Since you and I share a passion for missions work around the world, I’m passing on this information I recently read in Mission Network News online. As we go into 2011, may we remember to pray for those God has sent “into all the world.”
As if a national rise in downturns wasn’t enough, the U.S. dollar could now be facing a significant depreciation. In an attempt to boost the failing economy, the Federal Reserve has vowed to print $600 billion and pump it into the country by purchasing Treasury bonds—an initiative they’ve dubbed Quantitative Easing 2 (QE2).
Part of the reasoning is that with more money in the system, the dollar will essentially cost less to purchase, so foreign investors may purchase more in U.S. exports. Interest rates in the States will also go down, hopefully encouraging more small businesses to start, and thus more jobs to be created.
There’s another side to this coin, though. The devaluation of the dollar hurts the cause of Americans living in foreign countries, such as the missionaries with Pioneers USA. If the dollar-to-foreign-currency ratio is lower than these missionaries originally anticipated, the support they raised may no longer be enough.
The weakening of the dollar comes at an already tough time for foreign missionaries. Many, especially those funded mainly by ministries rather than personal donors, have already suffered as job cuts have forced some long-term supporters to cease their giving. Missionaries seem to have adjusted to those changes, but QE2 will raise the need for additional compromises.
“We’ve kind of come through that phase of ‘tightening belts’ already, because of the downturn,” says PIONEERS president Ted Esler. “Now with the fall of the U.S. dollar, those who are living in some of these various places around the world are really feeling the pinch at this time.”
…Already, missionaries have had to make compromises by eliminating project ideas so they can simply have enough to live. Others have come home early. What kind of effects will we see in the future?
Esler says, “[It] probably won’t be people that come home from the field and don’t go back. But you’ll see missionaries who are on a schedule to return home to work on support raising, who will move that schedule up so they’ll be back earlier. And it may take them a little longer to raise additional funds than it would have in a different situation.”
More time spent raising funds means less time on the field, less time spent spreading the Gospel to those who are most desperately in need. Please pray that the Lord would provide missionaries with all they need to be most effective in spreading the Gospel across the globe. Pray that economics would not be a big enough obstacle to keep the Gospel from moving forward.
How does your church or ministry plan to support missionaries in the coming year? Are you doing anything differently in light of the changing economy?
Most families have traditions. Some of our fondest memories are of the special things we enjoy as families at Christmas time—apple pie, looking at lights, a candlelit Christmas Eve service.
The Holbrook family has lots of traditions around Christmas, including Christmas stockings for all 14 grandkids strung up the stairs at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Perhaps our most meaningful tradition—for the past decade—is a special gift Cindy and I give to our kids and their families. We choose a Scripture passage that Cindy prints out on nice paper and present to each family on Christmas morning. Our copy hangs on the wall in our family room amidst all our family photos. It’s the first thing I tend to notice when I enter the room, and it’s our prayer for our family for the entire year.
Of course the most meaningful tradition at Christmas isn’t a tradition at all, or at least we hope it’s not just that. It’s the worshipful celebration of the birth of the Lord Jesus. For some, the advent tradition has taken on special meaning as a powerful way to remember Christ’s birth—the Incarnation—during the two weeks leading up to Christmas day. God calls us to remember, and to use symbols that help us remember His faithfulness and grace.
Traditions are good things. They bind us together in special ways. They help us remember. The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas does all this, and it also reminds us of God’s good gifts to us—especially the greatest gift of all…
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son….
Year-end giving, healthcare legislation…these are just a couple of the things affecting your ministry this time of year. The way I see it, the more I understand how you’re affected by these changes, the better I—and the team here at ECCU—can help you manage the financial impact.
Which is why I love our Ministry Advisory Panel (MAP). Through the use of brief periodic surveys, we are able to hear directly from ministry staff and leaders to better determine how we can help you manage your financial resources.
