Monday, May 17, 2010

More Cuts, More Decline

This weekend the General Assembly Mission Council approved more budget reductions which included the elimination of many staff positions. I can't quite figure out the exact number because the PNS report is confusing.

What I do know for sure is that the young man that I worked with at Presbyterians Today was one of those whose job was eliminated. According the the report, "most of the reductions are concentrated in Congregational Ministries Publishing, and in the areas of Shared Services, and Communications and Funds Development."

Hmm. It seems to me that a denominational office that is suffering budget shortfalls needs more communications and fund development rather than less. At the same time, its controversial Washington political lobbying office appears to have escaped any reduction in funds or staff, and a new director for this office was approved. This makes me think the GA Mission Council is not serious about focusing its resources on the decline in membership of the PCUSA. What a surprise.

Today's Wall Street Journal brings more bad news on the ecclesiastical job front with its article "Joblessness Hits the Pulpit" which reported on a trend of elimination of jobs for both pastors and other church staff due to declining contributions. The reporter attributed this to the poor economy and jobless rates and did not discuss other contributing factors such as membership decline or denominational schisms.

Unfortunately I feat these trends will continue with the result that the core mission of the church--the spreading of the gospel--will continue to suffer.


Jane Ellen+ said...

One could substitute "Episcopal" for "Presbyterian" and "General Convention" for "General Assmebly,"and your comments would be just as accurate. I could wish that our ecumenical commonalities were healthier than this...

Michael Kruse said...

The staff numbers are indeed confusing because this wasn't just a staff reduction. It is partly a strategy shift. Twelve took early retirement but 4.5 of those positions will have to be refilled. Some of the eliminated positions were vacant. New positions were created. Some of those people in eliminated positions are being offered some of the new positions. It's messy to explain.

This is actually Part 2 of a strategy redesign. Originally the plan back in 2006 was to cut to a level that we there would be no more cuts for four years. That would give time to think strategically and "right size" 2010. Unfortunately, the economy tanked in 2008 and we had to make some adjustments earlier than anticipated in March 2009. Ideally we would have made all this in one big package.

In this round cuts were made to curriculum publishing. Our production methods were WAY out of whack with industry standards. We expect this area to be a net contributor to the budget in 2011.

Communications and Funds Development covers a wide range of activities. One change is in production of stewardship material. There are countless stewardship program materials out there and rather than creating our own we expect to be a resource helping people locate the quality ones that exist. Staff in this area was let go. There is also some outsourcing of work. The changes are expected to improve both the quality and flexibility of communication not reduce them.

I should also report that after 2 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, our new website will roll out which will greatly improve communication.

I understand that many do not like the Washington Office but here is the problem. When we have tried to narrow our work down to just 3 or 4 areas of focus there is no consensus view about to focus on. A Presbyterian Panel survey had respondents rank their top two priority choices from 14 possible foci. None of them received more than 35%. This is similar to outcomes with other focus groups. Social Justice ministry barely comes out on top but most are clustered together.

What we have learned is that our strategy needs to be less about WHAT we do and more about HOW we do it. We are moving away from programs and toward inspiring, equipping and connecting. Work that does not help us move toward that end is in jeopardy. For instance, the Washington Office is about to move more away from being policy oracle and do more equipping and connecting of people who want to explore political angles and do advocacy. We see similar moves happening in World Mission, Evangelism, Interfaith ministry, and Peacemaking, to name just a few.

The fact is that Presbyterians are giving as much or more money per capita as they ever have. They are simply preferring to more mission work in hands on ways. Our mission is to find out how can facilitate more of that as well as supplement with those ministries that only a national office can do.

Quotidian Grace said...


Thanks for taking the time to leave this informative comment. I recognize the roll that the problematic economy has in the troubles of the denomination, but think the problems are a lot deeper than an economic recession.

I am encouraged that you say the Washington office will move away from being a "policy oracle", which I interpret to mean a lobbying office, to an office that equips people to do advocacy. Will that equipping be equally available to those on the conservative side of the church? It hasn't been in the past.

I know that focus groups and surveys are popular with organizations wrestling with difficult decisions, but question whether dependence on them shows real leadership.

A newly designed website would be a good thing. I look forward to checking it out.

And thank you for your service to the church. I do appreciate the sacrifice of your time and effort.

Michael Kruse said...

The intention is that the Washington Office will work with people across a broad range of advocacy positions. However, the GAMC is an entity of the General Assembly and part of its mission is to implement the policies of the GA. I don't know how this all plays out yet but the aim is for the W O to connect more broadly. But the W O is a small portion of the budget. What is happening in the W O is just an example of what is occurring across a broad sweep of program areas.

As to leadership, the GAMC is not an independent corporation. We are an entity created by the General Assembly to do the mission work at the national level for the GA between assemblies. The GA ultimately sets the priorities. We certainly have significant input into that process but the idea that the GAMC can simply chart a course of action and make it stick isn’t realistic (particularly if it doesn’t have broad support). We have broad support for nothing and passionate support by small constituencies for almost everything. We have cut some programs and I expect more will come but the real transformation is going to come in giving the broad community what they want.

Our decision making discernment has been far more than just focus groups but I wouldn’t underplay their significance. For profit corporations have profit and loss statements to give input about which products are valued. Non-profit don’t have that feedback loop. Just as we wouldn’t want a business to ignore its P & L Statement in assessing priorities neither should we ignore our feedback loops.

Those who are looking for sharp massive transitions from A to B are going to be disappointed. Our polity and system simply doesn’t allow for it. Furthermore, a significant portion of our work is funded heavily by restricted funds. Ceasing work in those areas does not make funds available for work in other areas. Expanding mission or creating new mission efforts usually means soliciting directed gifts or increasing general giving. The transition I’m looking for is a GAMC that facilitates mission on behalf of the whole church and isn’t just a collection of constituency based programs. I think we are making significant strides in the direction but it three steps forward and two steps back. When we get people energized about broadly supported work, I think you will see support for broader reforms.

Quotidian Grace said...

Thanks, Michael, I appreciate your thoughts on this process. And certainly I am not a part of it so am only commenting with an outsider's perspective.

I do think that the situation for the PCUSA is urgent and that the cumbersome way we are organized is now a serious problem. I'm not sure the nFog proposal is the answer either.

One of the biggest problems I see is that the way we choose and allocate commissioners to GA perpetuates the problem you so aptly describe as having broad support for nothing and passionate support by small consituencies for almost everything.

John said...

Thanks for calling me a young man, but I'm in my mid 50s.

Quotidian Grace said...

My apologies, John! But you're still younger than I am ;-)