The Shocking Truth of Church Budgets

The auctioneer tried everything he could to increase the bid. But in the end, the pews sold for $25 apiece.

We watched as the contents of this Missouri church emptied out during the auction. The church itself closed a few weeks ago, a victim of declining attendance and daunting fixed costs. Our cameras (for a documentary on the state of the church) caught this church’s last gasps.

This sad scene is becoming increasingly common across the country, as the old financial models no longer work for many churches. The shrinking tithes and offerings can’t cover the two major expenses–personnel and buildings.


I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have told us, “Churches just want your money.” They’ve picked up on the financial pressures facing most churches today. They do understand that ministry requires funding. But they intuitively smell something foul about how many churches’ offerings are being used.

They are accustomed to evaluating the effectiveness of non-profit organizations. They are aware that charities that do the most with donors’ dollars keep their administrative costs relatively low. For example, the American Red Cross spends 8 percent of its revenues on administrative and fundraising expenses. World Vision spends 14 percent. Compassion International spends 16 percent.

Comparatively, what do churches spend on personnel, buildings and administration expenses? Those items consume 82 percent of the average church’s budget, according a study from the Evangelical Christian Credit Union.

You could argue about comparing a church’s expenses to a public charity’s expenses. But the enormous disparity is striking, especially to the public. It’s made worse by looking at how churches allocate funds to direct ministries. According to the ECCU study, churches use 3 percent of their budget for children’s and youth programs, and 2 percent for adult programs. Local and national benevolence receives 1 percent of the typical church budget.

When you look at it this way, is it any wonder the public questions the church’s return on investment?


What does this financial squeeze mean for the future of the church? To right-size personnel costs, churches are increasingly looking to volunteers to carry ministry roles once held by professionals. And the idea of bi-vocational ministers is making a return to the American landscape.

With buildings, churches will be forced to consider becoming better stewards of brick and mortar. More congregations will need to combine under one roof. The Mormons, by the way, figured this out long ago, housing multiple congregations in one building. They simply coordinate their worship and program schedules.

Also, some churches are already succeeding at dispersing their people into small congregations that meet weekly in homes, restaurants, and other free locations. Then all the small congregations meet once a month for a larger worship time–in an economical rented public space.

And, in order for the church to be the church in a more meaningful way, congregations will need to re-prioritize their budgets to emphasize direct forms of ministry that givers will agree directly respond to Jesus’ two Great Commandments.

In the end, all of this financial pressure may just lead to a healthier, true-to-mission church.

201 Responses to “The Shocking Truth of Church Budgets”

  1. While I agree that congregations need tio better spend their money, your comparisons are way off. How can you compare charities that have millions in donations with a congregation that takes in only 40, 000 to 60, 000 in donations. Of courses their percentages are lower.

    • Dave, the smaller churches you mention are closing because their admin costs are killing them. Our documentary crew watched small churches fail that were spending over half their income on the building. It’s simply an unworkable and irresponsible use of the Lord’s resources.

      • Totally agree with you Thom. Whether you make $40,000 or 40 million, your expenses should not exceed your income. The early Christians had meetings at people’s houses and outdoor venues that cost NO MONEY and were more effective than churches today.

      • As a pastor, I agree with much of what you are saying here. I do second this disagreement mentioned by Dave here. I support children through World Vision and yet have never received a call from anyone on staff there. I don’t expect to.

        And yet the congregational expectations for relational contact demand a much higher staff ratio in the local church. It is not a fair comparison. No one from Compassion International is going to counsel my marriage. They don’t need anyone on staff for that.

        I do think that creative ideas for churches to spend less on building and admin is a good idea. But perhaps there are better conversations. Maybe the church buying a cash flowing mall and using a portion of it for their meeting space would keep the costs down. It would force the church back in to the center of real life with others. Isn’t that where we were supposed to be all along?

    • The churches that evolve will go on, the one’s that cling to the old model will die. C’est la vie.

  2. Churches have fallen into bad habits about how they spend their money. It’s born from by practices where staff are central to everything that happens and all church initiatives.

    However, the idea that the Red Cross or any other charitable organization should keeps it’s overhead costs down is actually equally destructive. The video below changed my thinking on this and might help expand these thoughts. If we demanded that charitable organizations spend more money on advertizing they’d make more money to help people. By juxtaposing overhead as “against actual help” it handicaps earning potential for the Red Crosses of the world who could make more money for others.

    As for the church, I’m pretty certain ROI for a the Red Cross or Group Publishing or the Riddle Group is a very different thing when seen through lens of the kingdom. God’s math is always counter-intuitive.

    • “God’s math”? Really? God uses a different mathematical system now? If this is what church leaders are thinking, then church budgets really are in trouble.

      Plus, how do you know “God’s math is always counter-intuitive”? You just made that up, friend.

      • Jeremy – I’m not smart enough to make it up. It’s borrowed from Phillip Yancy. Grace doesn’t add up, leave the 99 and follow the 1. that sort of thing… but things for taking me literally 🙂

      • Jeremy – any other thoughts aside from taking one point completely out of context?

      • Hey Mark, I agree with most of what you’re saying. Spot on, actually. (I’ve seen that Ted talk and I think it’s great.) However, I tend to disagree when folks make statements that presume they know what God is thinking. It sounds dogmatic to say God’s math is ALWAYS counter-intuitive. I’ve heard a lot of Christians make inferences they claim are incontrovertible, but are really just their opinions. So I usually dismiss those arguments because they can’t be substantiated. I don’t like that one statement of yours, but I’m willing to bet you and I agree more than we don’t.

        I interpreted what Thom is saying as an argument that churches are spending too much money on buildings and staff, instead of focusing on what really matters (loving God by loving people). Regardless of how that compares/contrasts with charity budgets, it’s definitely a subject worth talking a lot more about.

        Best to you, bro.

  3. And those of us who are church staff on salary, Red Cross which I volunteer for only has a few paid employees very true, in scale we only have 2 FT and 2PT staff, I work over 40 and more like 60 hours for these children to help them know God. If my salary was cut, i wouldn’t make mortgage on my house and bi-vocational ministry would bring a severe lack to my ministry. If i had to focus on having another job then that takes away from the focus on the ministry, we would have to cut half our programs for teens and kids thereby possibly denying them the word of Christ. Our church has a strict policy of charging little to nothing for people to attend studies, camps, or other programs so that money does not hinder their relationship with God. So we do take a lot in donations and we use every penny to make sure no one is denied the word of God because they didn’t have the money. Those admin expenses go towards discretionary funds which help us pay for those who can’t afford our low cost programs and go towards funding the free VBS we hold, and the books for our studies so that there’s no reason a person cant’ come.

    I also question the study as a medium to large church, how the programming budget on a med church is 20% but on a large church it’s 4%. That makes no sense. After looking at the report and then our own church budget I can say we spend at least 2/3 of our given money on ministry and programming needs. Also after interning at a small church which meets elsewhere it is so hard to find places to have things like programming in free spaces that meets the needs of those who are both attending and facilitating. Also many free spaces are not safe enough for children with disabilities or not accommodating enough so we have to turn them away.

    It breaks my heart to see people assume we misuse that which is given as Tom said “In the end, all of this financial pressure may just lead to a healthier, true-to-mission church.” To think one of our own, the founder of Group who we rely on for so many resources that we have to use administrative money to purchase his materials, thereby fund his company, so we can in turn take it to the people and offer the same materials we had to buy from TOM to the people for free, while he encourages people through his blog to stop spending and to cut these things. so we can be a “real” church.

    It really puts a perspective on my week as we enter day 2 of Kingdom Rock VBS which we offer to the community for free by paying for it in our budget costs, that we aren’t being a church “true” to Christs mission on earth according to the man we had to buy the materials from.

    • Lisa, thank you so much for your thoughts. My point is not to advocate trimming your paycheck or your direct ministry. If your church is allocating 2/3 of its income to direct ministry, that’s tremendous! Please understand that admin costs do not include program costs, including curriculum. Since the study shows that the average church spends just 3 percent of its budget on children’s and youth programs, don’t reduce your VBS budget! Keep on faithfully serving the children and families in your community!

    • In the LDS church even the pastors are volunteers – our neighbor is a Dentist and a Bishop (like a pastor) in his ward (about 250 families) and there aren’t any paid staff except for a janitor part time in their building (which houses 3 wards. The level above his is a group of 12 wards and their administration is all volunteer as well.

      He told us that he was called to serve and it is for from 2 to 5 years typically and the last Bishop was an executive at HP so clearly it can be done. His kids seem to miss him though as he works many evenings counseling people or in meetings.

    • I’m sure that the captain of the titanic was probably a nice guy but I dont want to get on board. My point is just because you can show your working hard doesn’t mean that it’s the best use of resources. I think if Christ was to return today the money changers are the pastors and most dont even have a clue. I’m not saying they are bad people but Christs mission wasnt to give them jobs its to feed the poor and love them. In our church we happen to have 2 retired pastor’s 1 has been on 3 cruises and a Hawaiian vacation in the last year. I dont begrudge him but I’m a christian no wonder non christians think we’re phoneys. I’m sick of christians and there saying one thing and doing another. I spoke to a member who was speaking of how tough the economy was on him and he was broke. The next week he wasnt at church I mentioned we missed him he said they had gone to there condo for the week. Thats the kind of nonsense that makes us liars we talk about helping people but we take in 500 thousand and spend almost 400 thousand on staff. Christians need to wake up there are much better ways to support what we have been called to by our savior. This is not to say all pastors are bad or even the ones that maybe unaware of what I would call poor Stewart’s. The point is our Lord called us to be light to the world read Matthew 25: 31_46 the sheep and the goats (when did we see you hungry) its time for a rival and its not what most church staff think.

    • If you’re being overworked its time to recruit more help. We all have a gift and something to contribute to the body of Christ. I’m pretty sure that there are others at your church that can effectively do what you do so that if need be you can go find a job outside of the church and relieve the church budget so that less will be spent on your salary and more on actual supplies and materials.

  4. True but using large corporations has examples and only showing part of the story is just wrong. These churches are the heart of many of these communities that are also dying. While I agree that these congregations need to re-focus on mission , it is also true that they have been left to die but more affluent suburban and emergent churches that, while looking good doing “mission-like things”, are spending their funds doing things that upper middle class people like to do but really do nothing to help those really in need or do ministry with people.
    This small churches are doing real ministry, helping through changing times, changing communities and changing perspectives. Sorry, but give us one percent of the money spend of all of these seminars and conferences on doing “new” ministry and those of us doing ministry here in the Rural US and I know we can keep these mission places open.

    • I have been involved for many years with producing our church budget on an annual basis….and this exact issue always rears its ugly head by a few who just see the trees without seeing the forest….(I know this because thats the way I used to see it)
      Many churches are closing because they are simply- spiritually dead….yes some have closed because of misused finances, but the real epidemic and cause is… spiritually dead= no people/no finances.
      Which is a whole other article to write about.

      We always have a few who say every year “We need to spend more on missions and ministry”…and I have to say to them “Thats a great idea, Now are you willing to do the volunteering and work to get this new funded idea off the ground?” and the answer is always the same…(no).
      You see, just because you draw an imaginary line between “Payroll….Operating expense… and ministry/missions, doesn’t mean they never intersect one another.
      Example- Mr. and Mrs Jones are having very personal martial issues or someone is having children issues, or loss issues (really any issue would do)… Who are they going to reach out to or call at the church?, more than likely one of the pastors….so now that “salary” is a “ministry”…and this scenario is so broad- very broad through out the entire church….even your sermon you listen to on Sunday morning by a salaried position, is now a personal ministry.
      In other words, just throwing money at something does not make it a better, more improved, or a beneficial ministry or mission…It takes PEOPLE and unfortunately those who want to sit back and just direct the money from budgets to particular areas only to complain about “percentages” ….Are the least amount of help for volunteering to make ministries or missions viable.
      For the record, I am not a church paid employee…I am a volunteer who happens to own my own business, and I happen to be good with finances.
      Our church has been very blessed with being completely solvent while many churches around us have closed. We have expanded over some tough years and currently have no debt with a surplus of funds.

      Comparing the percentages to organizations like Red Cross is like comparing apples and oranges…Churches are not just bank accounts with a few paid employees ready to write a check for supplies when needed…Churches are real, working, breathing, living people willing to not just dispense money, but to talk to, visit your house, support you at a time of loss or death, pray with you, pray for you, its endless what a church can do…while Red Cross is good…I don’t think you will see them supporting you during a personal death in your family.
      Churches (people) are not perfect by any means…and yes some have done things to discredit their reasons for existence….But I would hate to imagine this world without them.

      • Perhaps they are closing not because they are spiritually dead, but because they are intellectually dead. Christianity doesn’t have the captive audience it once had, and nones are the largest growing segment of the population. It’s simply going to get harder and harder to get people to buy utter nonsense as fact.

      • I completely disagree with your spiritually dead= no finances ideology. There are plenty of church that are spiritually dead and bring in millions a year, because they do nothing but teach prosperity Gospel and lies that people want to hear just to get more bodies in the church to pay tithes and offerings. These people are being led astray and many of them will never have truly given their lives over to Christ. However, there are ministries with only run down looking buildings to their name, but they’re out there casting out demons and praying healing over the sick and happen to raise just enough money to feed the homeless. Apostle Paul didn’t have much money and lived on the generosity of others, but he was able to do more in the name of Christ than any of these big named, big budget churches.

      • I really appreciate the point Barry makes about (at least some of) what a salaried employee does IS ministry. Thats an excellent point to keep in mind when looking at percentages spent on salaries/facilities vs. programming and ministry.

      • Great point Barry. Thank you so much for your thoughts. Saying that charities like the Red Cross only spend 8% on admin and salaries is very skewed and misleading. While they did only spend about 9% on admin and fundraising efforts last year (which equates to about $300 million by the way), that only accounts for the salaries of upper-management, administrators and fundraisers. The billions they spend on programs each year that further their mission includes paying people to accomplish those programs. These figures can be excluded from the “admin” category because the Red Cross understands it takes dedicated people to accomplish purpose. To turn around and then lump all church salaries into the “admin” category is disingenuous.

  5. Thom, being bold is often the lifeblood of a blogger…you’re good at it. We readers often miss your golden nugget due to our defensiveness. Sometimes your bold comparisons and thus your analysis misses the mark. However, be bolder and continue your relentless pursuit to prophetically challenge us as leaders. A nail must be engaged with a hammer…hit us well!

