Bad Priorities Can Kill

"In churches where missions is a program, it is the first thing cut in hard times"

In Kazakhstan, a hospital will not be built. This means that people whose names we cannot pronounce will die. Elsewhere, a land mine left in place will shatter a child's leg. These are just some of the unintended but inevitable consequences of the recent decision of the United Methodist Church's Board of Global Ministries to slash its fiscal 2001 spending by $11 million.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), meanwhile, is considering mission cuts of $2.5 million. On the table are proposed reductions in administration, capital projects, and ministries.

Ralph Winter, founder of the U.S. Center for World Mission, says too many people see the mission budget as "one of the first 'electives' to be cut" in hard times. Sylvia Ronsvalle of empty tomb, inc., decries a lack of leadership. "Denominations have not been calling people to do anything beyond institutional maintenance," Ronsvalle says.

Distrustful conservatives in the mainline churches increasingly provide money only for specified ministries. Some have even started new agencies, such as the Mission Society for United Methodists. In 1918, mainline churches provided 82 percent of the Western missionary force. By 1966, when theological liberalism and sociopolitical definitions of mission had begun to crowd out traditional missions emphases on evangelism and church planting, mainline churches supplied only 6 percent.

Giving of all kinds by Protestant church members to their churches continues to sink, according to empty tomb. Giving fell from 3.1 percent of after-tax income in 1968 to 2.58 percent in 1999 (the latest year for which statistics are available). Evangelicals, however, have fared even worse, recording a decline from 6.15 percent in 1968 to 4 percent in 1998. The proportion ...

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