The reports from our two Indiana Conferences are in for 2006, and there is positive news about our improving stewardship. The North Conference receipts grew from 79.4% of the 2005 budget to 84.6% of the 2006 budget. This significant jump of 5 points seems to be related to the new tithing model, which has been well received, even though it got off to a very slow start in January of last year. The “tithe” portion of these receipts came in at 86.3% and the General Church offerings came in at 74.7%. Since part of the General Church apportionments are included within the tithe, this total means that North Conference’s rate of payment of General Church apportionments for 2006 was 81.5%, reversing a 5-year decline in the payment of conference obligations to the denomination.

The South Conference receipts for 2006 were only slightly higher by percentage (from 69 to 70) over 2005. That was a surprise because up through November of 2006 the receipts were running $200,000 ahead of the previous year, but for some reason December was not a strong month. Even so, there are many positive indications that the South Conference’s move to a tithing model in 2007 is being well-received. Several of the larger churches, for example, have taken action to approve paying their tithes in full in 2007, and I am hopeful for the success of the tithing model in South Conference.

So, our reports are encouraging, but it seems we need to continue to improve our stewardship as United Methodists here in Indiana. I was reminded of how far we have to go in when I learned in conversations this week that the Louisiana Conference, for example, received 98.4% of its 2006 budget. That is an amazing result, considering that many of the local churches in Louisiana are still not able to meet in their storm-damaged buildings from Hurricane Katrina and since many of those congregations have lost members who moved away after the storms.

I appreciate the good stewardship that exists is so many places here in Indiana. I appreciate pastors who model and teach Biblical stewardship concepts. I appreciate the thousands of laity who voluntarily give to their local churches, and thus give to the whole connection we call the United Methodist Church. In the midst of so many competing requests for our gifts, we United Methodists continue to provide generous support for our local and conference and global ministries.

Scripture reminds us, “Let us not grow weary of well-doing, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Let us not grow weary in being good stewards of the ABUNDANCE of resources for which we are all responsible.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner