This headline grabbed my attention…According to this article from Christianity Today, quoting a report from the Giving USA Foundation, American churches collected 114.9 BILLION dollars in 2014. (Numbers not available for 2015). We look at how church budgets break down on average. As we have discussed here before most of that money goes to keep the lights on and supply for the internal structure of the churches, as opposed to benevolence giving. (giving to those in need). If the popularity of Bernie Sanders has taught us anything it is that young people are more interested in our collective monies being used to help individuals and not to perpetuate the status quo, although they don’t care that said money is taken by force.
Let’s use the number collected by the Evangelical Credit union on church budgets to determine approximately how much of that money is being spent on what:
Breaking these numbers down a bit we see some interesting things.
This includes salaries, both full and part time, pension plan contribution, other benefits and taxes paid on behalf of employees.
Office supplies, postage, travel and membership dues.
Utilities, maintenance and upkeep, debt (Mortgage) any other debt or fees associated with the building.
Children and youth programs, Adult programs, evangelism and outreach efforts, (benevolence has been pulled out to its own category)
Building fund and cash reserves
Both local and international.
The numbers seem a bit off to me, even if you allow for program expenses to be outreach a full 82% of church budgets are paying salaries, building and to keep the lights on. Spending that is is some way inward facing. That is 94 BILLION dollars being spent by churches in the US to pay their pastors, buy their buildings and run their organizations. Charitywatch.org would give us a failing rating.
Of course, Charitywatch isn’t a fair comparison because pastors and staff are not strictly overhead, they are actually doing the work of the ministry in many cases. If we assume that half of the Pastors’ salaries are not overhead, but ends of our giving then our numbers are a little better at 53%. I am not sure of the best solution here, but I have been bothered by that 82% number ever since I read it. It feels like that money is more like paying country club dues that it is advancing the work of the Kingdom of God.
This is one of the primary reasons I have been attracted to the house church or cell church models over the years, it feels like a more efficient use of our collective resources. That being said I am part of a traditional model that thinks about this regularly and doesn’t actually fit these numbers for various reasons.
What do you think about these numbers?
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