  6. Most successful churches are doing at least 20% to missions(excluding outreach/evangelism events). Church isn’t the same as Red Cross or World Vision. Little bit of apple/oranges. Yes they’re not-for profit but churches have more responsibilities than WV or RC (not ripping those organizations) Most churches need some sort of building, need at least some staffing and to pay those people. If churches have buildings that serve the community via food, or programs like Upward there’s really no monetary value on that, but you can’t say its that bad. So buildings aren’t all bad but obviously they shouldn’t be everything. I think the Mega-church era has faded and will be rare and we will see more church plants and house churching movements but still with some sort of “home base” type of church setting because people don’t want to deal with their own teens/children

    • They didn’t need buildings and staff in the New Testament Church, so why do we? Could it be we are building OUR church not HIS church?

      it seems today we are not a church unless we have a building and a paid professional who does all the important ministry and runs the show.

      We have convinced ourselves without these, God cannot save the world.

      • Daughter of a king January 16, 2016 at 6:30 pm

        This is true. Small groups are quickly becoming the way The Church is headed. At least for us it is. We’re done with “fatty layers” of admin costs and big salaries pools and vacations. We are The Body. All of us. Small groups without a huge “temple” is exactly how God wants it.

      • Actually, at least some NT churches did have paid staff. See for instance 1 Cor 9:14, 1 Tim 5:17-18, 1 Peter 5:3. The reality is that a bivocational pastor cannot by definition devote as much time to ministry. That’s not to say a church can’t function that way, but the impact is significant.

        As far as buildings, do we NEED them, in the sense of them being indispensable? No. But having been a part of three young churches that had no building, I can say with experience that a building can enable ministries that are difficult at best without a dedicated and appropriately sized home. I won’t apologize for wanting a building large enough to have Sunday School for all ages.

  7. You are comparing apples and oranges. Red Cross spends 8% on overhead. Many churches if only counting admin costs probably don’t spend much more. You are counting building and staff as overhead for church, but not for non-profits. Unless a pastor only spends their time doing administrative work, then they should be counted as programming, not admin. Same with building. A church building that has a 400 sq foot office but 10,000 sq foot building should be considered 4% of building costs as admin. And even those are partially going toward programming not all admin.

    I am all for making church budgets missional documents and showing people why they spend what they do. But suggesting that most churches are 82% admin is misguided at best.

    • Adam, I agree public charities and churches are indeed different. But admin costs for charities are indeed inclusive of staff and buildings. Here’s a definition from Charity Navigator, the watchdog agency that provided the figures I included in my post:

      “Administrative Expenses: This measure reflects what percent of its total budget a charity spends on overhead, administrative staff and associated costs, and organizational meetings.”

      • I clicked through and read the article which actually suggests that churches have lower than average administrative costs when compared to non-profits. Non-profits on the whole are encouraged to keep below 15%. But churches averaged 6%. So they are being very efficient and should be commended for that, not told they are spending too much.

        But I think the problem with your analysis is that churches are no longer the central place for missions (local and international). I know my church encourages people to give directly to missions agencies and does not run any local benevolence ministries. That is because they believe that local non-profits that are cross denominational and focused are better at doing that than they are. Same with international aid. So our church intentionally does not have a large missions budget because we want people to have direct contact with those groups and does not want to simply be pass through (or inefficiently run missions or outreach)

        As I talk with others, that is more of what most churches that I know do. The size of the church matters and the denominational affiliation matters. But churches are getting out of the types of work that non-profit ministries do.

    • It is not misguided Adam. I have seen more than one survey that showed most churches spent more than 80% of their income on themselves.

  8. There is definitely truth here. Churches need to constantly evaluate how they allocate their resources. Facility and personnel costs are definitely the big ones. But churches that are dying because of these costs seem to also just generally be dying period. I have seen a church struggling that sold their property and parsonage in favor of a smaller facility and no parsonage. It kept them alive, saved them money, but they are still struggling and not growing.

    I would also add that comparing churches to public charities is faulty. The church isn’t a charity. it’s the church. it has a different purpose and mission. i understand why the comparison is drawn, but it’s not comparing 2 of the same things.

  9. I brought up public charities in this discussion because the public is accustomed to evaluating the admin costs of charities. And the public tends to question similar expenses in church spending, whether it’s an apples to apples comparison or not.

  10. Having grown up in the church (literally, as a PK in the parsonage next door), I remember seeing my dad try and manage the church budget when he had trouble with a checkbook. Nothing against the ministry, but I do know first hand (now that I am on the other side of the pulpit) that many ministers go into the ministry with very little idea what a budget consist of and how to allocate the monies collected. Because of this, there tend to be many inefficencies. This is where mega-churches have an advantage-they can usually either hire or have, as a member, someone with a strong financial background. On the flip side, I feel, due to the downturn in giving, many churches are forcing themselves to learn the hard way. I have seen a recent trend in my city of smaller churches merging or smaller churches sharing a building with another church. I feel there is hope for the smaller church, it just may take some longer than others

  11. Thankyou Thom! Our church just sent out questionnaire on some of these
    Issues. I like your ideas!
    Sharing the building is a good one!

  12. It’s scary being an hourly employee at a church and seeing the budget. We we feed the community and support local and international missions. We also give scholarships to youth camps and just had a week of VBS that was free of charge to the kids. The oven we use to cook food to feed the community just needed a part that cost several hundred dollars. I order cleaning and restroom supplies and cringe with guilt when I do. Because when I look at the budget I see the church savings dwindling.
    Thanks for the article.

  13. Rev. Ruth M. Brandon Reply August 6, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Church buildings and church personnel costs should be counted as part of program cost not separate from it – if 15% of the pastors time is with youth then 15% of costs of having a pastor should count there, if 20% is pastoral care, then 20% of costs of having a pastor should be counted as for the program “Pastoral care” – etc.

    • Ann Sullivan-Larson Reply August 7, 2013 at 6:33 am

      That’s what I was thinking too. We have paid staff at our church whose entire job function is active ministry.

      • And you probably have a majority of attendees who are passive in ministry because the professionals run the show.

  14. But the downsizing doesn’t come without a sufficient amount of whining from parishioners who have been spoiled and feel entitled to large, pristine buildings. I found that out in a large, suburban church that was used to painting their walls on a regular basis (and I’m talking touch-up jobs here) and when cuts had to be made after a pastor left and a church split ensued, you would have thought it was the end of the world not to be able to paint on a regular basis. I compared this to inner city churches that I’ve been in who weren’t as fortunate to have that kind of money to paint at will and just because. That’s just one example, but I could name others. Some parishioners don’t know how good they have it and how quickly they think it’s a given that they have certain things versus realizing that sometimes cuts become necessary. ‘Course, when it comes as a result of a split, people are already bitter about how things have gone and so they’re not real receptive to hearing anything about cutting back even though the numbers don’t lie.

  15. Good words Thom. Of course there are going to be plenty of people who will defend the status quo as that has always been the case when God is putting pressure on the church. Seems we would rather be comfortable than upset.

    Just a little story here. My wife attends a church that has weeknight house fellowships. Occasionally I go to the house meetings ( I can’t stomach the Sunday meetings because they are so boring) and this particular night they were discussing their financial plight. Apparently the pastor’s salary gobbles up two thirds of the budget and he is only paid part time.

    They all came up with their ideas as to how to solve the problem and when they had not come to any conclusion I said “perhaps you can do it the biblical way”

    I was asked what that was. Simple I said, don’t pay anyone. No one in the NT Church was paid to lead the church so do the same. Problem solved.

    Response….Oh we don’t do things that way. Interpretation…That is not the way dictated by the denomination.

    Doesn’t matter what the bible teaches, we can’t ride roughshod over the denomination. After all, they know all the answers.

  16. While I don’t disagree with you Tom, obviously Group does it homework, I do think there is some blanket statements being said that mix apples and oranges. When Red Cross cost of administration and fundraising is calculated not 100% of its staff cost is under administration or fundraising. Only the administrators cost are allocated. Salaries of field service folks and direct services folks are calculated in the services provided field. As in most cases the sole pastor salary is 45-50 % of a small church budget , so to say 80 plus percent of church budgets are for administrative cost , building and fundraising leaves out the pastors time spent on home visitation, worship leading, worship prep, counseling, mission work etc. If you really allocated the time spent doing ministry to the ministry and mission category I think you would come away with totally different numbers. As a congregation that just finished 2.2 million building addition (BTW to accommodate a Life Tree Cafe among other ministries) I know we did not waste money nor do we worship the building. Funny thing about people, while they want their money to be used for ministry and mission they want their church to look professional, up to date, staffed with professionals who are community leaders, exceptionally clean and yes, “I need a staffed nursery to put my child.” It is no longer a debate about incarnational or attractional, it is required that “all the needs are met”. BTY Tom, you have very attractive building in Colorado, very professional staff and a to die for Life Tree Cafe!

  17. Clergy personnel should be counted as a programming cost, not admin. That throws off your 82% figure. Three categories of expenses for nonprofits: Programming, management (admin), and Fundraising. Figure out time spent by each employee in each area and get a more accurate functional expense allocation. Also, check out guidestar’s “debunking the overhead myth”:

    There are bigger reasons why these churches are folding.

    • Why is that Ellen. The New Testament never had clergy personnel that they funded and paid to be a christian so why should we?

  18. Ann Sullivan-Larson Reply August 7, 2013 at 6:40 am

    There are a lot of people giving at churches who don’t give money. Time and talent have an uncalculated value. You reference volunteers as though those contributions don’t count. Sometimes members just don’t have the cash to give. And then there are members who give only from their excess, not openly and generously. If you had a budget of $100,000, you’d spend it how you needed to – and then suddenly, if somebody gave you a $1,000,000 gift, you’d reallocate most of that to direct ministry, wouldn’t you? This article sounds a lot like blaming the victim.

  19. I’ve never been much of a blog commenter, but I’ve lived both sides of this. A few years ago I was working for a small struggling church doing primarily youth, children, and education ministry. During the years I was there, the deficit grew steadily and eventually the congregation panicked and cut my position for a quick fix. Since then I have been working full time for one of the non-profits that Thom mentions. There is a difference between churches and non-profits, but it isn’t scale. Yes, large non-profits have very large budgets but decades ago when they were small non-profits with small budgets, their ratios of administrative costs to outgoing funds were roughly the same (80/20, 85/15, etc.)
    The difference in budgeting is that where successful non-profits focus on just 1 or 2 programs (disaster relief, poverty, inner city work), most churches have many more irons in the fire. Churches need to budget for programs for youth, children, outreach, worship, preaching, teaching, fellowship, adults, parents, service…you get the idea. All of this on top of building expenses and staff salaries to keep all of these programs going. It’s a whole lot easier to ‘sell’ the non-profit’s 1 program when the need is urgent, the message is clear, and the organization’s approach is proven effective. When people connect deeply with a non-profit’s work and message, they give gladly. In my experience, getting people to connect with the more abstract, multi-dimensional idea of church is much harder. My point is that this is the big challenge many churches are facing: connecting people to the Gospel and the church’s mission, because when that happens, the money follows.
    Incidentally, in my post professional church work days, I am attending a church that rents space from a separate congregation, has many staff with side jobs, and gives 30% of their budget to help the poor. As a member, I am happy to give.

    • and that’s the problem. In the earlier churches, they weren’t paying for buildings or utilities. They also weren’t paying salaries, but providing support when NEEDED. this way, EVERYONE did their part and the monies were used to actually help the people. The goal of the church is to spread the gospel, live for Christ, and give to the needy, All the other stuff is extra.

  20. Maybe look at your local YMCA as a more reasonable comparison? They are closer to what the church does in that they have youth programs, similar staffing issues, classes for all ages, a building to maintain, etc. Our local Y can offer a Family membership for $91 a month. Right now our church needs an average of $293 from each household/family to keep it’s doors open. I think Thom’s main point is right on. Churches have to do a better job in keeping costs down.

  21. How many of those other non-profits and charities offer weekly worship services, classes, on-sight ministries, meetings, etc. that require the use of their many buildings on a daily basis? I am an advocate for churches creating a “ministry based budget” that factors in the salaries, mortgage, utilities, insurance, etc. by percentages applied to the various ministries. For instance, what does it cost to conduct our three worship services on a Sunday when you factor in all of the above? What does it cost to host our pre-school ministry above and beyond what they bring in and are able to contribute? What does it cost to provide space to the 200+ boy and girl Scouts we either sponsor or host on campus. My point is, unless a local church only has one worship service a week and no ministries happening on its campus, the comparisons to other non-profits would be better served by comparing a very active church to say a private school or other on-site type agency. Just a thought.

  22. A number of the comments above capture a lot of my thoughts. I think that comparing non-profits and churches is comparing apples and oranges to a degree where it isn’t helpful at all, except to your point that this is how the public sees “charitable giving”. Rather than adapting church budgets toward the model that charitable organizations use, which is like fitting a square peg in a round hole, we need to educate people theologically on what the Church is and why it’s important. For that matter, we ourselves as ministry leaders need to know very clearly what the Church is and why it’s important, and why our local expression of it is important. If we have a passionate vision and educate into it, it will increase giving.

    The pendulum has swung very strongly into “mission focused” models of doing local ministry. I myself have begun to fall into this mission focused model lately. However after reading your article, I think I’m starting to pull back a bit. I’m an Episcopal priest with a very Anglo-Catholic theology. I believe that our local churches have forgotten a great deal about what it means to be the church, have fallen into awful models of doing the church from the age of christendom, and are inheriting unwieldy, old, degrading buildings that cost too much to keep up. That being said, I’m afraid that our new obsession with mission focused models of doing the Church and mission focused budgets forgets about something important to my theology: that is that the mission of the Church centers around and flows from it’s celebration of the Eucharist. I have no problem with spending money on beauty designed to draw our hearts and minds into communion with God and each other. There is no comparison to praying in an incredibly beautiful cathedral to praying in a rented gymnasium. To the world, this might look like a waste of their charitable giving.

    Having said all that, I’ll admit that there is a severe evil in spending all of our money on that very beauty at the expense of the poor and hungry in our neighborhood around us. I just think it isn’t an either/or situation. My point is that I think we need as leaders to have an extremely clear vision about what is significant and worth spending money on, and then share that passion with others.

  23. I agree with the other commenters who note that this post compares apples and oranges.

    In paragraph 1, it talks of non-profits that spend a certain percentage on “administration and fundraising expenses.” But when it gets to churches, that changes to “personnel, buildings, and administration.”

    Most churches I have been a part of are extremely lean organizations when it comes to personnel and administration — to the point of anorexia — with practically $0 given to fundraising.

    If this really were to compare apples to apples, it would need to include time given to preparing and leading worship, pastoral visits, Christian education, and all the other things pastors do that are not administrative as a program cost.

    This does raise the question: are church buildings overhead or are they a program cost? I think it’s a bit of both. Church buildings are a huge financial drain. However, what makes the comparison between non-profits and churches so invidious is that non-profits for the most part do not have ties to a particular space or location and can easily move to cheaper office space (or rent from a local church!). For churches, this is a much more difficult proposition.

