Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: having worked behind the scenes with church leaders for over 30 years, I have a hunch that some churches’ desire to stay open or to reopen too early is based upon a loss of giving because of the lack of face-to-face (or face-to-plate) services.
However secular organizations that track charitable giving have found that people are increasing their charitable giving in response to the pandemic. Read this well researched article below.
Is the pandemic making people more generous — or more selfish?
The data on how people are giving in 2020 may surprise you. By Sigal Samuel, Vox, 12/4/20.
While you’d expect high-net-worth donors to give more during a crisis, you wouldn’t necessarily expect similar behavior from average people hurting from an economic downturn. Yet 56 percent of US households gave to charity or volunteered in response to the pandemic, and the first half of 2020 saw a 12.6 percent increase in the number of new donors to charity compared to one year ago.
The causes that are faring especially well are the ones with an obvious connection to the pandemic, like hunger relief and health care. According to a Harris Poll survey conducted for Fast Company, “hunger relief has seen the most charitable giving — 34 percent, among those who have given to charity during the pandemic — followed by religious organizations (31 percent) and health and medical organizations (29 percent).”
A church building craze exploded in the ‘70s and ‘80s and led to many sanctuaries that are outsized for their current congregation… But the cost of oversized facilities and their upkeep may mean that that even these churches have little resources available for unexpected expenses or low offerings. – @BobWhitesel via @OutreachMag
Read more here … buff.ly/2UTWevK
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., April 28, 2020.
Many churches are experiencing a downturn in giving during the recent quarantine. And what they are seeing is not a typical. Here are some thoughts I’ve gleaned over the years and from clients.
During an “external crisis” (meaning job layoffs in the community, people leaving the area for a different town or quarantine due to a pandemic) the following occur. In addition, below are actions that can help crisis-proof a church’s budget.
1. Giving is down roughly 25 to 40% for churches that have not strongly emphasized online giving before the external crisis. Those that have emphasized online giving beforehand still drop but only about 20 to 25%. The lesson here is to robustly embrace online giving going forward.
2. During an external crisis there is usually a loss of long-time givers. This is because the external crisis exacerbates some frustration they have. However research by Bruno Dyck and Frederick Stark at the University of Manitoba (“The Formation of Breakaway Organizations: Observations and a Process Model,” Administrative Science Quarterly 44) found that if people who stop giving are personally visited and listened to, the frustration can often be diffused. This is hard to do during a quarantine, but it’s something to consider as restrictions loosen.
3. New givers will usually appear during one of these external crises. This is because people see the need for the church and the good things it’s doing. And they want to support it. However new givers typically do not give as much as long-time givers. Therefore if you are replacing them one for one, it’s usually not enough to make up the difference.
4. An important strategy is to track the quarterly ebb and flow of giving. Every church has a giving cycle. e.g. certain times during the year when giving decreases. It’s important to know when these coincide with an external crisis, so that you don’t over react to a downturn fueled by two concurrent forces: seasonal and external.
5. Some of my church clients who are younger congregations put a freeze on “new spending” when they saw the external crisis on the horizon. This doesn’t help you too much when you are in the middle of a downturn, but it is a good strategy for the future.
6. During this time another prescription is to make online giving convenient and to communicate it as an important option. Allowing giving to take place online allows the giver more time to pray over and consider their support.
7. It’s critically important to teach the reason for giving. Giving not just to keep the church going, but to increase ministry during this time when more people have needs. Therefore emphasize the good you were doing, why people give and how people’s spiritual journey includes meeting the needs of others.
For more ideas see Growing the Post-pandemic Church.
By Susan Beaumont, Ministry Matters Magazine, 6/29/13.
… Faith Communities Today (Fact 2008, 2010) is a study out of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, that looked at, among other things, how 3,000 congregations allocated their budgets. Researchers discovered that the average U.S. Protestant congregation allocates 45 percent of its total operating budget to payroll-related costs. Mainline churches spend considerably more (49 percent) on payroll-related expenses than either the Evangelical Protestant (31 percent) or the Catholic/Orthodox communities (41 percent)
… A Leadership Network study (which focused on staffing costs in larger congregations) found that the following factors were related to staff costs:
- Whether the church is growing. Staffing costs are leaner for churches whose attendance is growing, perhaps because growing churches have not “caught up” with emergent staffing needs.
- The dominant age group of the congregation. Staffing costs are leaner, but only slightly, for churches where the average person’s age in the congregation is lower.
- The year in which the church was founded. The younger the church, the leaner the staffing costs.
- The location of the church. Staffing costs are lower for residential and new suburban locations and slightly higher for older suburb and downtown churches.
- Race. Staffing costs are leanest for predominantly African American churches and highest for Anglo European churches.
- Use of paid part-time staff. Staffing costs have no relationship to the percentage of paid part-time staff in relation to full-time staff, until a congregation employs three or more paid part-timers for each full-time staff.
- Economic level of the congregation. Staffing costs are leanest for churches whose internal constituency is described as poor and highest for churches with an internal constituency described as wealthy.
Perhaps the longest standing rule of thumb about staffing structures is the ratio of program staff to average worship attendance. In 1965 Martin Anderson wrote one of the first books to address staffing models in the larger church, Multiple Ministries. He recommended a staffing ratio of 1 pastor for every 500 members (1:500) . Looking back on that number, it is hard to believe that congregations ever functioned with such lean staff teams, but in fact they did. Remember that this book was written during a time when worship attendance and membership were more closely aligned, when membership meant different things than it does today, when volunteerism in the church worked differently, and when church programming was more homogenous and standardized than it is today. No church today would ever dream of targeting a 1:500 staffing ratio and expect to meet the needs of its congregants.
In 1980 Lyle Schaller wrote The Multiple Staff and the Larger Church in which he introduced average worship attendance as a more reliable indicator of staffing needs. Schaller proposed a ratio of 1:100 as a guideline for the typical ratio of full-time paid professional staff positions in mainline Protestant congregations. In 2000 Gary McIntosh wrote Staff Your Church for Growth and suggested that a 1:150 paid professional staff ratio was a more realistic and affordable guideline. Both Schaller and McIntosh focused on the combination of professional clergy leaders and professional program staff leaders. Their ratios did not include administrative or support staff. Both assumed that the staffing ratio remained constant across size ranges.
So, given these conflicting guidelines, what is the most effective way to think about the size of the staff team relative to the active membership base of the congregation? The same 2010 Leadership Network Study that looked at the characteristics of a lean staff team created an alternative way of thinking about staff size relative to attendance. Rather than thinking solely about program or clergy staff in relationship to attendance, the Leadership Network study looked at the ratio of all full-time staff equivalents (FTEs) to attendance. Furthermore the study looked at how that ratio changed as the percent of budget devoted to staffing expense increased and decreased. Here is what they found.
Staff Costs as a Percent of Budget Ratio of Staff to Attendees
The conclusion here is obvious. If you spend more of your budget on staff, then you have more staff per attendee than other congregations do. The results also suggest that churches with higher staffing budgets don’t necessarily pay their staff better; they just hire more staff. The ratios are helpful benchmarks as to how many staff congregations employ. Given that the average congregation spends between 48 and 50 percent of its operating budget on payroll, we can assume the average congregation employs one full-time equivalent staff member for every 70 to 73 people in average weekend worship attendance.
Determining how large of a staff team that you need depends upon your mission and your context. No benchmark can answer the question for you. It should never be your objective to match the averages quoted in this article. However, these averages can be used as a starting point for good dialogue between you and your leaders. Do you lie inside or outside of the normative parameters outlined here? In what ways does the unique nature of your mission and your context require something outside of the norm?
Commentary by Professor B: As I research/write a new course on “church multiplication and growth,” I am encouraging students to think of creative new ways to fund church planting. Having planted a church myself, as well as having written/coached many church plants, I believe the usual funding model is inadequate and forces church plants to be less contextualized. In the past 25+ years, I have seen that reliance upon external funding and external contexts often rob a church plant of its contextual intelligence.
Here’s an article published by Missio Alliance about this problem. I will be using this article in my new course to encourage students to design innovative ways to address it.
