Resurrecting Funds from Closed Churches to Launch New Faith Communities
By Rev. Craig S. Brown, DMin
Executive Director of Congregational Development
California-Nevada Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
The story of new faith communities in the California-Nevada Conference is all about resurrection. Since 2018, Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño and the cabinet have been in a deep partnership with the Conference Committee on New and Vital Congregations to launch new communities of faith across Northern California and Northern Nevada.
There are now eight new faith communities underway that use no funding from apportioned dollars. (The California-Nevada Conference uses a tithe-based system for local church apportionments.) The funding for new faith communities is directly tied to the resurrection stories of churches that have been closed. As in other conferences, the sale of closed church property is used to fund new and creative ministry. From a Pan-Asian multisite community in Milpitas, California, to an urban farm in Sacramento, funds are being resurrected from the sale, merger, or closure of existing local churches.
All these communities reflect the multicultural engagement needed to address the rapid growth of non-white populations across the region. Most of the funding for new churches is dedicated toward non-English speaking communities. During the 2021-2022 appointment year, the funding dedicated toward all these ministries exceeds $800,000.
During the annual conference session in 2019, the conference voted to change its standing rules regarding the sale of local church property. In the event of a church closure, the conference board of trustees receives ownership of any property. By the 2019 rule change, if a property is sold, the assets are divided by a formula that allocates 40 percent to an endowment fund for new faith communities, 10 percent for direct investment in new faith communities, and 30 percent to district unions that are heavily invested in new faith communities. The remainder is divided between the appointive cabinet and the conference core team overseeing connectional ministries.
This division of assets makes sense in the context of the California-Nevada Conference, which contains perhaps the most real estate assets, by value, of any conference in the connection. While not every church closure results in the sale of property, the asset pool is large enough to sustain the effort of incubating and launching new faith communities for years to come. When a church property is sold, its assets find resurrection power in new communities of faith. When a church property is retained for the future, the funding for new ministry is already secure.
This decision by the annual conference session in 2019 clearly focused on a strategic missional alignment for the future of the church. With an ever-changing population and mission field, the adaptive work of resurrecting resources for future churches is more important than ever before. The death of a local church finds resurrection by funding a new community faith.