Webinar Questions and Answers

The informational webinar for General and jurisdictional conference delegates, livestreamed on February 13, 2021, included a question and answer time after the presentations.

We received more than 300 questions from participants. Similar questions were combined and edited for clarity, and resulting list of questions below represents the breadth and substance of the queries submitted.

Click the question headings below to reveal the answers.


The General Council on Finance and Administration recommends a budget for all general funds to the General Conference and the General Conference approves the final budget.

The General Council on Finance and Administration recommends the formulas by which all apportionments to the annual conferences are determined, subject to the approval of the General Conference (see Discipline ¶ 613.3). Each annual conference determines its formula for apportioning ministry shares to local churches within its boundary.

The World Service Fund supports the great diversity of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. The Episcopal Fund supports active and retired bishops in their episcopal leadership for the denomination.

Learn more about the general church funds.

The current salary of a bishop in the U.S. is $162,345 plus benefits. In Africa and the Philippines, the bishops each have a salary of $79,788. The European bishops’ salaries range from $61,824 in Germany to $127,491 in Central and Southern Europe.

Yes, this is currently a U.S. conversation.

Sixteen bishops are scheduled to retire in 2021. Currently nine bishops are scheduled to retire in 2024 per mandatory requirements.

No, bishops are under the same retirement program as clergy.

The mission of the church continues and is vitally important. In our General Church funds, funding of mission represents a substantial percentage of the overall budget.

For the 2017-2020 quadrennium, the Episcopal Fund was 16% of the overall budget. In the proposed 2021-2024 budget, it is 21% of the total budget. The total of all other missions and ministry of the General Church represents 84% and 79%, respectively.

The 2019 reserves of all general agencies and General Funds are available from GCFA.

Episcopal Fund Financials

Currently, each episcopal area receives an office expense budget from the Episcopal Fund to cover administrative costs.

The Episcopal Fund pays for retiree health benefits, travel costs to their college and the Council of Bishops meetings, and moving costs when bishops retire. When retired bishops serve in interim roles, the Episcopal Fund pays the difference between the retired bishop’s pension amount and a bishop’s current salary level. It also supports surviving spouses and minor children of deceased bishops.

Thirty-six annual conferences in the United States paid more than 85% of their Episcopal Fund apportionment.

View the 2020 annual conference contributions.

The current Episcopal Fund reserves are $14.1 million dollars.

The General Council on Finance and Administration sets the budget annually for the Episcopal Fund. One of the considerations is the reserve balance. Determining a reasonable level considers many factors, such as collection rates, meeting expenses, etc., and can change depending upon these and other circumstances.

The budget is set by GCFA. In 2004, the General Conference increased the proportion of the overall budget to the Episcopal Fund because the reserves were nearing zero. In the years afterwards, the budget included a surplus that began to increase the Episcopal Fund reserves.

Collections rates in 2020 were the lowest they have ever been. There is concern about the future financial sustainability of the Episcopal Fund, given the downward giving trend and the possible disaffiliation of churches into the future.

Jurisdictions contribute to the Episcopal Fund based on their percentage of membership. The Western Jurisdiction contributes at a higher collection rate than other jurisdictions.

View the total jurisdictional contributions.

The annual conferences typically do not share this information with GCFA. Therefore, the impact is unknown.

Fund Sustainability

The projections were completed by the staff of the General Council on Finance and Administration using historical and current data. The assumptions used were a status quo model based upon 2020, the most recent year. Any changes to these assumptions will impact the projections.

The focus of the study was on the sustainability of the Episcopal Fund and the uncertainty of the future. Other groups have focused on opportunity and abundance.

The most likely cause of reduced Episcopal Fund giving is the financial uncertainty due to the pandemic and the future of the church. More education can be done globally to share the importance of connectional giving.

Although the General Council on Finance and Administration has not conducted research, the agency is open to studying the variety of circumstances that have led us to this point.

We are not aware that the option of borrowing has been considered.

The net expenditures used in the apportionment calculation increased by .3% in 2019.

The proposed Episcopal Fund budget includes only one in-person Council of Bishops meeting, which is one example of a shift due to lessons learned during COVID-19. Other cost changes are also being explored.

A survey was sent by the General Council on Finance and Administration to conference treasurers to help predict the economic impact of church departures. The average impact across the church is a 20% reduction in funding.

Not electing bishops would save approximately $10 million dollars, which would increase the reserves by a similar amount.

For 2022-2024, that is a fair statement if all other assumptions in the chart remain true. For example, if travel costs go back to pre-pandemic levels, the number of episcopal areas that could be supported with a balanced budget would be less. However, by 2025 an additional reduction of five episcopal areas would be needed to maintain a balanced budget based on the assumptions used in this model.

The $285,000 figure is a blended global average. The average in the U.S. will be approximately $300,000.

Currently, the Book of Discipline (¶ 408.1) requires mandatory retirements on August 31, following the jurisdictional conference. Paragraph 408.2 speaks to voluntary retirements and does not give the same date specifications.

If all 15 retirements are mandatory and the bishops retire August 31, 2021, the addition to the 2024 column would be approximately $1 million per episcopal area. The total for 15 retirees would therefore equal $15 million. However, if these bishops retire August 31, 2022, the savings would be reduced by $4.5 million and approximately $10.5 million would be added to the 2024 column.

The amount of savings depends on when the jurisdictions meet. If they meet in 2021 before August 31, then there would be 3.33 years of savings. If they meet after that, there would be 2.33 years of savings per episcopal area.

General Council on Finance and Administration has not made public models for other scenarios. However, with the model assumptions remaining the same, $300,000 per year would be added to the Episcopal Fund reserves for each reduction in the number of bishops.