“The Big Problem with Barna’s Study on Church Startups and Money”
by Jared Siebert, Missio Alliance, 5/9/16.
… 5 Ways Too Much Money Can Rot Your Church Plant
Planters and denominational folk, please pay attention.
1) Excessive external funding can kill a church’s feel for context.
… Church plant structures and expectations need to be tied to context. Intimately. The best kind of church planting is committing long term to a specific location among a specific people group. We’re at our best when we tie our fate to people and place. It worked for Jesus and it will work for His church. Your life, your practices, and even your finances all need to be shaped by context. This is fundamental to incarnating the gospel.
Too much external funding interferes with this process. Tuning your communal lives to your context takes feel. It takes tension. To do it right your church will need to live somewhere between what the people want and what the people can afford.
2) Excessive external funding robs us of creativity.
You’ve heard that necessity is the mother of invention? Excessive external funding robs us of necessity. Without the tension created by necessity you won’t be as likely to actively seek out novel contextual solutions. Forcing your church, as much as possible – to be here in this place with these people – creates irreplaceable fuel for your church’s imagination.
This lack of invention doesn’t just affect the local church either. It spreads to the broader church too. One of the great gifts that planting gives the broader church is inventiveness. Less local innovation means less denominational innovation. Calling us to double down on the same old models should be a sure sign that we have a growing imagination deficit. More money won’t fix that.
3) Excessive external funding robs your church of its survival instincts.
The will to survive properly resides within the plant itself. Denominational coffers should never house your church’s survival instincts. Instead, the will to survive should come from a deep collective sense of God’s calling, love for each other, and your deep burden for the needs of your context. Your survival instincts have to be built together piece by piece over time. Too much outside financial support messes with this process. It can also make people outside your church the owners of your church. Not good.
4) Excessive external funding can mess with your sense of calling.
Planters would also do well to check their own motivations for church planting. The kind of planting work we have ahead of us will not be for the faint of heart. Reaching the hard to reach peoples in North American culture is going to take time. The harder to reach the more fruitless years you may have ahead of you. Are you ready to put in 15+ years with next to nothing to show for it? That’s not an uncommon missionary reality. Google it. It may soon be our reality too.
And for even more about this problem (and some solutions with examples), check out the Abingdon Press book, Growth by accident, Death by planning: How not to kill a growing congregation. Three of the above five missteps with external funding mentioned by Siebert are addressed with solutions in my book.
The area of church finances and accounting is woefully neglected in many of the churches I encounter. This video introduces learning activities that can be utilized by my clients, colleagues and students to analyze their current financial practices … and improve them.
©️Bob Whitesel 2017, used by permission only.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and the 2017 Missional Coaches Cohort, 2/1/17.
- Annually teach on giving.
- Teach as a two-week series [studies show one week isn’t enough; three weeks people get bored / annoyed]. Offer it in January or February, after everyone’s Christmas bills come in and household budget/resource allocation is a priority.
- When teaching on giving, teach on graduated giving – meaning, if you don’t
give at all, where could you start? If you do give, but give less than 10%, how
could you increase to the next percentage? If you give 10% or above, could you begin increasing giving to the next percentage as a ‘legacy gift’ to the church?
- Annually review tithes & offerings.
- Who knows who gives, and how much? Who knows who’s not giving, or has
slacked off in giving? John Maxwell suggests the Treasurer, Senior Pastor, and Exec Pastor know in order to pray for givers & giving, and lean into those needing encouragement.
- Who knows who gives, and how much? Who knows who’s not giving, or has
- Annually review ministry priorities.
- Get key staff and board together for a half-day or full day of ministry review. Are you most important ministries getting significant resources for ministry?
- If they’re not, they might not be as high a priority as you think they are. Make adjustments as necessary.
- Offer Stewardship classes.
- Twice a year, offer Financial Peace Classes [or similar program].
- Rather than a staff or board member, attempt to have a key layperson whose financial affairs are in order teach the class, in order to avoid people viewing church leaders as greedy for resources.
- Expand giving options.
- Do you offer a variety of ways to give such as: text-to-give, webpage for
automatic giving, or giving kiosks? What does live giving look like in your church?
