Church may have to become ‘entrepreneurial’ to pay its way

Diocese of Ottawa Bishop John Chapman: "Our future is clear in that that more and more, we will not be able to be as dependent on the freewill offerings of folks for the ministry of the church." Photo: Tali Folkins
Diocese of Ottawa Bishop John Chapman: "Our future is clear in that that more and more, we will not be able to be as dependent on the freewill offerings of folks for the ministry of the church." Photo: Tali Folkins
Published November 14, 2015

Mississauga, Ont.
The church needs to think about being more entrepreneurial to pay for itself in the decades to come, Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa, told the Council of General Synod (CoGS) Saturday, November 14.

In a comment after a presentation on the 2016 budget by General Synod treasurer Hanna Goschy, Chapman rose to tell CoGS members that a number of people in his diocese-especially younger clergy and some lay people-feel the church urgently needs to come up with new ways to raise money.

“Our future is clear, in that more and more, we will not be able to be as dependent on the freewill offerings of folks for the ministry of the church-at a time when the demand for ministry is increasing,” he said.

“Do we have people put aside with the task of thinking of innovative ways to make money that are not the standard ways of doing it?” he asked.

“I know there are ways, when you sit and listen to the many creative minds that exist in our church, when you start shooting the breeze over a beer or something-they’re popping up with ideas all the time,” he said. General Synod, he suggested, needs to come up with a process for enlisting the ideas of these entrepreneurial minds.

A short time before, during her presentation, Goschy had presented a slide showing the trend in proportional giving from the dioceses to General Synod over the last couple of decades. The presentation showed a dramatic drop in the early 1990s, from just under $10.5 million in 1992 to just over $9 million by 1996. Since then, giving has moved downward, although since 2008 it has been relatively stable, floating at under $8.5 million, according to the slide.

“I think it bears remembering that the proportional giving 20 years ago looked very different than it does today,” Goschy said. “There’s been a relative stabilization of proportional giving over the last five years, but that’s no reason to feel complacent.”

Moreover, Goschy said, the future of proportional giving-based on freewill offerings from parishioners-is by its nature very hard to predict.

“As proportional gifts are truly gifts, that can change fairly quickly,” she said.

Contributions from the dioceses are projected to inch downward, from $8.42 million forecast for 2015 to $8.38 million in 2017, and then remain at that level until 2020, according to General Synod financial documents. A contingency amount is built into General Synod’s reckoning of how much to expect in coming years from proportional giving, Goschy said, and that contingency amount increases over the next five years to reflect the increasing uncertainty.

Some 86% of General Synod’s net core revenues come from these diocesan contributions, Goschy said.

Chapman’s question was taken by the church’s general secretary, Archdeacon Michael Thompson, who replied that, although people have not yet been tapped to look at new ways of raising money, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.

“I think that’s a really important question for the church,” he said.

Chapman, he said, had opened the door to discussion on the topic, which, he added, ought also to be discussed by General Synod’s management team, including its financial management and resources for mission committees.

“Over and over again, we assume that previous patterns are the only patterns available, and when those patterns show diminishing possibilities, we think that the church must therefore diminish,” Thompson said. “I’m heartened by the prospect of conversations about new ways of growing instead of old ways of diminishing.”

In an interview with the Anglican Journal after the budget discussion, Chapman said the church needs “to begin thinking in entrepreneurial ways” because the current model of raising revenue is “not necessarily going to hold over the next 50 years.” He added, “We’re certainly struggling to do that as a diocese. I think the same notion needs to be taken to the national level.”

The annual budgets for this and coming years were all in the black-in line with the mandate given by CoGS to General Synod to present balanced budgets. The forecast for 2015, Goschy said, is a surplus of $367,000, compared with a planned surplus of $59,000. The difference, she said, is due mostly to a fall in expenses, with several ministries expecting to be under-budget by the end of the year. Total expenses for this year are expected to sit at $12.2 million.

For 2016, she said, expenses of $11.9 million are expected, with a planned surplus, before transfers to and from church reserve funds, of $19,000.

On a net basis, the largest single expense for General Synod is its Council of the North grants, which amount to about 25% of total expenditures, or $2.15 million. Other ministry areas combined total 41%.

A total of $2.01 million is estimated to be spent on the Anglican Journal. However, since the Journal recoups about two- thirds of its operating expenses-through its annual appeal and other means-its net share of General Synod expenses is around eight per cent, Goschy said.

By far the most expensive element in producing the Journal, she said, is the $847,000 spent mailing it and the diocesan papers included with it. [Half of the publication’s mailing cost is offset by a grant from Heritage Canada, a quarter is assumed by the Journal and the remainder by the diocesan newspapers.]

A commentary accompanying the 2016 budget noted that, “although the current distribution model remains status quo for 2016, the financial model of the Journal will need to be examined,” adding that in 2015 the diocesan paper Rupert’s Land News went completely online.

In addition to approving the budget, CoGS members at the same meeting passed two resolutions dealing with the Ministry Investment Fund, which provides seed funding for new program initiatives. The first of these concerned a revision to the wording of the fund’s policy document; the second sought approval for a number of grants for 2016 and 2017.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include additional information and quotes from an Anglican Journal interview with Bishop John Chapman, of the diocese of Ottawa.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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