Follow the Money: Where Do Tithe Funds Go?

Part 1

Economically uncertain times often necessitate tough spending decisions. Charitable giving inevitably slows in times like these, and individuals who give want confidence in the causes they support monetarily. The church, of course, is not exempt. Southeastern California Conference has seen a 6 percent decline in tithe received since 2007. That decline has forced conference leaders to make difficult decisions about how tithe money is apportioned.

The allocation of tithe money provides a historical picture of Southeastern California Conference’s values--a snapshot of the cumulative choices made about this conference’s priorities and how they are supported. In other words, to get a sense for the causes SECC believes in, follow the money.

The budgeted tithe income for 2010, illustrated in Graph 1, is $44,787,780. Six primary uses within the conference demonstrate SECC’s top priorities: quality leadership; world church mission; conference-wide ministries; local congregations; education; and the ministries of Pine Springs Ranch.

World Church Mission

The first allocation of money from that budget is $10.5 million, about 23 percent, set aside to support the missions of world church institutions beyond the conference. Nearly $5.1 million of that money goes to the North American Division (NAD) and the General Conference (GC). The GC-retained portion is appropriated to fund the worldwide mission of the church. Among other uses, the NAD portion includes the support of media ministries It Is Written and Breath of Life; Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary tuition; and software that manages church membership, accounting and online giving.

About $5.4 million goes to the Pacific Union Conference, whose ministries span 696 local congregations in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah. Of that $5.4 million, $1.8 million is allocated for higher education: Pacific Union College, La Sierra University and Oakwood University

After the monies apportioned for the world church, the net available tithe for conference use is $34,290,629, or 77 percent, which is illustrated as 100 percent in Graph 2.

Quality Leaders

Nearly 48 percent of retained tithe ($16 million; see Graph 2) goes toward employing ministers. This money includes salaries, benefits and education for the conference’s more than 200 full-time and part-time pastors. SECC prioritizes quality leadership, believing that it leads to thriving congregations. An additional 10 percent ($3.6 million) of retained tithe pays for conference administration. This allocation not only includes the workers who serve at the conference office, but also covers human resources, in-house legal services, and conference treasury services, such as payroll, accounting, conference-wide church receipting, conference-wide insurance services, conference church and school audits, investment management and bond administration. Another 13 percent ($4.5 million) funds the defined benefit plan for workers who earned retirement service credit before 2000.

The dedication to outstanding leaders reflected in the percentage of tithe spent to retain them in these difficult times also reflects a tough reality: all full-time SECC employees—pastors, administrators and teachers alike--have taken a 5 percent reduction in pay, and more than 35 positions conference-wide have been eliminated in order to help balance conference and school budgets.

Departments, Services and Church Ministries

SECC invests 8.4 percent ($2.88 million) of retained tithe into 16 departments, services and ministries: Asian-Pacific Ministries, Black Ministries, Church Growth and Discipleship Department, Commitment Department, Communication Department, Community Services Department, Education Department, Family Ministries, Health Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, Ministerial Department, Religious Liberties Department, Retirees Ministry, Women’s Ministries, Youth Ministries and Youth Rush.

Part of the 8.4 percent goes to Church Ministries, which includes retaining three evangelists. Money allocated for evangelism covers the salaries and the cost of evangelistic meetings. Wide-ranging ministry at the local level is a conference priority and value.

Local Congregations

Beyond the investment that SECC makes in securing quality leaders for its churches, the conference invests 2.5 percent ($867,500) of retained tithe directly into programs and materials for local congregations. This includes money for churches’ evangelistic meetings, Vacation Bible School programs for children, and materials such as tithe envelopes. With more than 50 percent of tithe money directed toward the life of the local congregation, it is clear that the well-being of each congregation is a priority for the conference.


The Seventh-day Adventist Church runs one of the largest, most effective nongovernmental education systems in the world, second in size only to Catholic parochial schools. As in the church as a whole, the education of young people is a cause SECC believes in strongly. Over 16% ($5.7 million) of the conference’s retained income supports its 21 elementary and K-12 schools, plus four child development centers. Adding to this figure the money dedicated to Pacific Union Conference institutions, SECC’s commitment to Adventist education shines through. The value of tithe-based school subsidies is greater than ever during this economic downturn.

Pine Springs Ranch

Finally, the conference allocates 1 percent (nearly $400,000) of retained income to subsidize the ministries of Pine Springs Ranch, the conference’s retreat facility nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains. In particular, PSR’s summer camp provides a safe, Christ-centered environment in a beautiful natural setting where youth of all ages forge lifelong friendships with Jesus and with one another. SECC believes in Pine Springs Ranch’s life-giving ministry to young people, conference churches and Christians of many denominations.

Because of the decline in tithe revenue, the Southeastern California Conference has drawn upon reserves during these lean years. But the conference’s mission--the expansion of God's kingdom through the preaching, teaching, publishing, and living of the everlasting gospel throughout the cross-cultural communities of our territory--continues through the work of dedicated pastors, administrators, educators and laypersons.

This analysis of how the conference utilizes tithe monies reveals the key priorities and values that over time have made this conference unique in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. SECC believes in securing quality leadership, supporting conference-wide ministries, supporting the work of the worldwide church, caring for local congregations, providing outstanding education, and providing a one-of-a-kind experience for young and old alike at Pine Springs Ranch.

All of these services and ministries are possible because we work together to support the work of God’s kingdom through our tithes and offerings. The mission is ours to share. The rewards, likewise, belong to us all.

(Originally published in the January 2011 issue of Conference Priorities)

By Jared Wright

Follow the Money

Where Do Tithe Funds Go? - Part 1

SECC Helps Equip Churches and Members - Part 2

Intangibles Measure the Value of Pine Springs Ranch - Part 3