- Do you have special giving opportunities – a campaign to pay down debt / faith promise giving for missions? Beyond weekly / monthly giving, what special giving emphases could be created?
- Do you offer a variety of ways to give such as: text-to-give, webpage for
- Tell stories about giving.
- Who’s willing to share live or via video a story of how God stretched them to give more generously/sacrificially? Who’s been blessed by receiving a gift through the church? What ministries could you highlight that wouldn’t exist without giving?
- Interview some older folks who are long-time members. Ask about the vision and mission of the church, and how they see it being fulfilled. Ask them how they prayed and gave in the early days for God to bless and expand the church’s reach.
- Interview younger folks, families, or individuals who are new. Ask about their experience being welcomed or helped. Use questions in these video stories to connect the dots between giving and outreach / mission accomplishment.
© Bob Whitesel DMin PhD & MissionalCoaches.com #PowellChurch
by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 4/21/16.
There is an important leadership lesson from the leadership exercise titled: FINANCES & A Leadership Exercise on the Dilemma of Restricted Funds.
Don’t worry if you didn’t get it right the first time. Most people don’t.
You see this lesson is … that we tend to look at such dilemmas from the viewpoint of the organization and not the individual.
Most leaders describe how they would explain to the donor the needs of the organization. Very few of leaders in this exercise delve into the donor’s needs and reasons for the donation.
- Perhaps the donor himself had been impacted by youth ministry and it had changed his life.
- Or perhaps the donor had a misspent youth and didn’t want other young people to experience the same thing.
In most leaders’ responses the focus is on explaining to the donor the good reasons why the organization needed his money. Often responses revolved around the leader trying to justify that, “if the boiler is not dealt with, there would neither be church nor youth meeting” (a student’s own words). Sometimes leaders even seem to be offended if the donor didn’t relinquish control and wished him well in another church if he did not agree with them.
But we need to be reminded that the church is people and it could still meet in another locale, as could the youth. The boiler was chosen by me as an example because it directly represents the “physical” needs, not the “spiritual” needs of a faith community. Both are important and linked, but the latter trump the former.
In our rush to feed the organization, do we miss feeding the spiritual needs of people?
Not many of my students get the right answer and their grade often reflects that. They understand that’s only fair … and they wouldn’t want me to grade any other way.
Now, you might argue that Paul says in Romans 12: 8 that “If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.” (CEB) And Paul is certainly making the point that we should strive for these behaviors because such behaviors are signs of spiritual maturity.
But, what if the donor isn’t spiritually mature yet? Are we really helping him mature by trying to get him to relinquish or change he designation? Wouldn’t it be more helpful to go to him, listen to him and learn what motivated his gift?
Thus, I hope you will take away from this case study our lesson: that lesson is that we tend to look at such dilemmas from the viewpoint of the organization and not the individual.
If this lesson sinks in (and I know it will for most who read this) then in the future…
- You would go to the individual spend time with him.
- You would learn about what he wanted to accomplish with the donation.
- You would spend more time listening and less time explaining.
- You would spend less time considering this money the church’s money and more time understanding that the Holy Spirit was at work in this donor’s heart.
- And you would probably end up with a more spiritually mature donor.
This is a much better and I think more Christ-like approach.
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/11/15.
As you may have noted from my Leadership Exercise titled “A Leadership Exercise on the Dilemma of Restricted Funds,” this is a sticky area. And, the law can be interpreted differently depending on what state you are in and to whom you are talking. Thus, the best advice is to seek professional advice (legal and financial) before taking action. Remember, the laws are too varied per state and the circumstances too diverse (e.g. was the money solicited, was it restricted specifically or generally, etc. etc.?).
Part of the reason for this leadership exercise is to remind us that though we are studying fiscal concepts this week, the answer to specific church dilemmas may lie in local, indigenous and professional advice …. not in our textbooks.
Thus, though many churches shy away from getting professional help from a lawyer and/or a CPA on such matters, it is imperative we do so. Professionals often tell me that churches prefer to do things themselves, and do so to their determent. Don’t let this be the case with your congregation. Help your congregation see that professionals in the community are God-given resources to help the church move ahead legally, ethically and with her testimony intact.