    I’m sorry, but the comparison here is completely unfair and unhelpful.

  24. Thom,

    What is a church and what makes it different than a charitable organization? Any religious group can care for the poor. Any charitable organization can care for the poor. What makes a Christian Church Christian? The thing that makes it Christian is that the primary role of the church is not to fix the social disparagement of the world…rather it is to address sin, through the preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments.

    As such, the majority of the funding which you say goes to administrative costs…means paying the pastor. The Pastor, the one occupying the office of Holy Ministry, is the one who preaches and teaches the Word of God and Administers the sacraments rightly. In effect, the majority of the budget goes to the actual mission of the church, as it is carried out by the one whom God has called, and as he leads others.

    I thought the section on buildings being a large burden to be true, and some of the ways others groups have found to reduce those costs creative and useful. A Christian church is not the building in which you find it. I agree that the struggle on the budget are those fixed costs.

    I think though, that the issue really isn’t an unwillingness to give, for lack of trust or not, but rather that 60-70% of people live paycheck to paycheck…how can we expect people to tithe when they have trouble paying rent? Americans don’t manage money well, we have an unhealthy relationship with money and it is reflected in our churches. We need to be better stewards at home, before we can address a lack of revenue in the Church.

    Also, the church needs to acknowledge what is and what is not relevant to preaching the Gospel…and budget accordingly 0.07 per color copy comes out to be a lot of money on the year and the color doesn’t make the Gospel any more true. Running the A/C when it’s just pastor in the Church is a waste.

    I appreciated your article, but the comparison between churches and other non-profits doesn’t make sense, and I don’t think addresses the real heart of the issue. It’s not a lack of faith in the church, it is a ubiquitous inability for Americans to have a healthy relationship with money.

  25. I think comparing charities and churches is comparing apples and oranges. A charity in most cases is a legal civil entity charged with doing some form of charitable work. Not all charitable organizations have low overhead numbers. Here’s a list of 10 charities spending too much on fundraising:

    Churches, whatever the denomination are in the business of saving souls. The overhead is largely for the building. Building improvements like ramps and elevators benefit handicapped congregation members.

    I was raised Catholic and there is a great tradition of volunteerism in most congregations. Ushers, Eucharistic Ministers, Choir, Parish Center Personnel, Youth Mentors are all volunteer positions. The only paid positions are the priests and choir director. The parochial school is largely self supporting.

    Mass, Marriage Counseling, Family Counseling, Baptism, and the sacraments are all things the priests do without charging a parishioner a fee.

    On the other hand some charities charge a fee for certain services offered depending on need.

  26. Your math is impacted by the fact that nonprofits and churches tend to count their costs differently. Most churches are not as sophisticated in their accounting techinques as nonprofts are. For instance – a church will book all of the pastor’s salary as “administration cost” instead of doing like a non profit does and conduct a time audit to discover how much of the pastor’s time is spent on program, how much is on fundraising and how much is on administration and then reporting the pastor’s salary into those categories based on those findings by percent. The same thing goes for how you expense a copy machine? CHURCH = ALL ADMIN. Non profit = by percentage of how each different department uses it.

  27. this is a comparison of apples to oranges

  28. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. As I stated in the article, you could certainly argue about comparing a church’s expenses to a public charity’s expenses. Of course they’re not apples to apples. But the public tends to look at all non-profit entities in a similar way. After spending a lot of time with the unchurched over the past couple of years, I can report that many people bristle at the notion that over 50% of their church donation may go toward maintaining a large old building.

    Bottom line, if a congregation is content with a budget that spends, for example, the national average of 1% for local and national benevolence, then there may be no need to re-visit the current budget. The public will continue to evaluate our allocations with their pocketbooks.

    • The problem with your assumption is that Christians and unChristians view the church the same. Christians are the ones that give to churches. Non-Christians may give to other charities and view churches and non-profits the same. But Christians know there is a difference. Do some churches spend too much on building and staff, yes? But there is a fundamental difference between a church and a non-profit and Christians know there is.

  29. Perhaps we are looking at wrong solutions. I pastored a small church for 13 years as a bi-vocational pastor. I was paid a stipend of $700 per month and worked another job for my income. There were 30+ pastors in my state who did this. I can speak for many of us in saying that we would have done it without stipend because we knew that we were called. If your calling is sure, then you trust in God to supply your needs. While I’m not saying that all pastors should be bi-vocational, I am saying that it is time that we as pastors ask ourselves if we truly believe that we are preaching in the last days of this earth’s history. Is there an urgency in preaching the Gospel? Scripture tells us that the end times will be like the days of Noah. Did Noah worry about results or crowd appeal, or did he concentrate on preaching the message faithfully? It is time that we as pastors listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and faithfully spend time in the Word ourselves.

  30. Forty years of ministry have taught me a few things:
    1. There is a difference between “calling” and hiring someone to do ministry.
    2. There is a difference between financially supporting those called to vocational ministry and paying salaries to church employees.
    3. The line between good church administration and ministry is a false distinction.
    4. The lack of enough money to keep a church going often has nothing to do with money.
    5. When a church is thought of as a charity or a non-profit organization it is probably not a church.

    • Thanks, HHS. I have a few thoughts on this pastor’s reactions.

      1. I appreciate her offering a link to my original article so her readers can see my position in its entirety.

      2. She wrote: “In this short article the author claims that churches are closing all over the country because our financial priorities are wrong.” I did not make that claim. I wrote: “The old financial models no longer work for many churches. The shrinking tithes and offerings can’t cover the two major expenses–personnel and buildings.”

      3. I agree that personnel, buildings and janitorial services can be used to further good ministry. But that wasn’t my point with this article. My focus was how our financial allocations look to the public.

      4. Defending the status quo would make sense for a church or a denomination that is growing, financially healthy, and opening more churches than it is closing. But if that’s not the case, it may be more helpful to at least consider some different approaches to ministry priorities.

    • I read the article and it was obvious that the person who wrote is pushing the organised religion line and has little understanding or appreciation for New Testament Living. and what the scripture teaches.

      In a word her theology takes precedent over the word of God.

      • Nor do you. You can keep claiming that the NT church used no buildings and paid no pastors. And you will keep being wrong.

  31. Use of the building is something that needs to be thought out. Some use their Sunday school rooms for school classrooms. Some rent parking places by the month if property and parking are in high demand. Some own rent property. Some churches share buildings with other denominational congregations and even jewish congregations.

  32. My church is struggling financially for many of the reasons you state: expensive building needing costly repairs, over paid pastor, aging congregation wanting “status quo,” etc. Since there are few young families (2 or 3), there is no Sunday school or confirmation program, and no outreach to the community (everyone is too old and tired). I don’t see a solution or way to turn this situation around and think the church will eventually wither away.

  33. The calling for the church is a place for worship where people come to be feed spiritual food.
    Once they eat, that is hear the word, receive the word, they should take action.
    The church, as it once was has changed how it relates to people but the core purpose as not changed.
    Matthew 25:31-46 is, for my discussion, a 6-point issue.
    1. The church should establish a workable budget based on the demographics of the congregation as a basis.
    2. The outreach of the church should be the focus point.
    3. Staff must view their role as a calling so that they understand salary limits with raise adjustment as growth occurs.
    4. The allocation for God’s work should be the priority and then maintenance of the building.
    5. The outreach of individuals reaching out to others and demonstrating the true call of God through the people will open doors that have never been seen.
    6. I trust that my God will provide all we need according to his riches for which he is not nor will he ever be broke.
    7. A church is different from other organizations in that they are totally dependent on God for growth be it numbers or dollars.

    My God can not fail.
    We can not fail when we follow his plan.

  34. I have an article from Leadership Journal, the leading Pastoral journal, called Normal Church Budgeting, written in 2001 issue. After surveying thousands of churches in every size and brand, 86% on average of giving is consumed by the givers. Only 14% goes beyond the givers. This should be shocking that we have been led to believe that 86% of our giving is pooled to buy things for ourselves and still call it giving. But it’s not. It’s normal. We have a 1000 ways to justify it, and some of them are from the Bible, but they are twisted. The weekly Bible lecture from the hired pastor for American believers is probably the most costly ministry in the whole world for all time until now. It’s probably just going higher all the time. This hired Bible lecture called a sermon is said to be essential for every believer every week so they are not “forsaking the assembly”. It’s just that “forsaking the assembly” in Heb. 10:24,25 specifies “one another” communication by all, not one-way communication by one man. It’s the exact opposite. The Bible does say “preach the word, in season and out of season….”. Does preach the word equal lecture the word only by a hired man for at least 30 – 45 minutes with zero questions, zero participation by the saints, and almost zero retention for reproduction of truth? The obvious answer is no, but this is how it is done and the results are very dismal when compared to the expectations Jesus stated for “teaching”. Luke 6:40 A teacher is to “fully train” his students to be “like him”. This is full reproduction of the teacher into his students so they can do what he does. Also 2 Tim. 2 :1,2. This what Jesus did and Paul did. A preacher today can preach for 20 years. After he leaves, another has to be hired to do everything he did because there was zero “fully training” going on from lecturing the word, and because it was all a professionalized version of “teaching”. This is perpetual dependency teaching rather than reproductive teaching. Everything that is living reproduces – God’s design.

    Everyone has heard sermons on “double honor” and “those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.” No one has heard sermons on “refusing the right to pay” and “ministry free of charge” and all the apostolic reasons given why this should be done. I am completing a paper on these very passionate and strategic passages. Wow! What a complete rejection of clear scripture takes place by those who devote their whole life to the Bible. This is the foundation of why American believers must consume 86% on average of their “giving” to feel like their church life is profitable.

    A tragic side effect of this system of church is when we export this form of church to poorer countries, they must consume 99% of their giving, and the pastor is very close to starving. There is a very powerful way for believers to obey the word and send 100% of their giving beyond themselves to serve the needy and reach all nations. (NO, it is not more important for American saints to hear 500 – 1500 hired sermons than to get the good news to those who have never heard AND have no one to tell them. Someone must be sent to preach. Romans 10.) 100% giving church involves obeying and valuing Heb. 10:24,25, Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19, and all of the 58 “one another” scriptures on church life. God asked for a very intimate, mutual, every member driven gathering for His body. The best location for what God asked for is in a home or park, etc. Free! No pews or pulpit. (This does require 7 days a week church life, but this is what we were designed to do.) There are no instructions for one-way communication or platform driven singing. The opposite is what is specifically taught for us to do. Don’t believe me? Look up the Word. What do you think about this Thom?

    Quote: The greatest danger is not that we will renounce our faith, but that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. Author unknown.

    • You make a compelling point, Tim. The American church’s inward focus is one of the most worrisome reasons the church is experiencing decline.

      • Is it compelling enough to investigate further and begin to implement if tested as true?

      • Ive recently joined a church, and I I am deeply disturbed by the cost of running it…I have the report in front of me… we have a lot of fund raisers and they rent out the side hall, also revenue from other historical buildings and previous pastors house and on and on, after asking many questions and reviewing the report in depth, I am simply blown away, many of the parisherners are quite elderly, and the church is only half full, which leads me to believe these folk aren’t that poor, now I live on disability and have raised a high needs handicapped son… on 900 dollars a month, I barely get by and yet the church is asking 5 percent of my income, as it is I barely cope…my point is many people for different reasons do not have a nice fat pension, I also volunteer my time as I am able, does a church really need a colour printer at 3,700 a month… also the amount going to the poor is quite minimal, this just all seems wrong to me… how can the church sustain itself, we have very few young people, and the ones I know their, also don’t have much of an income, wheres the out reach to the poor, I will probably leave, is this what god wants…?????

  35. I believe that a big problem for many churches, and para-church ministries, is debt. Many churches followed the “American way” and took on big mortgages. With the recession, many of these churches have struggled to the point where they folded. My husband and I started a small church in an inner-city neighborhood eleven years ago. We were both bi-vocational up until two years ago, and we also own a small business from which we contribute some profits (when we have profits). Two years ago my husband went “full-time” at a salary level that is basically low-income. We have no other paid staff. Fortunately we have many volunteers, and, interestingly, many young men involved with the church. We are still very small but there is a lot going on. It has not been easy, and we get a lot of visitors who look at what we are doing and say, “that’s great,” and then go to a mega-church in the suburbs. Oh well….

  36. I’m astonished by the clearly delusional comments I’ve read. Look around your own communities. Count the number of churches. Count the number of active attendees/supporters and determine if those numbers are increasing or decreasing. Add up the amount of money required by each of those churches to support just the physical plant and administrative overhead. This is a model that doesn’t and can’t work. At the root of the problem is the sheer number of church economic units driven by the proliferation of sects and their demand for exclusivity. This is exacerbated by these same sects following a model of proliferation that defies any economic sense. Simply put, the ratio of church facilities to attendees is unsustainable. Pick a denomination and examine the number of facilities in a given radius. Each facility has a physical plant (often measured in hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars) with debt service, carrying and maintenance costs. Each facility has personnel and administrative expenses. In short, the model defies economies of scale and results in the horribly skewed ratio (some want to quibble about exactly what that is while others want to rationalize it) of buildings and personnel to ‘ministry’. The depth of the delusion is clear when we observe many arguing that buildings, personnel, and ministry are indistinguishable.

  37. as im growing in the wisdom and knowlege of our Lord jesus christ im growing out of the church life style. As the kingdom of God is with in us and the church has a price on every thing from coffee to a sermon tape which is wrong. the spoken word is to be as freely as i give un to u then freely u shall give and acts the people shared all things im a shamed to be apart of this and carnt find a church that doesnt do it , but most of all u pray fr God to raise people up fr mighty works and dont even see them when they come, thank God he is faithful and look out church Gods soilders will be witnessing out side yr doors one day the kingdom of God is not of word but power look in yr church is there any in a wheel chair or sick then u tell me Gods word is true so why are they still sitting in our church like this, pastors dont even tend to the sheep they just wont to preach im hungry fr God to set the church free

  38. #1 Leasing is not the answer, but owning is the Lord’s will. I am convinced that the Lord wants his people to own the buildings they function in. Just as the Lord would want us to own homes and properties, not being under a “Landlord”.

    #2 You can not accomplish but so much in homes, and we love small groups, they are successful, fruitful, and beneficial for body growth. They however can not provide a sustainable condition for multiple meetings, and other activities that need a constant to flourish from.

    #3 The Church is evolving forward, not returning to the 1st Century. Hence, small group meetings is not enough to disciple nations. I love the idea of organic Church life, and this will remain a central part of ministry in my life, however it is only a part, not the complete.

    #4 (Sharing space) Meeting is another man’s building places us under the burden and the rulership of that person. This takes away liberties that I would not recommend. Now, it is smart business…Business we have implemented, and a great place to start, but not to remain. We have 2 Pastors and their congregations renting space from us right now, and I would not want to be in their shoes (even though they get one heck of a deal). They have to hurry through Sunday morning in order for the next congregation that will be showing up to occupy that space shortly after.