Our next survey (in early January) will explore how ministries of all types and sizes are reacting to 2010 year-end giving. We’re also gathering feedback on 2011 healthcare costs and how the new healthcare law is impacting ministries. Some of the information we’re uncovering includes:
- How did 2010 year-end giving (December) compare to your budgeted expectations?
- Have your plans changed because of 2010 year-end giving results?
- How did calendar-year 2010 donations compare to calendar-year 2009?
Tucked into the survey is the latest information on the healthcare legislation, followed by questions such as:
- Were you aware that the new healthcare law requires dependent coverage up to 26 years of age?
- Were you aware that the new healthcare law includes a non-discrimination component mandating equal coverage for all covered employees?
To add your thoughts to this survey, participate in future surveys, and review previous survey reports, join our online Ministry Advisory Panel. Your input is what makes these surveys relevant and actionable. We look forward to hearing from you!
Credit cards. Sure, they’re convenient, but they can also be more trouble than they’re worth if misused. When talking with ministries about their employee credit cards, I primarily hear the same two concerns: Appropriate use of the cards and monthly liability.
“A carefully crafted credit card policy is the key to controlling these issues,” says Larry Knight, pastor of church operations at Medford First Church of the Nazarene in Medford, Oregon. “Our church’s credit card policy is designed to make ministry easier, yet still emphasize accountability for how funds are spent.”
Whether you’re creating a brand new policy or just bolstering the policy you already have, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- For each person needing a card, issue it in his or her name and assign a monthly credit limit.
- Keep credit limits low with the ability to raise them via an approved request, based on events and seasons of the year. (Charges for going over the limit can come out of the staff member’s ministry budget.)
- To help control expenses and manage credit limits, consider a policy where staff members check out cards when needed and return them when they’re finished.
- Do not allow cash withdrawals or personal charges at any time for any reason.
- Give credit card statements to each card-holding staff member as soon as they arrive. Each person is responsible for attaching matching receipts and purchase orders for each charge to their statement and returning it to the bookkeeper within three working days of receipt of the statement.
- Ask your accountant for input on your credit card policy. He or she may have additional recommendations for what to include.
- Lastly, require each card-holding staff member to sign your credit card policy.
Used wisely, credit cards can keep staff efficient and your ministry humming. For more tips on managing employee credit cards, check out Vonna Laue’s article Credit Card Use in Churches Can Be Good, Bad, or Just Plain Ugly provided by the Engstrom Institute.
I’m one of those nerds who actually enjoys reading government regulations. For me, it’s kind of like a treasure hunt, and it paid off the other day. I found an important nugget in the notices published recently regarding the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit for Small Employers (a component of the Affordable Care Act passed earlier this year), which are just now showing us exactly how the IRS will provide this credit to employers that qualify.
If you aren’t familiar with this tax credit, ministries qualify as non-profit employers. To be eligible, your ministry must:
- Have fewer than 25 full-time equivalent employees (FTE) for the taxable year (Any “minister” as defined by the IRS is not included in this 25 employee limit.)
- Have average annual wages for eligible employees of less than $50,000 per FTE
- Have a qualifying health insurance coverage plan
Eligible ministries can qualify for a tax credit of up to 25 percent of their insurance premiums, which could be a substantial amount. However, and this is the important nugget that surprised me, the credit is limited to the total of the following:
- A nonprofit’s income tax paid (which is zero for most ministries unless they are subject to unrelated business income tax)
- Medicare tax withholding
- Medicare tax liability for the year
This means that if your church employs “ministers,” you pay no Medicare tax anyway, so your potential credit is limited to premiums paid for those staff members who are non-minister employees. Bottom line: For most churches the tax credit will be much less than 25 percent.
While the credit will be less than some originally thought, including me, it’s still important for ministries to take advantage of it. Doing so amounts to good stewardship of God’s resources, especially as you try to figure out how much to budget for health care expenses in 2011.
For more information, including instructions and forms, visit this IRS website.