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Reality Check

The value of a dollar

By David Ewart

Just about every church treasurer I know worries about how to help their congregation have a clear understanding of its finances.

Part of the problem is that our brains just cannot absorb the numbers. There are too many, and it is too hard to remember how the data from one page relates to data on the next.

Another problem is the way inflation makes it impossible to easily compare one year with the next — especially if we want to know how we are doing this year compared to 10 years ago. In 2004, $100 would buy what you need $118 for today. So if we raised $100 a decade ago and the same this year, you might think we were holding steady. In fact, we have lost ground by almost 20 percent.

In the chart to the left, the blue line shows the Mission and Service funds received from pastoral charges as reported in the Year Book. You can see a slight dip in the 1930s. Then, a gradual rise after 1945 becomes a big increase in the ’70s and ’80s. Finally, giving holds steady at just below $30 million since the 1990s.

But what a difference it makes to adjust the historic data to reflect the impact of inflation shown by the red line. The decrease during the Depression of the 1930s is much sharper. And the big increases occur in the 1950s and ’60s, reaching a peak of $65,500,000 in 1964. The 1970s were actually a decade of decline; the ’80s a rocky levelling; and the ’90s to the present have been years of steady decline.

Why does General Council keep cutting programs and staff? If we only look at the blue line, we should be three times better off than we were in 1965. But in real terms, M&S giving has declined by $40 million since then. And if the trend for the past 10 years does not change, M&S will decline by a further $8 million by 2025.

The moderator keeps urging us to prepare for significant changes to our church. The red line tells us why.

Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.
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