    #5 With in a “free space”, you are very limited in what you can and can not do. There is no room for children’s Ministry, Nursery care, and you do not possess the offices and other places of gathering in order to conduct discipling classes, brick and mortar bible school, new member classes, counseling sessions etc.

    #6 The work out of any building in a city should be 100% The Mission of that House. Hence, to say 1% is going to missions, i.e. foreign and to the poor is inaccurate and is prone to the definition of the blogger. Most people I know in positions of leadership have given everything in order to give themselves 100% to the mission of the city where the Lord has sent them. Foreign missions is very important, but the local mission must be preeminent to become successful. We need to reach our city first.

    I believe the writer of the above article has good points, but he is only looking at it from one side of the coin. He really hasn’t thought this out, and what it would mean for the great efforts and outreaches that are currently being held my many allotments and congregations across America today. I believe that the answer lies in men and woman being taught proper stewardship in the Lord’s Church, hence, helping to finance the vision of the house, if indeed there is a vision worth supporting. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build.

    Contrasting, I have read articles concerning the amount of money spent strictly by consumers…the stats are staggering. Perhaps we should contrast the two.

    Pastor Shane Mason

    • Shane,

      There are hundreds of churches within a 25 mile radius of my home. Almost all of them “own” their church buildings. Most of them have active memberships of less than 150. “Owning” may be “the Lord’s will” (really?) but doing some simple math indicates that this is a failing model. A small number of individuals can’t support a multi-million dollar facility(debt service, maintenance, repairs especially on the older structures, heating/cooling, furniture etc.) and a slew of administrative and personnel costs (salaries, pensions, insurance, office supplies/equipment, vehicles, etc.).

      Your answer, “men and women being taught proper stewardship” simply ignores the underlying problem and suggests that people just aren’t giving enough. The real problem is that every little group can’t economically support a facility plus admin and personnel costs. And the smaller the group the more likely it will be that all or most of the dollars given will be sucked up by these rising fixed costs of ownership.

      Part of the problem is that every sect feels compelled to have their own church no matter the membership. In my area nearly 50 denominations are represented. But the problem doesn’t stop there. The larger sects have multiple facilities, a number with 20-30 churches within this area, many just a few miles apart. Let’s say that one of these denominations has 5000 active members. Does it really make any sense economically to have 20 churches with 20 buildings, 20 sets of maintenance and repair requirements, 20 utility bills, 20 kitchens, 20 pastors, 20 assistant pastors, 20 organists, 20 secretaries, 20 copiers, 20 vehicles, etc.?

      Until people start to recognize the insanity of maintaining this model they deserve all the criticism they get. It’s not only economically wasteful and foolhardy, it’s immoral in that it demands that large percentages of church income be siphoned off simply to meet the requirements of owning a building and staffing it. It really is a “Shocking Truth”. It’s disappointing and somewhat mind-boggling to read all of these pathetic rationalizations for maintaining the status quo.

  39. Seems there are a lot of opinions about what various congregations do with money.. the question in my humble opinion is…does that congregation GLORIFY GOD and spread the GOOD NEWS Message of JESUS…Based on what I have read and encountered in my spiritual life…GOD does NOT need money…

    • No your right but what seems to be at issue are pastors. I wasn’t around in the 40s but I think most pastors in the US were lay pastors then. Even if this was not the case Ill try to make a point. I do however remember the 50s and at that time you might pull up to a SERVICE station and 4 guys would run out. 1 would check your tires 1 would check the oil 1 would wash your windshield the last would pump the gas. It changed simple because it no longer worked economically. Having full time Pastors does not work in most congregation today and even if you can pay for them what is the cost?. I wont argue whether they do there job it would be like arguing if the guy who washed your windshield did his it doesn’t matter if you cant afford it. What I mean is what if you take that money and did what Christ asked us to do Matthew 21:31-46 (when did I see you hungry). I think we wouldn’t have to have back to church events to draw people in if we were doing what were supposed to be doing. I see pastors telling us to be good stewards of our money then ignoring what is clearly a problem in the churches own budget. No business would operate under the overhead most churches do, NONE NONE NONE I cant say it enough. I can already hear the crowd, well God operates on a different economy something spiritual like that to avoid the TRUTH. I know this sounds like throwing pastors and clergy under the bus its not. I believe Christians need to change the church and the way we do our
      business. I think Christians are the toughest crowd to have an honest conversation with and it should never be this way. What I mean is if you said something like this. I see were planing a mission trip to Nigeria do we know what the cost of the air fare is and the lodging and have we considered maybe just taking that and sending that to our missionary who is already there? Trust me Ive been there the crowd would look at you as if you were a heretic and the next thing you would be doing is sitting in the basement sharping pencils. Brothers and sisters the emperor has no clothes and its time we all took a look at what is it were supposed to be doing it ain’t this. I can clearly tell you at this point were losing ground and its not because we dont have enough programs or heard enough sermons. You and I can only do what God called us to do I get it. But the church needs to be an extension of that.

      1 John 3:17
      Proverbs 19:17
      Hebrews 13:16
      Acts 20:35

  40. The church I go to now had it’s annual budget ready to read out to the congregation after church services a recent Sunday. Most of the people just got up and went home, including my wife, she opted to go out and talk to her friends. I listened. The guy that read the thing said that there are three paid employees in the 1100 member church, that has an average attendance of around 700. Those three paid ministers, one of course is the pastor, the second is the worship leader, and I the third, I imagine is the youth pastor, of those three, they share $300,000. Who do you think makes the most of that? I would have to guess, as of course, they did not say. Who would be your guess?

  41. Love this post, Thom! I’m surprised there isn’t more mention of home churches in the comments. My wife and I have a small home church and 100% of our tithes and offerings from the people that come go to help people in need in their own sphere of influence. Want a model? There it is – thousands of small groups that help those in their sphere of influence. Check out this blog post on how tithes and offerings are just one of many ways in which a small church may be better suited to minister the Gospel to people than a large one.

  42. My church said that they needed more money to be able to evangelize and help te community. They set a 3% budget for these things, out of 750k/year. I quit the church at that point. They should grow the church and they’ll see financial results. But quite frankly, we have created this bureaucracies for worship that are just eating up what people can give to help others. And i see some churches that ar really social clubs. As a new member, i volunteered as much as i could, and for the most part, the volunteers were new members too. So these churches are just dead and rotting. That is one reason why they are so inefficient.

  43. at my church we do not even get to see the budget, there are absolutely no accountability and if you asked ,you will be labeled as a trouble maker, and you will hear it preach next sunday

  44. Read 1 Chronicles 17, 1 Chronicles 28, Isaiah 66, Malachi 1, Acts 7 and Acts 17 plus many other spots. God never wanted church buildings but wanted the body to be the temple for the Holy Spirit and this whole world is the footstool of God. He wanted the money to be used for those in need (see Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25) with widows and orphans getting first priority.
    Jesus is Lord.

  45. Jesus is the only pastor. Paul didn’t understand and neither does anybody that calls themselves reverend, pastor, rabbi, father etc. Stop lording over the flock and stealing his GLORY.
    John 10
    11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

    14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

    1 Samuel 8
    Haggai 2
    Ecclesiastes 12
    Matthew 23
    Zechariah 13
    Jeremiah 23
    Malachi 1-4
    Isaiah 2
    Job 4

    Matthew 23
    8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

    Acts 7
    47 But it was Solomon who built a house for him. 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:49
    “‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
    What kind of house will you build for me?
    says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
    50 Has not my hand made all these things?’
    51 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! 52 Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— 53 you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

    Hosea 10:1

    Israel was a spreading vine; he brought forth fruit for himself. As his fruit increased, he built more altars; as his land prospered, he adorned his sacred stones.

    Isaiah 27:9
    By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for, and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin: When he makes all the altar stones to be like limestone crushed to pieces, no Asherah poles or incense altars will be left standing.

    Isaiah 1:13

    Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

    Amos 5:
    21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.
    22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.
    Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.23 Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.

    Jeremiah 31:10
    “Hear the word of the Lord, you nations; proclaim it in distant coastlands: ‘He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over his flock like a shepherd.’

    Revelation 21:
    6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
    22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

    1 Chronicles 17
    1 After David was settled in his palace, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.”
    2 Nathan replied to David, “Whatever you have in mind, do it, for God is with you.”
    3 But that night the word of God came to Nathan, saying:
    4 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: You are not the one to build me a house to dwell in. 5 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought Israel up out of Egypt to this day. I have moved from one tent site to another, from one dwelling place to another. 6 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their leaders whom I commanded to shepherd my people, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’
    7 “Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. 8 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth. 9 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 10 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also subdue all your enemies.
    “‘I declare to you that the Lord will build a house for you: 11 When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12 He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. 14 I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever.’”

    Revelation 22:
    16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

    17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.


  46. This is happening because our Lords church was made into a business by men. Churches have watered down Gods word in order to please everyone, not lose members and be politically correct. Most of our churches will not even openly stand up against controversial sin like homesexuality and ect. They are in massive debt and preach giving money at some point in every single service. What other subjects are preached about every single service? Gods church can not be a business or this is what happens.
    I believe small home groups will be the true church in the future. We may have to go underground and they will not be monetarily profitable. Its not about jobs or money. Its about our faith and our love for our Savior.

  47. The problem is that man has made Gods church into a business. That is why most churches have watered down the word of God. They dont want to offend anyone in fear of losing members and lawsuits. That is why they will not openly stand against the sin of homosexuality among various other sins that are considered controversial. Sin is sin controversial or not. Most churches have debt or extreme debt. Thats why they always teach us about tithing and giving every single service. What else do they teach consistently every single service. I think money corupts and removes focus on what being a Christian is about.
    I like small independent home groups. They dont need buildings, they dont need to worry about offending. (If you get offended, go to another group you like more) There is no or little money envolved. It not about money, its about our faith. And so much more fellowship and meaningful relationships. The way the world is going, it wont be long until the true Christians will have to go underground.

  48. 1. People are leaving the church in droves because they no longer wish to be tied down by 2,000 year old moral standards which have no application in modern reality.
    2. The internet no longer allows religion to hide in the shadows and continue on its mission of suppression and oppression. Religion has been exposed for what it is – tribalism with control through fear.
    3. For the commenters who posted about missions and missionaries: after you take out expenses for bibles, building new church-schools abroad (at many, kids can learn and sometimes be fed but only if they accept Jesus – that’s hostage tactics against the suffering), travel, etc., what tiny percent is left for actual food, medicine, and educational material? Answer: very little.
    4. Christians love to claim how generous they are, but when you break down all the numbers, the actual amount of good they do (not considering proselytizing) is close to none. Compare that to the amount of money leaving the coffers because of lawsuits against leaders who perform atrocious acts against children, elderly and the poor (and this goes across every denomination, not just Catholics), and you find a gaping negative in what religion and churches claim as “good works”.

    • 1. There are no new moral standards. Example: Homosexuality has been around as long as man has, along with every other aberration.
      2. There is far more slaughter, control and fear from anti-religious tribalism. Example Stalin, Chairman Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, etc. There is some tribalism in Christianity. I wish there was much less.
      3. Hostage tactics? I doubt you have met a missionary. I was born an MK and know differently. You don’t understand that man’s heart is the core of what he does. Missionaries go to the core, not just the veneer.
      4. You are closer on this one but the “good works” are still amazing. You may have your own definition of “good” that is determined by your own standard. Christians do consume far too much of what they claim is “giving”.
      All lies and deceit come from the same source. That source is the devil. He leads people to deny God as well as corrupt the hearts of those who claim to follow God. If you reject God, you are on the same team as those who are suckered into corrupting what God is doing all the while claiming to be followers of God. All truth and love comes from God, just as your very existence comes from God. Perhaps you view your life as a molecular accident, thus every thing you think is a molecular accident. Can you trust that?

    • Couldn’t have said it any better!!

      Science is also a beautiful thing which was originally put in place to PROVE religion. However, it did nothing but DISPROVE these incredibly outdated ideas.

  49. I immediately stopped reading as soon as I saw that your source for the 82% of the budget going to the personnel and whatever else was a completely biased source. Of course the Evangelical Christian Credit Union will report that they have to pay out that much so that they appear to be in MORE need of MORE money. Open your eyes.

  50. I truly believe in giving to the Kingdom of God, but I don’t believe in giving to any man’s foolish decision, eg: a Pastor(man) decides to buy a fancy building to uphold his status in the Christian world(not in the kingdom of God)nd then starts to drain the congregation, that I cannot stand. Trust me, I see the hand of God bless those that have given , Our God is a debtor to no man, but we need to be careful where we sow.

  51. I am very sorry these churches are closing. One less Christian church seems like one less opportunity to follow Jesus Christ. Full disclosure, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. (Mormon is just a nickname.) I stumbled upon this article during a search for something LDS relevant.

    I was very surprised to see how much personnel costs were for these churches. That concept is completely foreign to me. Our wards (what we call congregations) function completely with volunteers. Another comment mentioned the LDS church’s policy of unpaid clergy and it works really well for us.

    We have a Bishop and he has counselors and clerks, but there are also presidents over the children, the youth, the men, and women organizations (with their own counselors and secretaries) that report to him. Within these organizations, every adult is assigned families that they check on every month to make sure they’re doing okay. I visit three women a month with a partner and two women visit me and we all report to our president who meets with the bishop in Ward Council.

    We don’t use the term volunteer, though, we’re “called”. The bishop asks us if we want a particular job (we never get to pick) and we can either accept or decline (we usually accept) and then the entire ward is asked to “sustain” that person in the job or oppose. (I’ve never seen it opposed, but I’ve heard that it does happen). Even the bishop is called.

    Any money received in tithes and offerings leaves the ward but they’re given a budget based on membership, not the money collected. (It could be more or less than what was received.) We don’t pass the plate, either. We fill out a form, put it in an envelope with our tithing, and give it to a member of the bishopric when we see them in the hall or something. We also fast once a month, skipping two meals (the equivalent of 24 hrs) and the money that we decide would have been spent on those meals is given to the church. The 12 – 14 yr old boys will go to everyone’s house that day to collect our fast offerings. This money is earmarked for helping those in need in the church, either in our ward or another one.

    Our wards are split geographically, too, based on membership. The church tries to keep the wards manageable for the leadership.

    This is the official way our church is organized, but I wonder if a similar model might work in these churches that are struggling. If the entire congregation worked together, that would relieve the burden on the minister and reduce the cost of staff. The members would be invested in the welfare of the church and their fellow congregates. I know it would likely be strange at first and a struggle to involve everyone, but in the end it could really be a positive experience.