The answer is: get advice from local professionals 🙂
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Here is an article to assist in making sound financial judgments (and to underscore the relevance of this finances for leaders). It is called the “State of the Plate” report and it is the research of Christianity Today and Leadership. It was shared with me my one of our adjunct instructors, Professor Halee Scott. Here it what she found:
by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/6/15.
A common question I receive is, “How much of a church’s budget should be spent on staff salaries?” And, my friend and colleague Warren Bird of Leadership Network has done some remarkable and helpful work on this.
His insights can be found here: http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100408/survey-explores-churches-with-lean-staff-costs/index.html
This research was created to start some discussion on percentages of budgets that go to staffing. And, the survey noted that often churches with leaner staff tend to me more missional in orientation (e.g. with more lay people involved in ministry).
by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 11/61/15
I designed this leadership exercise to help leaders wrestle with tactical decisions that arise from donations that are given (or “restricted”) for a specific purpose.
DILEMMA: Lee gave $5,000 to the church with a restriction* that it be used for the youth ministry program. The youth ministry had been in need of funds, and the pastor had even publicly solicited monies for this fund. However, recently the church boiler has stopped working and with the approach of winter the boiler must be repaired if the church is to remain open (and the youth to have a place to meet). The boiler repair will cost $5,000 and the church administrative board sees no other place to get this money other than to use the money that was restricted to the youth program.
YOUR ADVICE: Now, what would you advise this board to do? Do an online search for laws that govern such restricted giving in your state. Then, using some online references tell us what you would recommend the church do in this dilemma of restricted funds.
* Some people might call the funds that Lee gave “designated” funds, but actually they are “restricted” funds. A student once summarized this by saying “a board designates, a donor restricts (Hammar & Cobble, 2006). If the donor restricts, then the only option is for the board to ask the donor to remove the restriction for use with the repair. If the board designated money, then it can undesignate the money at any time. For example, if they create a youth ‘fund’ and allow contributions to be made to it, than the board can decide to undesignate the youth funds and reclassify the funds however they want. It all has to do with who is initiating the special use.” This is a good summation.
Hammar, Richard R., & Cobble, James F. (2006). The 4-Hour Legal Training Program: For Church Boards (CD edition). Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today.
For further reading:
Here are some interesting resources that students have discovered on this issue:
And, sometimes churches will receive a donation that is intended to directly support an individual, such as a teen going on a mission trip. Here is what one student found about this: “From the IRS Website: ‘The law allows a taxpayer to deduct a contribution or gift that is to or for the use of a qualified organization (section 170(a) of the Internal Revenue Code (the Code)). A religious organization, such as a church, is generally a qualified organization. However, for a contribution to be deductible, the church must have full control of the donated funds and discretion as to their use. This ensures that the organization will use the funds to carry out the organization’s functions and purposes. Further, to deduct a contribution, the donor’s intent in making the payment must have been to benefit the charitable organization and not an individual recipient.’ (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-wd/09-0038.pdf)
(Caveat: remember, this is an exercise designed to help you find and locate financial advice and consul. This exercise is not meant to create anything legally binding. Always consult professionals such as accountants and lawyers.)
by Roman Kniahynyckyj, JULY 11, 2015.
When it comes to increasing donations for your non-profit organization, begging, pleading and coercion are not the answers. In fact these techniques are more likely to turn potential donors away. Here are some solutions to addressing common pitfalls to avoid in online marketing for non-profits…
1) Not Being Social...Pick one channel. Facebook is probably a good place to start. Setting up a social channel isn’t the end though. You may not have a lot of people interacting with you but when someone does ask you a question or comment on your page it’s important you respond appropriately…
2) Not Telling a Story. Sharing a heart felt story about how donations have been used offers a powerful trigger for other potential donors… Help your website visitors understand and envision the impact of their donations. The more personal stories and long term community impact you can show the more likely you’ll keep people reading and move them towards a donation.
3) Not Creating A Wish List… Creating a non-profit wish list is a useful way to do this. Remember, any ‘ask’ must have a solid rationale for it – if you are asking for a new office computer make sure you let folks know your current computer is almost obsolete or is having trouble running the latest software.
