Funding cuts aim to make ministries sustainable

Canadian MB Conference blessed with assets but has been dipping into reserves

Nov 13, 2017 by and

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Next year’s budget is hitting the reset button for the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Breth­ren Churches, drastically changing the denomination’s relationship to its money and members.

CCMBC is blessed with significant financial assets. More than a quarter billion dollars in trust deposits, retirement savings plans and properties create millions of dollars in revenue and profit margins annually.

Executive director Steve Berg said such resources are a tremendous gift to fund ministries and operations.

“We nonetheless realized that the perception on the part of the churches and constituency becomes, well, you are well-resourced. You have these other funding streams,” he said. “So the natural response to that becomes potential for disengagement, and we felt that was happening.”

Delegates approved a budget that significantly changes that system Nov. 1 at a special general meeting in Abbotsford, B.C. The new budget slashes funding for several ministries with the goal of nudging them toward self-sufficiency.

A new, separate legal entity — CCMBC Legacy Fund Inc. — will also separate some funds on deposit, to divide what can be thought of as “banking” operations from “ministry” support. This is intended to better comply with securities commission regulations.

“We have to continue to wait for a decision for how [unregistered] funds can and should be handled and how they would benefit the ministries,” Berg said.

Financial records indicate CCMBC held more than $174 million in unregistered funds at the end of 2016.
CCMBC chief financial officer Jim Davidson said the change follows multiple years of steep decreases in reserves. In 2015 alone, revenues ended nearly $4 million below expenditures.

Controversial strategies in ministries also inspired delegates to seek changes. Some questioned spending at CCMBC’s C2C church-planting network, which also works with more than 20 other denominations. It has been a source of both significant revenues and expenses, and is being grafted into MB Mission.

“In 2018, cash funding that was previously made available for stewardship [such as finance services] is no longer available to the ministry side of the organization,” Davidson said. “That was the guidance we received. The folks on the floor wanted to see our ministry operations be sustainable. That’s the way it should be.”

Less support

Independently sustainable ministries come at a price. The new budget eliminates the L2L leadership training program and four salaried staff. CCMBC funding for seminaries in Canada is cut in half. The Centre for MB Studies budget is reduced by two-thirds. Funding for the International Community of Mennonite Brethren is reduced.

“We’ve gone through a major survey and have reacted to what the survey said,” Davidson said.

The denominational magazine MB Herald, which recently went from 12 issues a year to six, will begin charging $24 for a subscription to the print version after a cut in funding that has provided the publication for free to more than 20,000 households. Leadership hopes CCMBC members will embrace the free digital version of the magazine.

Whether in the Herald or through some other platform, executive director Berg hopes leadership’s commitment to supporting congregations can be communicated to donors.

“We’re trusting that people will give out of a sense of understanding that our partnership is vital, that their support to the Canadian Conference is really the only support we have to carry on the ministry they feel is important,” he said.

Less land

In addition to budget and organizational changes, CCMBC is looking to get out of the property speculation business. Over a number of years, property was purchased to either develop and sell or keep for prospective congregations.

“I don’t think the funds were a poor investment, but it kind of moved us ever closer as a conference to the business side of things, and we want to be moving to the ministry side of things,” Berg said.

According to Davidson, the denomination has generated roughly $10 million to $12 million over the last five or six years by selling about a dozen properties such as development properties, office buildings and condominiums that had been purchased by CCMBC as investments — be it for rental income or worker office space.

“By the end of 2018 we’ll be left with one 20-acre property in Calgary and 1,500 acres in Red Deer, Alta., that’s developed for residential development,” he said. “If we sell a piece of land, we can reinvest that with anywhere from a 3.5 to 6.5 percent return.”

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