    I hope I haven’t offended anyone. I realize this is a complex issue and I don’t really understand it. I just hate to see churches close. I know I’m of a different denomination, but however we choose to worship, we’re brothers and sisters in Christ. I really do hope this trend turns around, for everyone’s sake.

  52. Indian Christian Reply April 27, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Hello Brothers and Sister ! Greetings in name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. I am from Chennai, India.Reading through the posts above I can understand the complex nature of the behaviour of our churches these days. The Church I go to is a Assemblies of God Church. I’ve wondered why my church does not have any charity work. All that is ever said is to be a cheerful giver. Well there are instances where we are given a card on a sunday service with actual figures that you promise to give for the building fund. Its like visiting a real estate conference or something. And the new building has not even started since the last 15 years.

    And its a trend that is happening all over the country that the Pastor who worked hard to make a Church grow always hands over the church to his own son.The thing is giving to the church has been a blessing for me but it also makes me wonder what about giving to the poor. Also Christians here in India still marry within their own castes / communities (from their Hindu past). So all you Sons and daughters of God out there please pray for a greed free and caste free Church here India. May all know Him truly and not give into wolves clothed as sheep’s. Praise the Lord ! Kindly please respond with your views, I need answers…

  53. Small Church Pastor Reply May 20, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Thom, I love the theory but you cannot seriously expect the average local (sub 100 member) congregation to even come close to matching the percentages you referenced above. At present, my complete salary package is approximately $40,000 per year (that’s approximately 40% of our annual budget) and that’s the most I have ever received for pastoral ministry. I can remember several years early on in ministry when I only brought in $150/wk. plus housing (less than $15,000/yr.). I am curious what your salary is.

    Our church mortgage plus utilities and ongoing building projects takes up another $20,000 or 20%. This is for an 9 year old incomplete building, erected primarily with volunteer labor, holding a small mortgage (approx.. 65k) and still in the process of being completed…one piece at a time. We are located in rural Maine, one of the most unchurched states in the union.

    According to the numbers you gave, one would have to assume that all of a church’s administrative costs should total no more than 20% (and that’s being generous) of the annual church budget including personnel, buildings and administration expenses. There is only one way that I can see to make that happen…fire the pastor. The problem with this is that my 25 years of personal experience in ministry has taught me that churches with bi-vocational pastors tend not to grow nearly as well as those with full-time staff because of split commitments, focus and lack of energy.

    The fact is that the Biblical pattern of tithing and giving should still be preferred to any other pattern available. It makes sense and it works…even if it is not currently popular.

    My fear is that you may be unwittingly helping to propagate a resentment of local pastors to church members who will then make it harder for guys like me who simply want to help people find Jesus and not watch my kids starve in the process.

    • Thank you, Small Church Pastor. You’ve articulated well the financial pressure felt inside the church. My purpose here, by looking at other non-profit organizations, is to illuminate how the non-insiders view church financial structures. Increasingly, they expect their donations to go to work–beyond what THEY consider to be overhead and administrative costs. I’m by no means suggesting that you’re not worth your $40,000 salary. I’m merely looking forward and suggesting how some churches, in order to survive, may need to look at new ways to make dollars stretch and do the Lord’s work.

      • Small church pastor – I recommend re-examining the traditions that have been handed down to you. Did God ask for one man to lecture the Bible for 30-45 minutes every week? See Heb. 10:24,25; Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19, etc. Does “preach the word” equal lecture the word? No. Paul taught that the “right to be paid” should be refused in favor of ministry “free of charge”. 1 Cor. 9 (the whole chapter) along with 1 Thes. 2; 2 Thes. 3; 2 Cor 11 & 12; Acts 18 & 20. There are no books by Bible experts expositing these truths because they all expect to not work a job and dominate the gathering of believers in truth expression. This re-examination is very difficult. I was raised in this system as a child. I know better now. I’m passing it on to you. There is a very simple way for God’s people to do ALL the work of the ministry so that 100% of giving or tithing goes beyond their needs. In the current system it is 5 times more important for American believes to hear 500 – 2000 Bible lectures than for millions around the world to hear the good news even once. Is that good stewardship? God will be as patient with you in this journey as he has been with me. “Throw off the things that hinder and the sin that so easily entangles so you can run the race marked out for you, fixing your eyes on Jesus…”

    • Thankyou for calling Thom on the “blanket statement” he does run a corporation, not a church plant…if he drops his salary and goes starts or pastors a church?

    • Small Church Pastor,

      You’ve clearly demonstrated why this economic model simply does not work. Fixed costs including personnel, building, maintenance, office equipment/supplies, insurance, heat, etc. require a large percentage of the small budget generated by a very small congregation. In your case 60% is consumed just by your salary and building costs. My guess is that when all the other necessary expenses are included, something like 80% of your budget is consumed just to exist. That’s exactly the point Schultz is making! Non-insiders are rightfully indignant that a non-profit organization’s finances can be so skewed towards self-maintenance.
      To achieve reasonable economies of scale you can either grow the pool of donors or require larger contributions from the small membership that you have. As I’m sure you know, getting a group of 100 members to increase per person contributions from $1000/yr (your current $100k budget) to $4000 (10% assuming an avg. $40k income in your area) per yr. is less than unlikely. That leaves donor growth as the option. How many other churches in a 50 mile radius are in a similar predicament (small congregations/high fixed expenses)? Suppose that there are 20 (a total of 2000 members). Why not have 1 facility for that donor pool instead of 20? At the same rate of contribution such a facility would have a $2MM budget. Problem solved.
      The reason that will never happen is because of sectarianism. Ask yourself why you and your band of 100 feel compelled to have your own facility/pastor/overhead. It’s because you and the other 19 congregations (all Christian) embrace small differences in theology, dogma, and worship. Until you reconcile that ugly truth you’ll continue an economic model that is inexorably strangling the Church.

      • Tom- You are right in connecting the “ugly truth” of sectarian dogma and worship with the financial element. The sectarianism of God’s people goes back in history to when church leadership was dichotomized into clergy and laity. It is the professionalizing of the clergy that forces the need for a special facility. The salary and the facility cost and up keep force the consuming of 86% of the giving just to make those 2 things happen. In America you have to get 75-100 people in one room to pay for this routine. God never asked for weekly Bible lectures by one man. He asked for believers to walk “the new and living way” Hebrews 10:19-26 which culminates in every believer gathering to participate in “spurring” and “encouraging” one another – the exact opposite of one-way communication. Believers are left clueless about the hearts of their fellow believes so they split up on the tiniest of issues, most of which the Bible does not even say is an issue at all or gives reasons for there to be more than one way to see it. When Jesus is the functional head of his people, they can learn. When a hired man with a special title and salary is the functional head, there is no tolerance or process to resolve differences that connects the heart of God’s people. Everyone is running the race with tradition as their authority, not the author and finisher of the faith. When this systemic problem is repented of, God will be glorified instead of men. No pastor alive today invented this corrupt system, but if they refuse to “test everything” 1 Thes 5:21, they are bound to repeat what is not good.

      • Tim,

        I take your point regarding the “professionalizing of the clergy”. However, even if that did not change a ‘shared facility’ model would mitigate the financial dilemma these tiny churches face. Economically speaking, these small congregations simply can’t sustain the costs of independent facilities. As Thom’s article says: “the old financial models no longer work for many churches. The shrinking tithes and offerings can’t cover the two major expenses–personnel and buildings.” Unless these churches embrace a new economic model they will continue to struggle and die.

  54. Pastor CSL seems to be on the right path with the analogy of Noah. He had a commission to build an ark for the salvation of his family and a representative sampling of all animal species , no dinosaurs please. But his work was two-fold , he was also to give a witness to his contemporaries that Jehovah was not pleased with their conduct. They could have come around , like the Ninevites, but they didn’t. Too busy just living and/or complicit with the violent, immoral wicked generation, perhaps not wanting to ruffle any feathers. Noah was
    rewarded with his life and a fresh start. We are facing a similar situation today , with the imminent Armageddon of the Revelation. God’s War against the wicked, both spirit and flesh. No one needs a paycheck to share these Biblical truths with their neighbors, they just
    need the willingness and most important, some help in the form of Holy Spirit. Noah had God’s direction and help, starting with the design of the ark and it’s materials list. Jesus indicated in Matthew’s gospel account, ” You received free, give free” , no pay for sharing.
    And he was the one commissioned by his Father to appoint others to take the ”good news of Kingdom” to all 4 corners of the planet. (Matthew 28:19,20)

  55. I do not agree and using your example of Red Cross as an example: RC took in 2.97 Billion in revenue based on their tax return posted on their website. 8 percent of 2.97 billion is 24 million for administrative costs. You may have a small assembly that takes in 100000 in revenue leaving them (using the same formula} 8,000 for administrative costs. The comparison is illogical to compare the two just because they are both non-profits. The real reason for declining churches in denominal circles is due to leaving of their fundamental doctrines and principles. Many times churches seek to become “relevant” to the world around them. Allowing certain changes that have been for generations called sinful. When you fail in the message that the Bible wants you to deliver people lose faith. By inviting a change based on what the world calls relevant you will alienate the foundational base of a local church. You cannot compare the financial power of an organization with a local church.

    • I think the point is if your going to give why would you give to a organization that for what ever reason has to use most of their revenue just to survive. I dont think this is a blame thing its a wake up to a lot of people. Some think there giving to the LORD and find out that they are in many cases just giving some pastors a job. And In some cases the pastors are doing better than the people that are giving the money.

    • I’m not sure about which part of Shultz’s thesis you disagree with. The comparison between the Red Cross and a “small assembly” isn’t illogical at all. In fact, it clearly makes Thom’s point that scale matters. That “small assembly” with $100,000 of revenue is unable to compete with an 8%/92% admin/programs ratio because it lacks scale and has fixed admin/personnel/building costs that consume the bulk of it’s meager revenue. Two things are clear:
      1) This “small assembly”/low revenue scenario is an economic model that will increasingly result in failure, shuttered doors, and auctions.
      2) This organization, if it had to meet rigorous 501c(3) standards for tax exemption, would never be granted this status given that the bulk of its revenue is simply for self-perpetuation and not for programs.
      The suggestion that “the real reason for declining churches…is due to leaving of their fundamental doctrines and principals” is delusional in that it chooses to ignore the wide-spread existence of this failed economic model. You don’t specify what “fundamental doctrines and principals” are being abandoned or what changes are being made that “for generations [have been] called sinful”. However, I’d suggest that becoming relevant to the world around them is not the destructive threat being faced by churches today.

  56. Here’s a FB group open for all and I’m also trying to get “church club money” back into the Great Commission. Enjoy this link

  57. If you are a Christian you should know that tithing or making an offering is an integral part of spiritual growth. The Jews of yesteryear or today know without a doubt about their responsibility when it come to tithing or at least making a regular offering. You ask a Jew if they tithe and they will tell up front that they tithe. So why do we as Christians have to be shamed into tithing. Tithing was taught in the old testament and the new testament so why is it so hard for Christian to part with their money. The time for excuses is over, if we want our churches to survive. Churches do not run on air, They have utilities, telephone, cleaning supplies, food, and building repairs and that doesn’t include salaries. Tithing should be taught regularly from the pulpit and in Bible studies from the age of adolescent to adult. Pastors stop being hesitant about discussing the tithing. It is a must if you want your members to grow spiritually or for the church membership to grow. When you tithe you take ownership of the situation.

    • Doris, Of course the NT teaches giving. The point here is that 84% of the giving is consumed on hired experts and special buildings to benefit mostly the givers. NT giving is to go beyond the givers. There is a simple and powerful way to do all of church, everything God asked for and 100% of the giving to go beyond the givers. Your Bible says in at least 10 locations that spiritual leaders (pastors) should follow Paul’s example and teaching to minister free of charge while they work in the marketplace. I’m sorry but no hired pastor will teach you those texts. Hebrews 10:19-26 teaches how you and every other believer can “spur one another and encourage one another on to love and good works”. This “one another” dynamic is the “habit of meeting” your are “not to forsake”. But when saints line up in pews for a hired Bible lecture they completely neglect this kind of meeting. It is best done in a home with 3 or 4 families. That costs nothing!!! All the giving goes out the door. It’s in the Bible you read. Pulpits and pews are not in the Bible. Please read the scripture I gave you. Read Acts 20, 1 Cor. 9 (the whole chapter), 1 Thes. 2, 2 Thes. 3, 2 Cor 11 & 12. It will shock you.

  58. Doris, are you seriously suggesting that the real problem here is that church members don’t give enough? Let’s pump even more money into a flawed and failing economic model. Let’s expand the number of mini-congregations absurdly insistent on their own expensive houses of worship. Let’s continue to spend a huge percentage of revenue on admin, personnel, and buildings. All it takes is teaching tithing from the pulpit and training adolescents in their tithing responsibilities. Sounds like you’ve come up with a perfect method of accelerating the downward spiral and in further alienating an entire new generation from the church. Regarding the Jewish model, many temples rely on a form of assessment in which a total needs budget is apportioned among members with consideration given to individual and family circumstances.

    • Tom, it is like this I don’t want to hear any Christian on this side of the pond complaining about tithing. Here is why. There are Christians today in Iraq, Syria, and other points in the Middle East who are losing their heads just because they are a Christian. Also, remember when Solomon built the temple it was far more elaborate than any church today. Did he have people telling him that his plans were not in God’s plan. From the time of the early Jewish groups were taught that it was pleasing to God to bring their tithes to their places of worship. I hate to tell you Tom but that fact has not changed for thousands of years. It was taught in the old testament and the new. We shouldn’t try to rewrite the Bible just because you don’t want to part with your money. One of the problems about churches that are often held in homes as you don’t know if the scriptures are being taught correctly. Have your leader been trained and have a BA in Bible History or further training. Since the Bible has been written in several languages such Greek and Arabic, does your pastor know the meaningful differences and explain them in laymen’s terms. Most pastors that are properly prepared to serve and lead a church has been trained at a Bible college or University and that can get expensive and remember school loans have to be repaid. So you have to pay your pastor so he repay his loans so the bill collector won’t repo his home or car. That would be very awkward wouldn’t . Having churches in homes really is not very realistic. It should be only for a short period of time. .

      • You seem to be suggesting that tithing is the answer here and that it is supported by both the Old and New Testaments. While I fully understand the basis for tithing in the Old Testament I don’t see how it is supported or prescribed for Christians in the New Testament.
        You also cite the extravagance of Solomon’s temple as precedent for elaborate modern churches. Forget for a moment that there is substantial archeaological evidence placing the very existence of the elaborate Solomon’s temple in doubt. But exactly how does extravagant spending in the past become a model for solving the financial collapses of present day churches?
        Your point that churches being “held in homes” don’t have any quality control over whether the “scriptures are being taught correctly” is interesting. With thousands of denominations, who will determine what the correct teaching should be?
        Finally, mandating your tithing ‘solution’ would simply pump more revenue into a broken financial model while further alienating members and potential members. It’s a guaranteed way to accelerate the downward spiral of church membership!

