Sandi Sydlowski, with microphone, addresses the congregation of Brookfield United Methodist Church.

Sandi Sydlowski, with microphone, addresses the congregation of Brookfield United Methodist Church.

Brookfield United Methodist Church member Becky Hoffman said she doesn’t want to drive through Brookfield Center, notice the church building and it not be a church anymore.

Yet, that’s a very real possibility, said Rev. Matt Darrin, administrative pastor for BUMC and four other Methodist churches.

Darrin presented grim financial news and three undesirable options for parishioners following their March 24 worship service.

The church has spent more than it takes in the last two years, and has depleted its savings, Darrin said.

Although the church gave up having a full-time pastor in July and joined the five-church consortium to share expenses, “We’re still really struggling here financially,” Darrin said. “I didn’t realize how badly until I did the year-end report.”

The church’s projected deficit for 2023 is $14,500 and it lost $16,000 in 2022. Expenses are expected to dip slightly in 2024 from 2023’s $123,000, but not enough to ensure the church’s long-term financial health, he said.

“We can’t wait any longer to face the future,” Darrin said.

With that baseline, Darrin presented these options:

  • Churchgoers double their giving and/or increase fundraisers to meet current expenses and build a roof replacement fund.
  • Churchgoers increase their giving and donate their time for church secretarial, custodial and youth ministerial duties, and to lead Sunday worship, allowing the church to lay off paid staff. Darrin’s son, Sam, who is not an ordained minister, currently leads worship.
  • Merge with another church. If the new church is financially healthy, a portion of former BUMC members’ giving will be redirected to the BUMC church building, which would remain open as a mission center for the food pantry, preschool and community meetings.

“None of them are good,” Darrin said of the options.

The decision has to be made right away because the Mahoning Valley District of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church is setting its pastor assignments for the next year, and he needs to present a plan for BUMC, Darrin said.

Pastor Matt Darrin

Pastor Matt Darrin

The church currently attracts around 40 people to Sunday worship, maybe 60 on Easter, said member James E. Hoffman III. At the March 24 service, most of the attendees appeared to be older than 60, and there were only a handful of children. That is not uncommon in all religious denominations, Darrin said.

Churchgoer Pat Kaiser said the church has experienced a lack of evangelism.

“When was the last time you invited someone to church?” she said. “When was the last time you called someone that hasn’t been attending to ask why? If we could get more people to bear the burden of the cost of the church, that would work, too.”

The church needs to attract more members, Darrin said, but you do that by holding community events that bring in people from outside the church. That lays the groundwork for discussions about faith, that can lead to new members, he said. But, it takes a great deal of time from church members to hold such events, Darrin said, noting that the church no longer holds sit-down spaghetti dinners – a great evangelism forum – in favor of drive-through meals in order to lessen the burden of work on church members.

Several members asked about cutting the apportionments paid to the conference for administration and missions, which was $18,000 in 2023. Darrin responded that he could ask for a reduction, but it would only be a Band-aid and would not solve the problem. It also would lessen the likelihood that the conference would assign a pastor to BUMC, should that become an option.

Daniel Briceland said the churchgoers could form an independent congregation. Darrin responded that that would mean forming a church outside of the United Methodist Church, and losing access to the BUMC church building, which the conference owns.

“It’s vitally important that we do as much as we can to keep the doors open as long as we can,” said church member Sandi Sydlowski. “There’s not many churches in Brookfield. This church is important to the community. The community does appreciate all we do. But, I don’t think we can count on them to keep us going. It’s up to us.”

Those assembled March 24 agreed to go with a combination of options one and two. A stewardship campaign will be held in which members give estimates as to how much they can increase their giving, and lay leaders will discuss options for cutting costs.

“The reason to have the Brookfield church open is you are serving your community,” Darrin said, referring to the preschool, food pantry, youth ministry and other activities. “You’re doing things to help other people. You want this place to be open and a city of light to serve people.”

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