THE COMBINED OFFERING PLAN
By Mario Niño
Brief History The goal of Development Service in the North American Division, which ran from 1954-1966 at the grassroots level, was to help churches raise funds for financing church building projects. At the 50th Session of the General Conference, which took place in Detroit, Michigan, a vote was taken to change the Development Service of the North America Division to the General Conference Development Department to serve the world field. The new department’s role was to promote spiritual revival as well as to do fund raising for church budget and development projects, under the Combined Budget. At the Annual Council of 1967, the name was officially changed to Stewardship and Development. Then in 1980, the department was merged with the Ministerial Association, and in 1985 it became part of the Church Ministries Department. In 1995 it again became the Stewardship Department. The 59th Session of the General Conference, which convened in Atlanta, Georgia, voted to rename the department Stewardship Ministries.
Offerings have been collected since 1918 according to an offering calendar, which highlights offering destination categories.
Offerings have been collected since 1918 according to an offering calendar, which highlights offering destination categories (The SDA Encyclopedia, vol. 10, p. 362). The idea to have a “Simplified Offering Plan” was allowed by what was then called the Far Eastern Division (now called Asia-Pacific Division). They did a field test of the plan in the East Indonesia Union in 1987; a year later, in 1988, the Southern Asia Division organized the “Comprehensive Stewardship Plan.” By October 1989, the GC Annual Council voted to authorize the “Alternate Tithe and Offering Simplified Plan.” The 2002 Spring Meeting voted: (1) To approve the term “Combined Offering” as the name for the simplified offering system. (2) The Combined Offering shall be considered the giving system recommended and promoted by the General Conference.
Rationale The Combined Offerings Plan (COP) applies the same principle that is applied in the distribution of tithe to the distribution of offerings. When a church member gives his or her tithes to the local church, the church treasury sends it to the conference (mission/field/federation/section are terms used in different parts of the world to identify the level of conference), and it is distributed there to support the pastoral ministry and the work of evangelization at all levels of the church. This is done using a formula that usually includes: 10 percent to the union, 10 percent to the division (with a slight difference in some divisions), and the remaining 80 percent for the conference’s operational budget.
With the Combined Offering Plan, the local church receives all the regular and special offerings and distributes 20 percent for the World Church (for regular and special offerings of the General Conference, and for special offerings of the division); 20 percent to support the Development Budget of the conference (mission/field/federation/section); and the remaining 60 percent for the local church budget. In those divisions where they are not applying the Development Plan, they need to organize it, or retain the 20 percent for the local church budget.
The philosophy behind the Combined Offering Plan was to introduce balanced support to the different levels of the church, avoiding overprotecting one level while weakening another level. It was also intended to protect the money offerings for physical development, because the income from offerings (which usually averages 25 to 33 percent worldwide), is less than tithe income. The budget of the conference or mission, field or section, as well as departmental activities or events should be supported by tithe money.
It is helpful to remember that “Regular Offerings” are those that the organization requests on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis during the year for the support of the church programs in general. “Special Offerings” are those that the organization requests once a year to support special projects and ministries. All collections taken, including the Sabbath School and church service offerings, are included in the Combined Offering. While encouraging the Combined Offering system, the plan will respect the wishes of donors who designate a specific use for the offering.
It provides more time for study of the Word of God during the church service, because it is not necessary to use time for multiple promotions.
Process The Combined Offering system is a practical way to provide spiritual and financial support to churches that participate in the mission of the church in any part of the world, in both developed and developing countries. This system does the following: (1) It eliminates the many calls for offerings and promotes the concept of one global offering that includes support to all levels of the church. (2) In many parts of the world, including developing countries, many church members do not understand the basic church structure. They are not clear on the difference between the division, union, conference, and local church. (3) While some members are giving offerings without worrying where they are going, others are giving without taking into consideration the level of the beneficiary. This system automatically facilitates a balance in support to all levels. (4) It provides more time for study of the Word of God during the church service, because it is not necessary to use time for multiple promotions. (5) With a global offering, members are free to choose their own percentage of income as offering, unlike tithe, which is set by the Lord at 10 percent. In addition, it is not incumbent upon the member's to determine what percentage of their offerings goes to which destination.
For those divisions that want to implement or consolidate their traditional Offering Calendar into the Combined Offering system, they should consider taking the following steps before making the transition:
1. Conduct a diagnosis of the index of church members’ giving patterns, since it is helpful to know how the church supports the different levels of the church.
2. Conduct a Stewardship Summit or Conference, with the participation of every union administrator and stewardship director.
3. Obtain approval from the division, union, and local field board before starting.
4. Gradually introduce the program to the different unions and local fields.
5. Sample a new tithe-and-offering envelope to be used by the entire division.
6. Present the concept to the church, using a biblical and theological focus. God should be the strongest point of reference to determine the generosity of the members.
7. Ask divisions and/or organizations transitioning to the Combined Offering Plan to explain to their constituents how the funds are used at every level of the church in a way that is easily understood.