      • Doris McDermott June 16, 2015 at 4:55 pm

        Tom, I really am not going to argue the point too much more. I just feel a bit uneasy when it comes to churches totally relying on homes. It is ok for short term situations, but it is not something that is good over the long run because it can create problems with the neighborhood and neighbors. I like being a good neighbor. Also, I prefer a pastor that is well qualified and trained. That requires college or university training which costs money and has to be repaid. And just so you know I am on a leadership team for my church and we are very frugal with our monies. Tithing is not about the church plant or the salary of the pastor. It is about being obedient to the scriptures and God has a reason and a plan for a deep spiritual growth on the part of the member. And I don’t try to argue with God, as it is a losing game.

      • I’m not sure what point is being argued here. I haven’t suggested that churches rely on being in homes. Tim has made the scriptural based argument for that. Your primary point seems to be that tithing is required if we are “being obedient to the scriptures”, however, you haven’t cited any New Testament scripture that prescribes tithing as a requirement.
        As I’ve said, requiring tithing would certainly increase revenue. However, even if you were able to secure compliance with this non-Biblically mandated approach (a very tall order, indeed) this does nothing to address the failed economic model and the fact that far too many churches alocate the bulk of their revenue to maintaining their physical plant and personnel. Your church may be “frugal” and able to keep admin/personnel/building costs under 30-35% of revenue, but the reality is that an increasingly large number of churches are failing and, to Thom’s point, shuttering their doors

      • Doris McDermott June 17, 2015 at 9:37 pm

        Scriptures of the New Testament, Matthew 5:21, Matthew 6:21, Matthew 23:23, Romans 2:29, Romans 3:21-31, Romans 8:4, and Romans 12:1. Also, read the article by Cortni Marrazzo, Is tithing for the New Testament Believer at You need to be taught correctly.

      • I think the verses cited confirm that there is NO New Testament commandment to tithe. Citing Cortni Marrazzo (not exactly a Biblical scholar), who also fails to show any prescription for tithing, certainly doesn’t help your cause. Frankly, the reader comments to her article are far more instructive and coherent.
        Tithing had a long and complex history in Jewish law and was never the simplistic 10% of income popularized by failing churches in the 19th century. To be consistent, your obsession with observance of this specific aspect of Jewish law should be complemented by your observance of all aspects of Jewish law. Or does the New Testament tell you to only observe this one?
        I still haven’t heard how your tithing solution addresses the underlying problems which are the actual topics of Thom’s “The Shocking Truth of Church Budgets”: the 82% of church budgets spent on admin/personnel/building, the failed church economic model, and the rapidly increasing rate of failure and shuttering.

  59. I was Trustee Chair of a rural Southeastern Region Methodist church in recent years, and I have given considerable thought to the question of why such a high percentage of our overall budget must go to pay the senior pastor’s salary and benefits. I learned quite by accident in 2011 of a change in financial policy at our church that required $15,000 yearly increase in cash benefit to our senior pastor for his cash housing allowance starting back in 2001. This fixed outlay has continued for the past 14 years (approx.), in addition to added salary for senior pastor ranging from $53,000 then, to $65,600 now. This change took place in 2001 when the new pastor of that year refused to live in our 1400 sq.ft. parsonage which he said needed upgrading. The reason I was so offended about this change (that occurred with only a handful of people knowing about it) was that in 2003 the pastor who initiated this change asked me to serve as Pastor Parish Relations Committee Chair, and this $15,000 additional outlay to him was not in the briefing to me or to any of that year’s committee members when staff raises were discussed. Hence the committee awarded a 5% raise without knowing of his landfall increase only two years earlier. It was 2011 when I learned that our parsonage had been sold with a fixed cash expense of $15,000/year replacing the obligation of providing housing to our senior minister.

    I have done extensive reading about Internal Revenue Code 107 giving federal and state income tax-free housing to qualifying ministers. IRC 107 was started in 1921 and was tax code with the specific intent of increasing the number of churches in America. This tax-free housing allowance was created as a benefit to qualifying ministers, and it wasn’t suppose to cost individual churches anything extra–not one penny. My question then is why have churches circumvented the intent of this tax code with the notion of paying csh housing allowances? Why not keep the housing allowances within the salaries of ministers and not additions to the salary. I know for a fact that this change in fixed cost (if it remains as now) is going to cost my church an extra $1,000,000 by approx. 2067 (2001 + 66 yrs. approx.). Why then in 2001 didn’t we just use approx. $150,000 and do a great big upgrade to our parsonage to satisfy that minister. Or, why didn’t we just build a shining new parsonage for that minister? Either option would have saved thousands of dollars for the church in the long haul? I know the reason why?– we as members and all leaders were not informed for open and honest discussion. Since 2001 and up to 2014, we have now spent $195,000 extra outlay with this new fixed expense exclusively divided between to benefiting ministers, with their added salary in the $65,000 + range with full health insurance and retirement benefits and other benefit payments.

    I have never felt the need to question what I have given to the church over the years until I discovered this happening behind my back in 2011. Don’t take me wrong; I love my church and the worship experience and my fellow Christians, but this should not have happened the way it did. The monies we collect in church should be used in a thrifty way to honor God’s purpose. It should never be spent frivolously on two people already receiving very respectable salaries.

    Since I have learned this, I have diversified my giving. Designated giving has become much more appealing and there are many other good charities out there as well. Also, in the last 3-4 years our church has expended all our emergency operations reserves to cover big budget deficits. I hope the trend does not continue as I have already seen three other area Methodist Churches experience extreme budget strains, with one closing.

    • Cecil,

      I hear you! Also served as chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee years ago and began questioning the expenditures for fixed costs like salaries, allowances, maintenance, secretarial staff, in addition to debt service, heating/cooling, kitchens, etc. This was a relatively new church on a multi-acre tract of land that decided on a $1MM addition. With a few hundred active members and even fewer providing significant support, this congregation was constantly being hit for building funds, giving pledges, and more! With a half dozen United Methodist Churches in the area I often wondered why this relatively small group of members thought that supporting 6 churches with all the fixed overhead required made any sense at all. Fixed expenses had to be close to 75-80% of revenue!
      Can this financial model continue? Only for so long. Thom’s article points out that the inevitable result will be dwindling membership and shuttered churches.

  60. Hello.
    Some intersting points here all told and yes in general the face of the Church is changing; in fact it has been evolving and changing down the centuries any way. The reference to the New Testament Church model is a bit mute really. After the Acts of the Apostles we get A.D. 70 and things go belly up with Vespasian and Titus and the destruction of the temple and the dispersion of the church. The comparrison is rather weak as the history of the Church as an organisation is still being written; in fact we are continuing to write the book of Acts today and we will be for the next 2 million years untill Christ returns. But on a practical note; When people refer to “Resorces” they are not crayons, paper, books and other Brick a Brac they are “People”. You can supply bric a brac resourses for volunteers and have very little value as a result, but in the hands of a “Gifted” person you can see a wonderful result. The point is this; it is the individuals who are the resources they are the ones who are gifted trained and talented not a box of bits and pieces. There is a rather idiotic notion that we will pay for the box of stuff and please make sure to hand your reciept in; and not fund the true resource which is the person gifted in a particular role. My wife ran a Kids Club and was paid the proper union rate as a qualified educator which she should be. She is very talented. Otherwise she could be at a school earning $350 per day elsewhere. It is a bit like asking us to donate $350 per week to the church. How many people are doing that?? If the church community wants this area of ministry then fund it, if not please be quiet. We minister in music and have been for years. We will only minister in music for our Sunday service as a contribution all other music work is purely commercial and paid for in accordance with Musicians Union Rates. We also have bills to pay, petrol to run the van, Sound gear to maintain, instruments to have serviced and so on. Many folk love our music and commend us; I ask if they would like to assist with generous funding to contribute to the work. The usual response eeven from incredibly wealthy folk is an “Embarassed Giggle” they nearly wet their pants and can’t get away quick enough. Once again the true resources here are my wife and I. We are the one’s doing the music. we are the ones who have invested thousands of dollars in Mandolins, Guitars, Lutes, Bouzoukis and Sound Gear. I might add that in church budgets the ministers funding is pretty good in Australia. We were recently fielded to take up aposition; Free house, pretty much all bills paid and a whacking nice packet with no bills to pay not a bad earner. I have noticed that most Priests I know have at least 2 or 3 investment house/units. They seem to be going on overses trips a lot. So some are doing OK.
    For sure the old historical buildings are a drain but my observation is that here in Australia many are closing down and will continue to do so. The financial models need to change to a more realistic business model.
    We have a church north of Sydney called Coast Life Church; they have like a mini shopping centre with state of art Cafe with paid trained employees, the Cafe is leased. A Gym run on the same basis and child minding a medical centre and a Worship Centre. The place is jumping 24/7. This is the future of church real estate as far as I am concerned. You just cannot have a steepled building sucking the life and funds out of you to be used once or twice a week. This is absurd. Eventually some cashed up non believer will buy it and transform it into million dollar “Make over” and re sell it for 2 million. If he can do that what is wrong with short sighted church councils???
    The law of scripture is “Out pouring and In filling” we were never called to be “Free Bees”
    there is a need for a real re think as this Bog Intro points out. Airy Fairy High Minded Religeous waffle will not fix problems. Things are changing!!!

  61. Hello. I was thinking further about church budgets and since I excelled in all subjects but Maths it gives me an advantage. I am pretty bread and butter about things mathmatical which frees me from the “Airy Fairy” mind set.
    Consider this: (Based on the Australian Model) An Anglican Priest would be on a $65,000 per annum stipend with other benefits such as house, car, dicretionary fund, superannuation and so on. The actual value would be $80,000 per annum.
    Now say you have 80 paying “Bums on Seats” that would equal $1000 each member per annum. This would mean each participant would need to pay $1000 a year just to cover the “Stipend”. This is about $200 per week.
    Now add to this extra funding for the “Building Maintainence and sundries” say $100 per week!!!

    This by the way is pretty realistic with aging buildings. This gives $5200 per annum. So in all a paying church member would need to cough up about $300 per week to realistically cover the “Basic” funding needs. This would in no way even provide for the so called charity investments.

    Now if you are odd enough to believe in “Tithing” which was done for the OT priesthood then we would assume that you are pulling in $3000 per week!!! Of which the tithe would be $300 per week. On top of this we would pay 30% in Tax; so 40% of your weekly “Lolly” has flown away.

    How many people are clawing $3000 per week???

    So you see; Tithing is not going to cut it and sacrificial giving is a bit of a waffle. It may make you feel good but you need to get a second and God willing a third job. Good Luck!!

    It is quite obvious that another financial model is required. I believe that this was the point of orginal statement on this Bog!!!

    In NZ after the Canterbury earthquakes they spent millons on fixing church steeples????

    Why not fund talented, qualified young men and women who have done their theological degrees to really get into the “Work”. Once again people are of no value.

    I have stated often that the three factors of the church are;
    1. Ritual
    2. Riches
    3.Real Estate
    Without these the church cease to exist!!
    Think about it.

    There is an answer though. Firstly sack your tired worn out church councils they have had years of showing how ineffective they are. Some of them are on various civic council boards and they love doing this. Get new blood and new ideas.

    I referred to the Coast Life Church Model in a previous submission; we need to aproach things with a business model involved in the Village Community where we create jobs, income, skills upgrading and so on that will set a standard of business excellence which will involve us in the Village Community. This will fund the Worshipping Community.

    Not all will agree with this but; When that charming rural church I have nmy eye on comes up for sale I will put in an offer. This will make a charming rural retreat or Country Cafe with lots of
    charming laid back vibe. Keep in mind that those gave sacrifically to support the building will not get a cent of their investment back despite their prayers and suppliactions. The denominational headquaters will know what every businessman allready knows; Cash is King and the top dollar will rule the day not the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    • When you divide $1000 by 12= $83.30. I don’t know where you are coming up with the numbers. A bit overstated. All the people complaining about the amount of money required to maintain a church, should look at all the money that they expend on their residence. I am sure it is equal or greater than the church. I will make a suggestion go live in a tent before you expect the church to live in one. People if you expect me to believe that you are a Bible believing Christian you had better come up with excuses for not giving to the church. Most of you are just trying to shock people and argue. Don’t try your arguments on the Heavenly Father as you might have all your income removed from your bank accounts. He has ways of getting your attention.

      • Doris
        I dont think people are saying that they wont be giving, they just are choosing to give where they feel it does the best. If you give to your local church that’s fine. I just choose to give where it isn’t all going to the staff and overhead, just seems like its a no brainier. Christ called us to be our brothers keeper I’m not to concerned about the staff God will take care of them. Traditionally Pastors were lay Pastors that supplemented there income and of coarse Paul’s stand was to not even give the appearance that he was selling the gospel. And as far as tents go I dont know if you have ever been on a mission trip if so you know that 90% of the World lives in poverty while were sitting in nice plush seats listing to pastors give us messages and feeling good about ourselves because we put money in the collection plate.

      • Hello. Yes Doris I realise that my maths are a bit wrong; only by an extra zero or naught depending on what country you hail from!!!

        As I said my maths is my weak subject it is more like $30 per week multipkied by 52 weeks.

        Any way what is a zero or naught between friends?? A mere “Giggle” a glass of Red and a jolly old belly laugh!! What Ho!!

        The point is; This rather dour Jesus your represent and a Naughty God breaking the Law and pinching my millions in my investment account is a bit “Unstable” I fancy!!

        We are dealing here with the practicalities of Church budgets; not wether or not we think that the Bible is a bunch of fairy tales or God’s word. By the way I happen to have studied an graduated in Ministry and Theology and minister in word and Music. Over the years I have contributed a great deal. Judgmental nonsense has nothing to do with Church Budgets.

        In one state in Australia in one denomination alone over 40 little country church buildings will be sold this year. Gab a life style bargain.
        Beliefs are irrelivant really. This is what is happening especially in the Rural sector.

        We live in the Mountains and in our area church buildings have been sold for lifestyle rural house modifications. Our local Anglican church has about 10 people attending; so my point made in my previous blog is valid. It balance with the opening story about this blog topic. All the other denominations were once present but are now keen lifestyle alternative real estate.
        In jolly old England many old church buildings are now dedicated to the great Allah. Where the christian faith has failed miserably the greatness and beauty of Islam is God’s new buddy!!
        Worth thinking about.

        If you watch the Pommy show “Bargain Hunt” (our favourite show) you will notice that many of the charming Auction Rooms are abandoned old Churches. Has God pronounced “Iccabod”????
        Who knows!!