4) Not Offering Social Proof. In addition to showing where the money goes it’s important to show how the money already raised is being put to work. One of the best ways of offering this sort of social proof is through infographics that can be shared. Infographics are the perfect way to present a variety facts, figures and ideas in an easily digestible format…
5) Not Making it Insanely Easy to Donate. If your website visitor has to click more once to get to a donation page from any page on your site they’re clicking too much. You will certainly have some visitors landing on your site ready to donate. If someone is ready and willing to donate don’t make it a challenge for them.
Read more at …
http://www.business2community.com/non-profit-marketing/5-common-pitfalls-in-non-profit-marketing-01273107. (image: http://cdn.business2community.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/lw_5_pitfalls.jpg.jpg )
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Below are excerpts from writings of five nationally-recognized scholars on suggested benchmarks for church budgets. Compare these with your budgets and expenditures to measure your fiscal health.”
Thom Rainer, Jun 16, 2012, retrieved from http://thomrainer.com/2012/06/16/three_questions_pastors_often_ask_about_church_finances/
What is the amount of personnel expenses that should be in a church budget? First, I’ll give the simple response. Personnel expenses typically should not exceed 55% of a budget. But such guidelines are subject to a number of caveats. If the church has debt obligations in its budget, for example, those payments will reduce the amount a church can put toward personnel costs. The average personnel costs are about 40% of budget, but averages can be misleading as well. As a general guideline, however, I would say the broad range of personnel costs should be 35% to 55% of budget.
What are the sources of income for most churches? As you would expect, the tithes and offerings are the dominant source of income for churches. About one-third of all churches have no other sources of income. But many church leaders may be surprised to know that, on the average, churches receive 13% of their income from other sources. These sources include investment income, ancillary ministry income (such as a school or mom’s day out program), denominational support, and rental income.
How can I know if the amount our members give to the church is healthy or not? Begin with an average and work from there. The average weekly per capita giving (WPCG) in an American church is $26. That is the amount, on the average, that every adult and child gives to the church each week. To calculate your church’s WPCG, divide your average weekly undesignated receipts by your average worship attendance (including children). For example. If the average weekly budget receipts are $4,000 (roughly an annual budget of $200,000), and the average worship attendance is 150, the church’s WPCG is $26.67 ($4,000 divided by 150). That number would be very close to the national average. The economic demographics of your church, however, could affect this number significantly
Kent E. Fillinge, 5/02/11, retrieved from Christian Standard Magazine, http://christianstandard.com/2011/05/is-the-church-in-a-recession/
Average Weekly Giving Per Person
Weekly per person giving (that’s general fund giving divided by average weekend worship attendance) increased among three of the four church size categories last year.
After taking a slight dip in 2009, the weekly per person giving average in megachurches rebounded to surpass 2008 levels, but still fell short of 2007, prerecession giving figures. The average megachurch attendee put $26.77 per week in the offering plate last year. The average weekly giving ranged from a high of $40.66 per person at one megachurch to a low of $12.93 per person at another.
Emerging megachurch attendees were the most generous givers last year, with average weekly per person giving of $27.48, a 16 percent increase from 2009. Giving at emerging megachurches ranged from $76.30 per person to $13.31 per person.
Large churches also saw weekly per person giving increase in 2010, to an average of $26.63, a 50-cent per person increase from the year before. Average weekly giving ranged from $42.28 to $15.59.
Medium churches experienced a decline in average weekly giving of more than a dollar per person, to $25.60. Average giving ranged from $39.28 per person to $10.66.
James D. Berkley, 1997, Christianity Today, “Is Your Church Fiscally Fit? Ten ways to assess you financial strength,” retrieved from http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/1997/le-7l3-7l3057.html
Total annual income
Church-expert Lyle Schaller provides a simple benchmark for annual contributions. He writes in The Interventionist: “A useful beginning point is to multiply the average worship attendance times $1,000.” If my church has 125 attenders on an average Sunday, and annual giving is $125,000, we’re in the ballpark.