Possible Cost-saving Strategies

COVID-19 has taught us a lot about the effectiveness of meeting virtually. We believe this will continue and travel costs will be reduced as more and more meetings take place virtually. Some annual conferences around the globe have met virtually during this time. The Council of Bishops is currently planning on only one in-person meeting in 2021 and is continuously looking for ways to reduce meeting costs. The cost projection in the slides shared assumes the same travel and meeting costs as 2020.

This was considered to help funding, and GCFA did apply for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, which included the Council of Bishops.

Reduction of bishops’ salaries could contribute to the solvency of the Episcopal Fund.

GCFA sets the episcopal salary and has voted to keep bishops’ salaries flat since 2019 and to reduce their housing and office grants. Currently, there is no reduction in salary, although it was something the task force explored. It was determined by the task force that the impact in the reduction of salaries would have a minimal effect.

In the past, bishops have voted to forgo a salary increase. In 2010, bishops voted to roll back their salaries to the 2008 level.

A decision to reduce salaries must come from the General Council on Finance and Administration. There is current legislation by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters to add five additional bishops in Africa. The added cost would be approximately $1 million per year. While there could be savings created by the reduction of salaries, the reduction would have to be about 10% to fully fund these additional Episcopal Areas.

Yes, retirements do help balance the Episcopal Fund. Currently, the Book of Discipline only allows for voluntary retirement of bishops at a jurisdictional conference. Unlike pastors currently serving our churches, bishops cannot voluntarily retire ad interim or between jurisdictional conferences. The only way a bishop can retire between jurisdictional conferences is for medical or vocational reasons. For example, a bishop could “vocationally” retire and serve as a bishop in residence at a seminary or university or local church.

Data around redistricting or consolidation has not been gathered at this time.

Bishops must continually adapt to their current context and the way they serve their areas. Currently, some bishops have larger territories than others, and some serve more than one annual conference.

Yes, there is a proposal to shift the cost of housing and office expenses to annual conferences.

Episcopal Leadership and Structure

The Council of Bishops Sustainability Task Force was informed by the Jurisdictional Study Committee’s work.

A reduction in bishops in all jurisdictions is currently being discussed. The final decision lies in the hands of the jurisdictional conferences.

Every jurisdiction is considering whether or not to have elections of bishops in 2021. Some jurisdictions have more bishops retiring than others.

Jurisdictional Committees on Episcopacy consider the gifts and graces of episcopal leaders as they make assignments.

The Council of Bishops has formed a task force on the role of the episcopacy to look at how that role may need to change in the future. Bishops will continue to be responsible for vision and direction and will work with their respective cabinets and conference leadership on key strategic decisions.

Reducing the number of bishops would require additional adaptation by bishops.

The Discipline provides for the Council of Bishops to appoint retired bishops to fill interim vacancies in episcopal areas.

The Colleges of Bishops and the Committees on Episcopacy have looked at possible scenarios for combining some annual conferences into interim episcopal areas where one bishop would provide leadership to multiple annual conferences.

The Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy will create a recommendation for how bishops will be assigned in each of the jurisdictions. Once complete, the plan will be shared with delegates.

The abolishment of jurisdictions would require a constitutional amendment. Although this has not been considered at this time, it has been a topic of conversation within the Council of Bishops.

The current formula is based on church membership. The number of churches cannot be the only means for equalizing the work. The Jurisdictional Study Committee addressed the current wording in the Book of Discipline and determined that a much more strategic approach must be taken.

The Council of Bishops has created a task force to reimagine the role of the episcopacy to explore the changes that would need to be made if bishops serve more than one annual conference. Jurisdictions have created groups working on a missional and strategic approach to coverage. There are already bishops in the U.S. that serve more than one annual conference.

The Council of Bishops has a task force on reimagining the episcopacy to look at creative ways to reimagine the church. This will include conversations about missional engagement and collaborative leadership.

Jurisdictions have created task groups working on a missional and strategic approach to coverage. 

Paragraph 50 of the Constitution mandates life tenure for jurisdictional bishops. This proposal has not been discussed, but it would be an option if changes were made to the Discipline.

Partnerships with other denominations are always welcomed. How that might provide leadership would need to be spelled out clearly.

The UMC currently has agreements with several denominations as we seek to serve in full communion with one another, including serving one another’s churches. 

The Methodist Church of Great Britain does not have bishops. The Restrictive Rules in the Constitution prohibits General Conference from doing away with the episcopacy. Making this change would require a constitutional amendment and any change to the Restrictive Rules requires a very high bar.

Bishops are consecrated to guard the unity of the church and serve as the spiritual and temporal leaders of the UMC.

The Council of Bishops seeks to remain faithful to the call of God during this season and to grow a spirit of trust throughout the connection.


The reductions in the other general funds (Africa University and Black College as two examples) are due to the recommendation from GCFA, the Economic Advisory Team and the Apportionment Sustainability Task Force to reduce the overall general church funds by a significant percentage. The increase in the Episcopal Fund is due to the proposed additional five bishops in Africa and the ongoing personnel cost connected to bishops.

The decision to add five bishops in Africa is ultimately a decision of the General Conference. The Council of Bishops recommended that the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters take another look at this proposal and consider not adding additional bishops at this time.

The Advance Daily Christian Advocate is available online in English, French, Kiswahili and Portuguese. Bound printed volumes of the ADCA may be purchased from Cokesbury.

Future of the Church

The Council of Bishops recommendation is an interim plan to create sustainability during this time.

The projected loss due to disaffiliation is 20%. There have not been any projections based on death or membership decline and does not assume the exit of any bishops.

Our polity allows for current delegates to remain as voting delegates until their day of departure.

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