The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board discussed strategies for the denomination’s convention and revitalization Oct. 18-20 in Cleveland.
The board began planning for the 2025 biennial convention, reimagining it as a more intimate gathering focused on the theme, “Follow Jesus.”
Executive director Glen Guyton presented a report on the 2023 convention in Kansas City, Mo. More than 1,400 people attended. Demographic shifts included an increase in the percentage of Black, Indigenous and people of color attendees (14% of the total) but a decrease in the percentage of youth. Children and youth represented 37% of attendees.
In post-convention surveys, 97% of respondents rated the event positively.
The convention yielded a net deficit of $235,000, even though MC USA staff reduced costs by more than 10% over initial projections.
Proposed changes for the 2025 convention include contracting with more cost-effective venues, reducing production costs, tightening up the schedule and raising registration fees.
The board unanimously approved a budget with a projected deficit of $180,000 for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2024.
“Individual donations have been increasing, but not enough to keep up with our current level of programming,” Guyton said. “Our reserves should be adequate for [this] fiscal year. . . . But this pattern is not sustainable in the long term.”
Guyton outlined financial challenges, including shrinking membership across the denomination, lack of clear budget authority in the denominational structure and ineffectiveness of the “first fruits” funding system.
Under the first fruits system, program agencies historically have provided the largest source of revenue for the Executive Board. However, first fruits giving has decreased by more than 20% over the past four years and currently represents just 50% of the Executive Board’s revenue.
Guyton presented six key objectives of the Executive Board staff for the 2023-25 biennium, aimed at repositioning and revitalizing the denomination. These included re-envisioning MC USA as an inclusive Anabaptist faith community, providing more resources for leaders and reducing dependency on first fruits by creating an endowment fund for the historical archives.
The Executive Board unanimously approved a plan to strengthen collaboration and communication among the Executive Board and its accountable program agency boards (MennoMedia, Mennonite Education Agency and Mennonite Mission Network). The document was developed in collaboration with agency leaders.
The Executive Board also responded to the Delegate Assembly action that redesignated Everence and MHS Association as ministry partners by approving ministry partner agreements with both organizations. The boards of Everence and MHS Association will vote on the agreements in the next few weeks.
A committee of the Executive Board provided a review of the Church Benefits Board, which maintains benefit plans for pastors and church workers, such as The Corinthian Plan and Mennonite Retirement Trust.
The Church Benefits Board discussed the financial challenges of maintaining an equitable mutual aid-funded program in an increasingly complex and changing healthcare landscape.
The board welcomed four new members: Rosetta Landis, Lesley Francisco McClendon, Phil Helmuth and Jerrell Williams (who participated via Zoom).