Another way to look at the same figures is to multiply $20 per head in worship for any given week. If my church averages two hundred in attendance, it should be receiving about $4,000 a week. Of course such figures need to be adjusted for churches in particularly wealthy or poverty-stricken areas, for especially small or large churches, for new church plants—well, for just about any church, because there is no typical church.
The Typical Churchgoer Pays about $10 A Week For Personnel Costs
“The ‘price’ of church is rising faster than the cost of a movie ticket,” notes Schaller. “It used to be the per capita ‘cost’ of church was close to the cost of going to a movie. Now it’s closer to the expense of going to a professional sporting event—about $20.” Of course, no church charges attenders their proportion of the weekly church expenses (“Marge, I’ve only got two twenties on me. We can’t afford to bring Billy to church this week!”). But Schaller’s analysis does show the comparative costs of “doing church.”
Another way to look at annual giving is to compare this year’s receipts per attender to 1968’s figures. Between 1968 and now, according to Schaller, the Consumer Price Index went up roughly 400 percent, and personal income rose even more. So if my church received an average of $200 per attender per year in 1968, and now it receives an average of $900, we’re ahead!
A third way to look at annual receipts is comparing them with total household income. What percentage of members’ income is being given to the church?
A little sleuthing at the local planning agency will probably produce a figure for average household income. Multiply that by the number of households in the congregation (and adjust a little for the comparative wealth of a given church), and this approximates church members’ total earnings.
Then, divide the church’s total giving by its total earnings. If the result is 10 percent, the church is a biblical lot! More likely it’s under 5 percent or perhaps around 3 percent. If we can find the figures, we can compare the percentage of income given in previous years to establish a trend.
Stephen Anderson, excerpted from the book, Preparing to Build retrieved 2013 from http://www.frugalmom.net/giving_in_the_church.htm and http://amichurchconsulting.com/purchase/?hop=frugalmom
When initially working with churches that need to build, I always ask two very simple questions.
1) What is your average attendance, counting men, women and children of all ages?
2) What was your total income in tithes and offerings last year (or last 12 months)?
Once these two numbers are ascertained with reasonable accuracy, it is a simple process to divide the total income by the total average attendance to determine the average giving per person per year. A church with 150 average attendance and annual giving of $165,000 would be $1,100 per person per year.
Over the years, I became aware of what seemed to be an emerging pattern in the relationship between income and attendance. It appeared that for a significant percentage of churches, one could take their average attendance and by adding three zeros, come up with a very close approximation of their annual income. If true, this would mean that average giving in the church was approximately $1,000 per year for every man, woman and child in attendance. This happened so many times I decided to put my impressions to the test. Over the years I had accumulated hard data, including giving and attendance information, from churches into a database. I exported the information into a spreadsheet and did the simple math. I was pleased to discover that mathematical analysis confirmed my anecdotal estimate.
An analysis of nearly 200 churches, with average total attendances ranging from 9 to 2,500 persons, indicated a median giving per person per year of $1,038.
There appears to be no significant correlation between the size of the church and giving per person. In fact, 80% of the churches that ranked in the top 10 for giving per person had attendance of less than 500 with 2 of those reporting attendance of less than 50 persons and 2 reporting 1000 or over. The average attendance of churches in the giving per person top 10 was 305, with an average income to the church per person per year (counting men, women and children of all ages) of $2,250.
It is important to remember that averages are just that, an average…
Church giving drops $1.2 billion reports 2012 Yearbook of Churches, retrieved from http://www.ncccusa.org/news/120209yearbook2012.html
New York, March 20, 2012 — Churches continue to feel the effects of “the Great Recession” of 2008 as contributions dropped $1.2 billion, according to the National Council of Churches’ 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
Membership trends in denominations reporting to the Yearbook remain stable, with growing churches still growing and declining churches still declining, reports the Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, the Yearbook’s editor.
The 80th annual edition of the Yearbook, one of the oldest and most respected sources of church membership and financial trends in the U.S. and Canada, may be ordered for $55 each at www.yearbookofchurches.org.
Not all churches report their financial information to the Yearbook, Lindner said, but the downward trends are reasons for concern.
