You may have noticed posters in your church or the cover of New Horizons magazine featuring a boy with arms outstretched and an eager smile. Perhaps he's grinning because he's looking forward to seeing how God will move his children in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to stretch their wallets for the 2010 Thank Offering, to be received later this month.
Asking folks in the OPC to give $800,000 this year for the Thank Offering may seem like quite a stretch for many, but the needs of the OPC have grown despite the fragile economy. The Thank Offering is one of the most important ways congregations reach out to support the work of Foreign Missions, Home Missions, and Christian Education.
The Thank Offering makes up nearly a quarter of World Wide Outreach, which is the OPC's overall budget that is approved by the General Assembly every year.
"Currently we are behind by more than 10 percent of the budget," said David Haney, director of finance and planned giving. "A third of the total receipts received by the OPC comes in the month of December. Without an increase of the year-end giving, programs will be impacted."
Danny Olinger, general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education, is one of three general secretaries who help to oversee how those funds are spent on behalf of the denomination. "We are seeking to plant new home missions works, to send new missionaries to foreign fields, and to provide internships in our churches," he said. "In order to help do this, we look to the giving both through World Wide Outreach and the annual Thank Offering. This year the giving to World Wide Outreach has been less than anticipated. A generous Thank Offering will help the program committees of the OPC to go forward with their ministries that the committees had planned."
Mark Bube, general secretary of the Committee on Foreign Missions, sees the impact on missions in the OPC. "The Thank Offering is important every year, this year in particular," he said. "We have excellent men in the 'pipeline' to go to the mission field who are ready to go, but we need funds to send them. The Thank Offering helps to supply the resources that are needed to do the work in the church."
Thank Offering gifts go toward funding the $3.4 million goal for World Wide Outreach for 2010. Currently, there is a drop in giving of $160,833. That means that Christian Education is down more than 20 percent of their income or $39,182. Home Missions is short 20 percent of their income or $114,305. Foreign Missions reports a deficit of $7,346 or a little more than one percent of their total support.
Although the economy also was an issue last year, giving by this time in 2009 was ahead of the overall budget, said Haney. "This not only means we are not meeting our budget, but we are finding ourselves 10 percent behind. We are 16 percent behind last year's giving year to date."
Currently, Foreign Missions sends out eighteen full-time missionaries to eight countries. Because of needs on the fields, they hope to send out an additional missionary each to Haiti and Uruguay.
Home Missions currently supports forty-nine church planters and regional home missionaries who seek to bring God's elect into the OPC. In 2011, Home Missions hopes to send out ten new organizing pastors. Typically, they send out twelve to fifteen church planters annually, said Ross Graham, general secretary for the Committee on Home Missions. Without additional funds, "we will have to scale our new church plants back to six to ten," said Graham.
Christian Education depends on the giving to continue to produce Sunday school and vacation Bible school materials; publish booklets, the revised Book of Church Order, New Horizons and Ordained Servant magazines; provide ministerial training courses, develop a new Psalter-Hymnal, operate the OPC.ORG website, and annually train about fifteen men to be pastors through internships in OP churches.
"We are currently 20 percent below what the General Assembly approved for the 2010 CCE budget," said Olinger. "It is our hope that through meeting the goal of the Thank Offering that the CCE will not have to cut its ministries in 2011."
It will not be easy. "Not everybody may be able to give what they gave last year, but some may be able to give more," said Bube. "We are one church and God gives to his church what is needed."
If OP members are unable to make up for the deficit, committees will have to cut some of their programs or dip into reserves to continue their ministries.
"Work will have to be deferred," said Bube. "If a shortfall is too great, we might even have to consider suspending current works."
"[Lack of full funding] will impact the confidence of our presbyteries that they can go out and aggressively recruit new organizing pastors for the new churches with the assurance that Home Missions will be able to have the funds to help support them," said Graham. "Because we are so connected to our presbyteries where the new churches are started, there is a tendency for them to pull back from attempting to start new works if it is possible that denominational funding might not be available. That is what we see happening right now."
God is gracious and may stretch the hearts of those in the OPC to give generously beyond what they are able. With generous giving, the CCE would like to train five more men a year as interns. Home Missions hopes an increase in giving would encourage the OPC's seventeen presbyteries to be bolder in planning to start new churches, said Graham. For Foreign Missions, Bube said, "It will make it much easier for us to get needed reinforcements to the fields, especially in Haiti, Uruguay, and Ethiopia."
Originally, the Thank Offering was viewed as a way to get a head start on funding for the upcoming year, rather than as a way to catch-up on giving, said Haney. "If we're able to achieve an $800,000 Thank Offering, not only will that produce the largest Thank Offering in the history of the OPC, but it should help the committees meet their budgets. If we can transition to a Thank Offering that launches us forward into the new year, it would be a tremendous encouragement to the church."
Most OP congregations will receive offerings over the next month that will be specified for the Thank Offering. If you would like to give directly to the Thank Offering, please mail contributions to: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 607 N. Easton Road, Building E, Willow Grove, PA 19090-2539.