        The issue is that the Church is not Bricks and Mortar. I could quote the Greek here but there are enough boring old lecturer types putting us to sleep as it is.

        A good read is “Re pitching the tent” all about new use of building space and concepts. This would interest you Doris as you have an affinity with the tent industry.

        My point is that especially in the rural sector vastly new ideas are required. Our beliefs are irrellevant as the closure and change is with us now and has been for some time and will continue into the future. It can be quite painful to change but change will happen whatever your opinion.
        God bless us all and keep us in His peace.

  62. While Kevin mistakenly added a zero to his numbers, his point is right on the mark. Assuming $80,000 for the pastor including benefits and $40,000 for building/maintenance this hypothetical church has expenses of $120,000. The real question is one of scale. How many contributing members are required to not only meet this sustaining expense requirement but also generate an 80/20 ratio of program expense to fixed overhead instead of the 18/82 ratio cited in Thom’s article?

    Achieving the 80/20 ratio (using Kevin’s example) would require $600,000 in total revenue or $7500 per contributing member. Even in Doris’ delusional world of required tithing that would necessitate average $75,000 incomes.

    So there’s the dilemma and and the proof that this is simply not a sustainable economic model. Unless you believe, as many have suggested, that there’s nothing wrong with spending nearly all of church revenue on just keeping the doors open. To me, that approach should be grounds for revocation of 501c(3) status.

  63. Hello. Thank you Tom for your comment. I have given what is a “Fair and Reasonable” example of what is happening in Australia. This example is pretty “spot on” for the Rural Sectors. In the good old days church buildings were built so that they were within “Walking” distance or “Horse and Buggy” distance to service the little rural villages. This model was true for the village life in “Jolly old England” and also in New Zealand as well. It is worth noting that many of the ols Anglican churches in Australia occupy some of the most prestgious real estate immaginable; on hills with water or river views and so on. My wife and and I have often stayed in the Bishop’s quaters at one such place and one can look out from the dining table and watch the “common folk” stroll along the river banks for their morning walks. I am not downing this or critising at all; just pointing out a reality. These vast swaths of Church land and resience attatched cost a “Kings Ransom” to maintain.
    In the rural sector the populus now have Toyota Landcruisers and can drive easily a half hour to the nearest “Main” church building of their desired religious expression. We do this each sunday. On our trip to church their are 5 church buildings we pass that are now either Museums or life style home conversions. The point has been made that country folk happily “Drive” to country main centres for their Beer, Wine, groceries, shopping, clothing, eating out at the local hotels and petrol but have an issue about travelling to the central church building!!!! They seem to think that 4 to 6 people can justify a minister driving all over the country side performing services just to keep their “Building” going.
    The “Building” has never been the church; the people are the church and always will be.
    The 4 to 6 people coud quite easily drive to the main centre building in their new $80,000 Toyota Land cruisers or 4×4 BMW,s. The mainly retired pensioners have no hope of funding the extensive upkeeps on the many quaint and pretty buildings of yester year.
    People just cannot let go of the past and accept that the “Face” of the church is changing.
    I have encourage our people to build a “Multipurpose” centre next to our steepled building on our vast river front park. IT could be elevated to take in sweeping views of river and beauty and be “leased” as a cutting edge convention centre for wedding packages and so on. This could be done on the most prime real estate ever in this rural city; BUT no. You will move heaven and earth before the church council will awake from sleeping. Quite a shame really.
    I have voiced my opinion numerous times that when the aging parishioners all die off a wealthy business man will buy the place and do just that.
    If business can do it and make it profitable then why can we not do the same. The money has to come from somewhere.
    Recently the Bishop’s palace was sold in Sydney; this has all been a hangover from the “Global Finacial Crisis”, it is still biting!! They showed the palace on TV. My God how could just one man live in a 40 room multi million dollar splendor.
    There are some real issues that parishioners need to face. I mentioned a particular church community that developed a mini shopping centre; This puts the worship centre in the heart of the community surrounded by various services that lease the churches assets and fund the on going work of the church.
    Worth considering.

    • For the churches in Australia maybe another church of another denomination could take over. Here is my concern, a church is dedicated to the work of the Lord. Most churches have a dedication service usually when a new church is built. Churches were built in good faith that the effort, sacrifice, would be enduring and respected. To turn a church into something other than a church is disgusting. Today, a small church nearby where I lived was sold to the Elks Club where there is drinking in what was a church, and another was bought by an electric company and it also houses a gun store. Again, disgusting. I call that area little Russia. That is what they do to the churches in Russia. To the people in Australia what you need is a revival of the faithful, a calling together of different denominations with a common purpose of reawakening the churched and those outside the church. You need to find a dynamic spiritual leader with that vision, to look beyond the obvious problems and call on God to show his mighty power and this issue and turn it around..

      • I have to ask what the basis may be for the belief that the physical church building somehow becomes a special place for all time after its dedication ceremony. So the only alternative to turning “a church into something other than a church” would be to either have it sit vacant or be acquired by another denomination? Acquisition by another denomination only exacerbates the problem of excess, unaffordable church real estate. Vacancy only perpetuates maintenance costs and ties up the market value of the real estate. Re-purposing, rather than “disgusting”, is probably the best approach to unused church property.
        Good luck with “calling together of different denominations”. The church’s history of rabid sectarianism even extending to religious warfare is well-documented. It’s most interesting that despite a refusal to acknowledge that there is a real problem (remember, the only thing needed is for church members to start tithing) your solution is to have God solve the problem with “his mighty power”.

      • The Anglican Denomination has a ceremony for the commissioning of a building and a ceremony for the “Decomissioning” of a building just as they do for the commissioning of a new priest and the retiring or leaving of an existing priest who is moving to a new parish. My wife was involved as a “Vicar’s Warden” when our friend was installed into a new parish. These ceremonies are quite elaborate and meaningful. They mark posts along the journey and I find that they enable people to move along with the journey of the church community.

  64. Hello. Thank you Doris for your reply. It would appear to me that you hold an opinion that a “Building” equals the church. This view is difficult to sustain. The church or “Ecclessia” as the NT language descibes us is a word drawn from old Greek civic politics. The “Free” men of the village met in the “Agora” or market square to discuss issues concerning their community.
    Our Democratic system sprang from these early beginnings.
    The christian community embrassed this meaning describing men free in christ comming together in assemblage for the faith.
    We do not really see the rise of the “Cult” of the building untill the 3rd Centry and under the Roman church model. A lot to do with relgious power and so on. The sale of indulgences and such were associated with all this building and so on. An interesting study indeed.
    I am not suggesting that we should not have a building to house our religious activities; I am saying that we need to re-purpose our buildings in a way that is relevant to the changing face of the christian communities and is sustainable. We must be able to sustain and afford these things. I do not know what the “Elk Club” is, this must be an American thing; do they hunt Elk???
    But then again Doris how much did they sell the building for and if it meant that much to you and your friends why did you not buy it off your denomination yourselves???
    We see and hear a lot of this in rural Australia but let’s face it someone bought the place and they are not that overly expensive to buy just expensive to maintain on a congregation of 4 to 6 people. As I said before if you put in $50.000 to fix the old building your denominational HQ would sell it and keep the cash for other maitainence projects and your cash would be gone in a puff of smoke!! We had a methodist church building sell nearby for $60.000.
    Spend another $40.000 and bingo you have a lifestyle home.
    This was all doable from working class people, not millionares.
    I bet no-one in your church would put forward a big maitainence wad as they knew this would be the last they would see of it.
    The rural communities are changing is Australia and I guess in America. This does not mean that the church is “Backslidden”; I would like to make that point very strongly. The church has never been so good in all its history. We are not burning people at the stake anymore!!!
    Communities are changing and moving to more regional centres for education, work and so so on. Changing mechanisation and such like satelitte guided farm machienery no longer needs 20 or so workers any more.
    We have families on farms down the road from our place; as the kids grow up they are off to University and then to careers in the cities or large rural communities. The rural sector churches face the slip stream of this.
    I think my wife is about the youngest in our Anglin church 54 yo. We are involved in music and we do this at our church and privately.
    This would be a good topic for THOM to explore. I repeat again that these changes have nothing to do with the church becoming morally and spiritually bankkrupt!!
    We have “Hillsong” in Sydney and they are growing and going great guns. I performed at Hillsong about 37 years ago when they met in a school hall. They had 150 members then.
    In that time they have grown in an amazing way. They now have plant in NY.
    But in the mean time the old historical denominations have done little to change and be relevant in a changing world. They have certainly lost the young and up coming. This is another reason that their old building are a great real estate catch.
    Recently our church cut the funding for our “Kids Klub” the kids were upset as my wife is just fantastic at this stuff. Here is another oppourtunity canned by this boring old mind set. A great loss of investment in the young. This was one of the points in this discussion about church budgets. I have a saying; “Fix the Steeple – Bugger the people” A bit sad but there you are.

  65. This article reminds me of a comment my late father made. That when he was a child ministers worked regular full-time jobs like everyone else and preached on Sunday. This way all the tithes go to the church instead of paying their salaries. Maybe religious organizations should stop trying to be like corporations. This way they will be better able to afford to stay open and serve their community.

  66. Thom, I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. But after reading many of the comments I think religious people are over-looking the obvious. Other than being charitable organizations as Christ taught, which is not happening in many churches. Pastors who are multi-millionaires and caught in sex scandals. Catholic priests who are pedophiles and were protected. But even more than any of that, people are learning the real history of the Bible, archeologists and science are disproving the validity of the bible stories. I grew up in church and believe in God and the teachings of Jesus, but not religion because of the abuses I saw, as many others are also aware and leaving religion.

    • Hello. Cathy you reply is fair enough; in Australia there is being held the Royal Commissions into Church and institutional sanctioned child sex abuse and so on. Weekly we are hearing the most damnable revelations concerning the Salvation Army, Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Baptists, Anglican’s, Pentecostals and Charismatics and the good old Romish Catholic Church. There is NOT one church that has not been involved in systematic abuse. The revelations out of this Commission beggar the senses. One Catholic priest of note was reported to say; “Well we have been around for two thousand years and when you are dead and forgotten we will still be here!” This was in reference to an abused victim seeking justice.
      I know a few ministers/priests and all of them are either on overseas trips or are planning a trip in the next 12 months. In all common sense I would suggest that if people have that amount of spare cash then they do not really need my financial support. Imagine going to Centre Link here in Australia and asking for employment benefits and could they start in a months time as we will be holidaying in the South of France!
      The conditions of financial aid are generally very specific, I wonder why clergy seem to be or imagine themselves to be immune.
      AS I have said before the crumbling buildings need to be assessed sensibly and either re-purposed so that their use is more than once or twice a week and apply a more common sense commercial model to them. A group of people can not just allow a “Black Hole” of a building to suck finances into it. The old building may need to be demolished or sold and a more viable building sought that reflects the changing needs of a contemporary faith community.
      You are quite right though Kathy, none of this has any thing whatsoever to do with our individual pilgrimage in Jesus.

      • Doris McDermott August 6, 2015 at 1:14 pm

        Tithing not only benefits the church financially, but as a Christian it helps build spiritual character, faith, and a firm foundation for your spiritual growth. Tithing is a win-win concept folks. Churches do not run on air, it takes money to serve the congregation, community, and world missions. YOU DO NOT GROW SPIRITUALLY POINTING FINGERS AND COMPLAINING.

  67. Doris is exactly right! It does take “money to serve the congregation, community, and world missions”. However, the whole point of Thom’s “The Shocking Truth of Church Budgets” is that church’s allocate the bulk of their income to their building, maintenance, and personnel costs. If the church was fully accountable for proving non-profit and non-taxable status and having it’s income and expenses subject to public scrutiny, like other 501(c)3 organizations, who would contribute with such a disproportionate share of income going to simple self-perpetuation? Doris’ ‘tithing’ solution would simply exacerbate this situation while conning church members into believing that there is some biblical mandate for tithing.

    • Hello. The only spiritual mandate for Tithing was applicable in OT Times. This was from 2 sources only: The increase from animal husbandry and the increase from the granary yield. The proceeds were gathered during the agricultural cycles of the middle eastern weather patterns. For example; If you gained 200 bags of wheat from harvest you would deduct the 40 bags you planted. this would equal a tithe on 160 bags only which would equal 16 bags of grain. This would go to the Temple grainery for the feeding of the Priest Caste. Hence bring your tithe into the store house that there may be grain…. and so on.
      The 16 bags of wheat would also be used by the farmers family as provision on their journey to Jerusalem to celebrate the 3 main religious feasts in Israel, all of which coincide with the rural climatic cycle of the middle eastern weather and crop yields.
      Folk should do some homework on Tithing and get their facts sorted out.
      The temple was destroyed in AD 70. Hebrews tells us that the priesthood was changed and the sacrifices ceased. Tithing and animal sacrifices go hand in hand. If one finds this difficult to understand then consult a professor of OT history and find out.
      As Tom above has stated; the funds do not go to help the congregation at all. They go into building maitainence and large salaries and whopping benefits for professional ministers.
      The whole point of the blog was to discuss the “Truth” about where the money goes so now we all know.
      Churches are people and the people work and so on. If I want to grow spiritually (What ever that may mean??) then I pay for external studies and do my course work at my desk at home.
      The Brethren church had no paid ministers and they seem to be very knowledgeable on biblical matters.
      No one is complaining as such BUT consider the fact that the Churches tried to shut up the abused. See what I have written about the Commission into church abuse in Australia. Also Doris do some background on church abuse in Ireland, in particular the Magdelane Launderies and tell me that we should shut up and not complain.
      That attitude encourages evil and keeping things in the dark. In my view there is only one source that loves the darkness. Think about it!!!

  68. The situation is actually worse than presented here. Money from churches often goes to *programs,* not directly to *people.* Those programs have overhead expenses, too! So the final amount of money that actually goes directly to needy people is very small.

  69. easy fix. ministers should work an outside job 3-4 days a week. the church should pay them for 2 days a week. this reduces the load on the church. i wont attend a church that the minister gets a full pay check every week from the church. most congregations ive attended needed a minister 2-3 days a week for 4 hrs a day — so at most 12 hrs a week as minister 30 -40 hrs a week as an outside worker = full pay for minister.
    church buildings are usually only used 2-3 days a week for 2-3 hours at a time.
    one church building could house 2-3 denominations — church A sunday 8am- 11am , church B 11am-2pm, church C 2pm-5pm.
    wednesday they could have a cooperative meeting from 7pm-9pm. ladies and gents associations each only use 1 room each for 1-3 hrs once a week.

  70. This is a horrible comparison. Most charities have administrative staff that sit behind a desk and do not go into the field to do the actual work. A church’s “admin” costs go to pastors and other workers who are actively doing ministry in their communities. The author needs to understand what the role of a church is. To compare it to non-profits that have a totally different focus is ridiculous. The 82 percent that goes to “admin” and “buildings” is not there for a desk job. It goes towards the actual welfare of the congregation and to the spread of the gospel.