The nearly $29 billion contributed by nearly 45 million church members is down $1.2 billion from figures reported in the 2011 Yearbook, Lindner said.
“This enormous loss of revenue dwarfs the $431 million decrease reported last year and provides clear evidence of the impact of the deepening crises in the reporting period,” Lindner wrote.
In terms of per capita giving, the $763 contributed per person is down $17 from the previous year, according to Lindner, a 2.2 percent drop. The decline “took place in the context of ongoing high unemployment and a protracted economic downturn,” Lindner wrote.
by Bob Whitesel, 6-7-15.
Many denominations require that a portion of undesignated gifts be given to the denomination. This has implications for a hypothetical “case study” I posted in this blog titled: DONATIONS & An Unexpected Windfall. A Case Study on Unexpected Donations .
However, other denominations allow moneys designated for Building Funds to be retained fully by the church. This can lead to some unethical temptations. Let me share what one student said about this, and my response.
I am actually not sure that in the (denominational name) we could get by with using (all) the monies as I speculated, because of the budget assessment. I was told by our District Secretary if the money is not designated as a building fund income, we are supposed to pay budgets as general income. Essentially, that would mean that 20% (the denominational cap for calculating budgets) of the money would be assessed the next church year as budget payments. If I reported that we had received $500,000 in extra income, the District would allocate $100,000 in the following years’ budgets, which would include world missions, pensions and benefits for retired pastors, district operations, etc. If I reported that we had received $500,000 as a donation for building, we would have the discretion to use it all for the building. Any portion of that money that we put aside for other than building would be assessed budgets. So, here is the bottom line. I could choose to give the denomination $100,000 (20% of $500,000 counted as general income) if I don’t use the total for building purposes, or I can use $400,000 for building and have $100,000 in additional income. Budgets would be $20,000 (20% of $100,000 general income).
The $400,000 as building fund would essentially give us $80,000 unaccounted for so we could put some in savings and some for charitable contributions above the budget amount. $500,000 as general income would give us $400,000 for whatever purposes we chose and $100,000 for the denomination to allocate for it’s works.
Personally, I would like to see my local church determine how the money is spent and that is going to be greatest facilitated if we apply the lion’s share of the money to a building project.
Now, I realize that other denominations operate differently and each case would have to be handled differently. I do know that if we received a generous gift of $500,000, it would be difficult for the congregation to hand over $100,000 to the district to use at it’s discretion instead of working to accomplish a building that they have wanted to erect for a long time.
Here is my response:
Thanks for some soul searching. You are right, many denominations have this same rule. And thus, since Miss Winnie gave it undesignated, ethically we should thus not designate it. And, if all churches did this (instead of sometimes soliciting money for Building Funds that would have otherwise been undesignated) then the denomination would have more money and apportionments might be less.
Thanks for wrestling with this.
by Bob Whitesel, 6/515.
I often give my students the following hypothetical scenario regarding what they might ethically and strategically do with an unexpected and sizable financial gift to their organization. Take a look at this example. Then you can search this wiki for the phrase “an unexpected windfall” and find many insightful (and some humorous) responses.
An Unexpected Windfall (a hypothetical case study)
Miss. Winnie Fall’s family has had a long history in your church. A matriarch, and the last remaining member of her clan, Winnie passed away recently in Florida. Having lived there for many years, she has not communicated with you or previous leaders of the church for several decades.
In her will Winnie leaves $500,000 to the church to be “used at _____fill_in_your_name____’s discretion.” She has given you no other direction for the disbursement of these funds.
Now, you must recommend to the church board what to do with this revenue. I ask my students to do some research and then give me a paragraph with a plan for spending the Win Fall money.
From the Leadership Network / Vanderbloemen 2014 Large Church Salary Report: An Executive Summary of Research Trends in Compensation and Staffing.
Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Economic parity and justice remain key areas of need in America. Churches that are leery of social action, must none-the-less help address the growing gaps between the wealthy and the poor. Here is one of many verses that drive home Jesus’ admonitions that Christians care for the poor, Matthew 25:34-36: ‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’.”
ARTICLE by Michelle Boorstein, The Washington Post, 4/24/14