M&Ms, don’t you love them?
In Church speak, M&Ms stands for our Ministries and Mission contributions, something every Church pays annually over the course of the year, the sum required by the national Church to keep the whole show on the road. And the sum your local Church is required to pay depends upon your income. Seems simple, until you start to ask how your contribution is worked out. Then you are told that the contribution is calculated by applying an archaic formula to the last three years income. Probably few in the wider Church know the formula and, when told, seldom remember, it’s that complicated. And for a number of years now many Churches are being squeezed in terms of what is being asked to the detriment of valuable mission-minded initiatives.
M&Ms pay for the whole work of the Church including its ministers and crucially enables ministry in places that might otherwise be unable to fund such ministry – we are Presbyterian and, in the main, proudly so. So let’s agree from the outset that it is a joy and a privilege and a sisterly/brotherly responsibility to pay our M&Ms to enable the wider work of the Church. BUT...we cannot go on with our present system.
Before we heat the building and sing our first hymn my congregation has to pay over £2000 to central funds every week, then we have to look after a historic building, pay all the others bills and fund various mission initiatives, as well as seek to support other charitable work. You can see it all mounts up. Then if we increase our offerings, more and more seems to slip away centrally. Little wonder that many within the Church, despite the joy and privilege and responsibility bit, have grown increasingly resentful of the size of the M&M contribution. Meanwhile, as my congregation seeks to fund new initiatives, we have to go begging to Presbytery to ask for some of the Discretionary Allowance to help with mission work – basically, begging for some of our own money back! Falkirk Presbytery retained over half of its Discretionary Allowance to write off possible shortfalls of congregations’ M&Ms rather than give more to mission projects, crazy! And then we have the “Go For It” Fund, soon to be replaced by the Radical Action Plan Growth Fund, which involves several people working long hours to complete lengthy forms which are in turn scrutinized by a Committee who then take several months to tell you whether or not you have been awarded up to £15,000 per annum for only three years which needs to be match-funded. The £20-25 million Growth Fund is actually only £8 million for the first three years and any future funding cannot be guaranteed at this stage. Regulations, application forms and processes, workshops to help you apply and find the “right language” to use in applications, then staff and others to evaluate, process and continually monitor funds are required. In other words, a whole lot of kerfuffle to obtain limited funds.
Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to simply reduce M&M contributions and let congregations fund their new initiatives? Some will squander the money, I hear you say, that’s OK because they won’t survive long if that is their attitude. Reducing M&Ms will save on bureaucratic processes and its costs, will save human time and effort completing long application forms (where indeed you can find people willing to do this - if you can’t find people you are excluded), and would give congregations a much needed boost to see less heading centrally and enabling the local to possibly survive and thrive. We rightly rejoice in the projects that “Go For It” has assisted, but that is only 16% of our congregations; could we rejoice even more when 100% of our congregations benefit from a reformed M&M system?
Put into this mix those areas or Churches which cannot afford ministry – known in years past as “aid-receiving”. Where important work and new initiatives are being carried out in such areas, I wholeheartedly support M&Ms making this happen. What I don’t support is Churches with a minister who pay way less than a ministry requires (currently circa £43,000) and who have few in the pews and who are little distance from other Churches where they could easily be accommodated. The system is supporting ministries that have gone beyond viable and many need to close. Our national Church has only 44% of charges currently contributing more than the cost of a minister, and that’s not sustainable and not good enough. The need for hard decisions will continue. We do not have and will not have the money to do ministry in every part of Scotland, even in some places where we wish we could. We all have to live within our budgets!
The newly appointed Assembly Trustees are tasked, amongst many other things, to “reconfigure Ministries and Mission Contributions”. I hope it is high on their agenda. We have allowed central bureaucracy to grow over decades and we have too long turned a blind eye to decline. In theory, structural alterations should mean a leaner organization with less costs and hence lower M&Ms. This has to be done soon and sooner than the “freeze” on M&Ms which will kick in from 2021 onwards.
We need an M&M system that is simple to understand and fair in its practice. Costs of a ministry, with salary, expenses, pension, etc., costs circa £43,000. Each congregation with a minister should at least try to hit this target. If not, then we ask, “Is this charge vital or not?” Ordinary income should be assessed, not income from any other sources, so legacies, special collections, etc. should not feature. We have to think in a different way – we need to encourage new partnerships between congregations that are mutually beneficial. Say, M&M contribution should be minimum of £43,000, Presbytery agreeing ministry in places where that is not possible, and any income above that applied with a straight percentage, for example 20%, of ordinary income thereafter. We couldn’t possibly afford that, I hear some say, we would have drastic cuts in the Kirk! Perhaps that pruning is what’s needed in order to allow the opportunity to grow, with the proviso, of course, that any growth is in God’s hands, we but plant and water.
Instead of insisting local Churches and Presbyteries apply for their own money, simply give it back to them through a radical upheaval of the M&M system, whilst larger regional Presbyteries determine which charges and new initiatives should be funded.
Assembly Trustees, we are watching this space with interest!