” he said.
He shared that a comparison of increasing of tithe and membership by decades shows that “from 1932 to the present, tithes grew faster than membership.” This sheds light on the funding environment in the IAD territory. “Tithes have grown 95 percent faster than membership”, said Verduzco. “In the last decade, tithes have also increased significantly against the membership. This is the result of the faithfulness of church members in IAD,” he emphasized, as he vowed to keep working on transparency in the way administrators communicate how the invest the funds available to support the Lord’s work. “The key is to develop trust and credibility,” he said.
Tithes and offerings performance
From January to October 2021, the IAD reported a 16.75 percent increase in tithe and a 33.17 percent increase in offerings, said Ivelisse Herrera, undertreasurer of the church in Inter-America.
Verduzco provided additional data, showing that overall, figures show an increase in tithes in 8 out of 10 months in 2021, with impressive year-to-date 59 and 57 percent increases in May and June, respectively. As regards the mission offerings across the region, he also reported substantial monthly year-to-date increases, which topped 85.52 and 98.13 percent in May and June, respectively.A more detailed monthly comparison of tithes and offerings funds received since 2018 reveals a more nuanced picture, which shows positive trends.
In 2019, tithes had reported a monthly average that showed a 2.09 percent year-to-date decrease against 2018. In January 2020, tithes reached a record amount but then fell almost 50 percent by May after the beginning of the pandemic, reported Verduzco. Since then, however, monthly tithes across the division increased steadily to end up with much promising figures by the end of that year. Still, gains were not enough to offset losses, as 2020 ended up with a 9.26 percent decrease against 2019, he said.
January 2021 began with amounts close to historical records. Since then, tithes amounts have gone through ups and downs, which account for a 9.47 increase so far in 2021. “It means a monthly average for 2021 which is just 0.11 percent below the 2019 monthly average before the pandemic hit,” Pastor Verduzco said.
As regards mission offerings, they averaged a 1.01 percent monthly increase in 2019 against 2018. Offerings reached a peak in January 2020 to then fall more than 50 percent in May, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, they have recovered, to end December 2020 on a good note. Figures show that 2020 ended with an understandable 14.77 percent decrease.
In 2021, things are so far looking better, said Verduzco, as mission offerings increased significantly to top the biggest increase in July, for a combined increase so far of 26.09 percent, or 7.47 percent above 2019 levels, the last full year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.Financial sustainability
“Financial sustainability,” reminded Verduzco “is the ability to maintain financial capacity over time.” Financial capacity means “having the resources that allow the organization to take advantage of opportunities and act accordingly, even in the midst of adverse and unexpected circumstances, maintaining the rhythm of the organization’s operations.”
Herrera reported that as it stands, the working capital available is enough to fund church activities for 39 months, and liquidity is enough to operate 21 months.
Verduzco explained that both working capital and liquidity have been affected by changing ways of measuring the region’s working capital. Some of these changes seek to hedge the regional church from sudden changes, including, for instance, sudden devaluations and changes in exchange rates.
The church in Inter-America is expected to face challenges on several fronts in the next few years, said Verduzco. They include the performance of the global economy, with potential losses due to the fluctuation of exchange rates. Other elements include country legal and tax regulations that can impact the transferring of denominational funds, and the political instability of some countries.Other challenges include the financial system consolidation and an effective internal control system; maintaining a level of contributions that allows the payments of benefits mid to long term; and the implementation of ECCLESIA 7, a system that allows for a consistent management of denominational funds.
The IAD faces even more challenges due to local fields with severe financial weaknesses that may affect their mission, and the need to emphasize the implementation of financial oversight to promote organizational health. It includes the goal of auditing 100 percent of entities across the division, including 100 percent of local congregations. “Right now, only 25 percent of institutions are being audited,” said Verduzco. It is something, he said, that will certainly include an increase of auditing costs.
Treasury and stewardship working plan
Pastor Verduzco said that for the current quinquennium (2020-2025), treasury and stewardship ministries are deliberately working together as “an inclusive ministry for strengthening the financial system” across the IAD territory. It’s all about seeing “stewardship as an integrative strategy with a focus on local congregations and with the purpose of creating a spiritual environment that contributes to the growth and complete health of every church member,” he said. The financial strategy, he reminded executive committee members, has three pillars: the church member, the local church, and the local field.
Accordingly, there are special books planned for every year from 2020-2025 which focus on stewardship. For 2022, the initiative includes the books Learn from Me, by Alejandro Bullón and Roberto Herrera; and God Will Provide by Félix H. Cortés. Additional books will be distributed the following years.Operating budget
Net tithe income in 2021 is expected to significantly increase against 2020 amounts. Still, it is budgeted to increase 23 percent in 2022, reported Verduzco. Expenses are budgeted to increase likewise, as the region tries to end up 2022 with a balanced budget after a loss still anticipated in 2021.
Herrera shared data that show the IAD current state of finances. She reported that total liabilities (including accounts and loans payable) account for just 41 percent of total assets (including cash, accounts and notes receivable, among others). Due to the effects of the pandemic, operating appropriations were budgeted for 2021 at just a fraction of the amounts for 2019, she explained. Still, from January-October 2021 they are already 40.52 percent over budget and just 17.66 percent from 2020 actual levels.
Pastor Henry closed the report by explaining that for the IAD administration is very important to be open and candid in all that they do, regarding a topic that, he said, is usually very sensitive. “We want you to make sure that you have all the information, that you authorize us to move forward, and that you understand how church finances work,” Henry told executive committee members.
At the same, he expressed his appreciation for Pastor Verduzco’s leadership in the area of church finances. “He has a big heart,” Henry told the Executive Committee members, “and he is very sensitive about what is going on. He is very mission-minded and is always interested in finding ways for the church to fulfill its mission and grow.” Henry added, “Thank you for keeping our finances in good condition, in good health.”