    • Cory I am so proud of you. You are one of the few Christians that get it when it comes to church and their budgets. I am on a leadership team it is always a struggle as most newer or younger Christians do not understand the importance of some effort of tithing. When I was growing up it was taught to the older children, teens, and young adults. The young Christians today don’t have that background and are easily misled. It is not just the money, but the spiritual growth that goes with tithing.

      • Doris,
        It’s truly amazing that both you and Cory can’t even acknowledge that there’s a problem. Like it or not, churches really are closing and sinking deeper into financial ruin because their economic model simply isn’t sustainable. Your ‘solution’ is for members to give more (tithe) so that the same failed economic model will have more funds to squander on expensive facilities and escalating admin costs. You must realize that universal tithing is NOT going to happen. Demanding that members tithe is a foolproof method of accelerating the exodus from the church. Refusing to accept that Christians have a moral responsibilty to spend their revenue on their mission and NOT primarily on sustaining their buildings and admin ‘needs’ further alienates those members who want most of their contributions to go to outreach and helping others.

    • Cory,
      Actually, many charities have staff that work BOTH in and out of the field. While some admin costs go to pastors, a very large percentage of revenue goes to simply sustain the physical plant (mortgage, maintenance and repairs, heating/cooling, equipment, etc.). The fact is that the 82% does NOT go “towards the actual welfare of the congregation and to the spread of the gospel”. Especially in small membership churches a disproportionate amount of revenue goes to just having that aging building and paying a pastor to conduct services for the congregation. That’s an increasingly unsustainable model that is responsible for all of those church closings Thom is talking about.

      • Tom,
        You have put the matter quite clearly in a “Nutshell” but it seems that there are still those who just do not “get it”.
        This idea that “Tithing” brings spiritual growth is quite fantastic thinking. I have given a brief historical outline about tithing in a previous reply.
        A historical understanding of tithing would show us that it was revived in the 3rd Century as a power base for building monumental
        church buildings.
        People like common farmers had there cattle seized from them buy the vile greedy church of the day by the “Tithing Proctor” to bring about wealth and power the princes of the church.
        The church “abused” its parishioners.
        Go look at English church history and the great mansions belonging to Bishops and so on. None of this money helped the lower class of parishioner at all.
        There was an entrenched “Class system” and you were not to climb above that. As I have said previously the subject is of great interest and is worth studying as a piece of social/religious history.
        The whole idea is that by and large this finance model is as Thom and others have clearly shown is one that is quite unsustainable.
        To be fair about things there are more gifts and ministries in the “Body of Christ” than the Pastor; but it appears that for some reason over church history they are the only ones to be made wealthy from collective church funds????
        Yes here in Australia we have church buildings being closed and re rationalised by the month.
        Notice that I said “Church Buildings” because really the “Church” is the ecclesia meaning people.

      • Kevin,

        Well said. Tithing has a long and tawdry history from the 3rd century to present day based on twisted reading of the old and new testaments.

  71. I think that money is one of Satan’s tools that he uses to create greed and I just don’t think it’s rite that the churches demand money to teach the word of christ. If your a priest be a priest because u want to spread the word we don’t need fancy churches and fancy clothes to learn and have a good sunday service i would rather my church be nature out in a park, mountain, anywhere then go to a church that exists because of money which is one of Satan’s tools. Just my opinion

    • Marco – Your opinion is mostly right. Money is also one of God’s tools. That is why God wants us to be good stewards of it. Every dime we have is from Him. The “love of money” is where the devil comes in. You are correct that believers should not consume their “giving” to buy goodies to benefit themselves. Every NT offering was to go beyond the givers. Paul taught in many places that spiritual leaders should “work with their hands” so as not to be a “burden” on God’s people and avoid coveting. Of course no hired leader today will admit it says this. Acts 20; 1 Cor. 9 (the whole chapter), 2 Thes. 3; 2 Cor 11; 2 Cor 12 and many more. They live in a bubble. I used to be in that bubble but not any more.

  72. Comparing a relief organization like Red Cross which receives nearly $3 billion annually to local churches which may have annual donations of less than $100K is very disingenuous. The CEO of Red Cross was paid $560,000 in 2014. The majority of churches have annual budgets less than half this amount. Church pastors are usually full time ministers making less than the average household income yet are called upon at any time of the day or night when their help is needed. After all sickness and tragedies don’t have a 9 to 5 schedule. In most churches In the small church I attend we have an annual coat drive for providing children warm coats in the winter. We have an annual food drive to provide food for needy children at spring break who rely on school meals to survive and we have an annual school supplies drive to provide an elemantary school with much needed supplies for the school year. None of this is included in the church budget nor is it accounted to the church as giving. It is what we do over and above our donations to support our pastor and his family and to provide resources fo our Sunday services.

    • There is nothing disingenuous about comparing non-profits. What’s disingenuous is citing total revenue or principal salaries as if they are meaningful in and of themselves. These values are only meaningful in context. So what % of Red Cross’s $3 Billion of revenue is allocated to programs? What % of a church’s “less than $100k” is allocated to programs?
      The point of the article is that churches have an unacceptable ratio of income to overhead expense and that a large % of revenue is allocated to building, maintenance, and administration costs.
      It’s wonderful that your church has food, coat and school supplies drives. Seems to me that these types of things are what you should be doing. But if you’re a small congregation spending 80% of revenue on your building, maintenance, and administration, you would rank very low in the ratings assigned to non-profits by sites such as charitynavigator. Organizations that exist primarily to perpetuate themselves and spend the bulk of their donor’s funds on maintaining themselves and their infrastructure should lose their non-profit status.
      The article you dispute points out that this is an economic model that simply does not work and has lead to the closure of numerous churches throughout the country.
      Regarding the plight of the church pastor, it seems as if they are comparable to police and firefighters in being ‘on call’ 24/7 and yet below average in income. At least they don’t put their lives on the line when responding outside of the “9 to 5 schedule”.

  73. Churches have to pay for buildings, utilities, and staff first. This eats up most of the budget in most cases. Whatever is left over can to go programs, charities, etc.

    Donations to churches go to run the church. They are the charity.

    • Chris, When donations go to the church the givers are making themselves the charity!!! That is not charity. Giving always goes beyond the giver. I used to be just like you, unable recognize I was pooling not giving – pooling my giving to buy goodies to benefit mostly me and other wealthy believers who have heard 500 -1500 professionally prepared Bible lectures and the think it’s still more important that we hear 500 more before those who have never heard get to hear even one gospel presentation. I know better now. Please, consider that there is a way to do ALL of church that God asked for with 100% of giving going beyond the givers. The current “normal” church will consume 84% according to Leadership Journals own article on normal church budgeting. I have the chart. I changed my ways.

      • If you don’t want to pay costs to maintain the church, then you have to take the dumpster to the landfill,, bring candles to replace the expense for electricity, stand guard if you don’t want to pay for security. Also, you need to provide a porta potty, Everybody needs to bring a broom to clean the church. By the time you do all that you are too tired to reach out to the community. Get real folks it takes money to do the simplest duties of church maintenance. Get to tithing and grow spiritually 10 fold.

      • Doris,
        Your comment is exactly the point! It does take a lot of money–a very large percentage of total revenue– for a small congregation to maintain infrastructure and administration. But the answer isn’t to increase revenue from this small donor base. The answer involves embracing a new economic model that allows 80+ per cent of revenue to go outside of church infrastructure which is roughly the standard for a bona fide charitable, 501c(3) organization. There are many churches in my area with under 200 members (even less active members) that have large buildings requiring a great deal of maintenance with full-time pastors and admin expenses. Their membership is skewed towards an older demographic and they are dying a slow death by stubbornly insisting on maintaining a large, old facility and a full admin staff. These are the churches that are forced to allocate over 80% of their donations to maintenance of this chosen life/worship unacceptable ratio for any organization that calls itself a charitable non-profit. Charitynavigator and other ratings organizations would rate these “no stars”!
        Finding a way to increase the revenue stream (promoting tithing always seems to be your answer) simply masks an untenable and wasteful economic model. Whether the new model is home based or involves shared use of buildings by multiple sects, or trades expensive, older buildings for cheap, warehouse-like utility buildings, it’s clear that the current model is increasingly resulting in the closure of churches and needs to change.

      • You should be embarrassed with your lack of faith. If God can part the waters for the Israel, heal the man, who dip himself in a pool of water. and bring Noah safely from the flood. Totally do not underestimate the scope and power of God.

      • I believe it’s your logic that’s embarrassingly flawed. You can have faith that an omnipotent God will step in to save these churches from closing, however, the reality is that God has not chosen to do so and the churches have continued to close for decades! Surely you recognize that there is a difference between what god ‘can’ do and what god actually does.

      • What flawed thinking. God has not chosen to close these churches. So called Christians have closed their hearts and minds when it comes to their spiritual purpose of tithing. I am on a leadership team and I have worked in a bookkeeping capacity and I can tell you that the ones that are diligent in tithing have the most success as a Christian. You must be very stingy with your money Personally, Tom no matter what I say you will argue. Such a sad situation.

  74. Doris Please read the book of Acts and the Epistles and see where believers met with no concern about dumpsters, security, port-a-potties, etc. Your home has all of these! It’s free! It will only allow enough people in the door to practice 58 “one another” commands for meeting. Every church building is dominated by one-way communication – the opposite of “one another” teaching, encouraging, admonishing, spurring, serving, loving, etc. When you out grow your home, use two homes. Now your fellowship is in the community and you don’t have to “reach out to the community” because you are already there. You invite them to your home or bring fellowship to their home – their turf.

    • doris what do you say about people like myself who live on 900 dollars a month, if I give 10 percent, I don’t eat for a week, is that what god wants I think not, while you are free to think what you will, point fingers at tom and his so called stinginess, doesn’t even make sense… I would rather help a homeless person, my pastor makes 90,000 dollars a year, sorry my gut tells me that is just plain wrong….. theres a lot of us folk out there as in my case I raised a handicapped son for 26 years so had to forfit a very lucrative career… I find tom`s original post both makes total sense…. 200.00 dollars to run a church. that insanity..period…. also I volunteer my time.. and am not well enough to work…um ??????? something is wrong with this picture….

      • I am truly sorry that you are having such a hard time and God does know your circumstances. The reality is that most pastors accumulate a lot of debt going to a Christian college and most pastors are expected to have at least a Masters in Divinity. Remember all that debt has to be repaid. My granddaughter is going to a Christian college and it costs $44K a year and she is not studying for the ministry, so I know first hand the costs. Also, most pastors have a family and the family needs a roof over their heads. The average pastor wears many hats. He just doesn’t do the preaching on Sunday. The is teaching, counselling, and training church leaders. Also, often they are property managers as with our church we are not the only church group that uses our facilities, plus there are two pre schools. My pastor earns every penny. God understood the needs and abilities of the early church and God knows the needs of the churches and pastors of today. God and your church family is blessed by even small amount that you give. Kaz you could be the prayer warrior for your church. The gift of prayer is just as important as any money you give. Church members should give what monies they can, give of their time, and give time in prayer. The people I am speaking to have the means to give but they don’t. They just sit in the pew often times.

      • Doris,

        Your comment states the obvious, albeit with considerable embellishment. No one needs to spend $40k+ annually for a college education. Undergraduate degrees from other than Christian colleges are just fine for those planning on seeking the M.Div. Financial aid is often provided for those demonstrating financial need.
        Yes, pastors may wear many hats. Yes, college education in the US may result in debt. Yes, pastors need to be able to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families. Other than those arguing for a strictly volunteer, member run church no one has suggested that professional staff doesn’t need to be paid by a church membership. However, once again, you’ve missed the entire point of Thom’s article. The compensation required for pastors and other staff plus various admin expenses plus building and maintenance costs often account for 80+% of the church’s revenue–especially in small membership churches. That’s a problem not only because it’s almost exactly the opposite of the reasonable ratio of admin to program spending held as a standard by non-profit organizations, but also because it continues to result in the widespread closure of churches. Your solution has been to simply increase revenue by mandating tithing which totally ignores the facts that 1)the failed econ omic model in use by churches is simply perpetuated; 2)low income members can’t comply; 3)ideological insistence on tithing will further diminish membership; and 4)the smallest churches could not survive even with full tithing compliance.
        Regarding your contention that the “gift of prayer is just as important as any money you give”, a church following that mantra would only accelerate its financial collapse.

      • Tom. you need prayer, correction, and guidance. You are very angry.

      • Sadly, you’ve once again chosen not to address any of the issues or defend your point of view. I’m waiting for the “correction and guidance”. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, however, you’ve convincingly demonstrated that you don’t even understand that there’s a problem. That doesn’t make me angry…just sad…and concerned about the number of ideologues with church memberships who are contributing to the demise of churches across the country.

  75. I agree with Tim and those who point us to God’s word for answers. Jesus demonstrated His model for Church. Jesus had 12 disciples He personally lived with, discipled them and equipped them on the streets and released them to continue His model. In His day people met in homes and experienced deep interpersonal relationships as they were discipled, equipped and released to duplicate His model. Jesus charged us to disciple all Nations and said that the purpose of ministers is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.

    What I have observed is that the further away from Jesus’ simple yet effective model we get, the more weights Gods people have to balance that He never intended us to carry. Salaries, budgets, buildings, programs, the burdens of many being carried by few… I don’t believe it was ever His intention.

    I loved that people started talking about denominations sharing buildings. It is a start. I mean most churches use their sanctuaries less then 15 hours a week. If you didn’t already read, Jesus is coming back for one Church. So maybe God is using this financial hardship to strip down the walls that divide His people. 🙂

    I know this article was about money. Biblically, money was used to take care of the widows, orphans and those in the their community in need. We have religated this responsibility to the government for the most part. We would have to experience a major paradigm shift in the Church to restore this purpose.

    Anyway, these are just some thoughts to ponder.

  76. Really trying to follow your thought process here.
    First, you cited an exposition of the problem and a suggested solution with evidence of a lack of faith. You then suggested that an omnipotent god that had intervened miraculously in the past should not be underestimated since he can change things. I can only conclude that you believe we should have faith that god will take care of the huge problem of church closings.
    Second, you state that “God has not chosen to close these churches” when no one has suggested that he had. I said that god has not chosen “to save these churches”. That’s just a simple fact.
    Finally, rather than deal with any of the issues, you attack the members of these failing churches as “so-called Christians”and attribute their lack of tithing to “closing their hearts and minds to their spiritual purpose of tithing”. Huh?
    Apparently, you not only know the mind of God, but your “leadership team” membership and “bookkeeping”experience enable you to determine who has the “most success as a Christian”.
    Your only solution to the problem cited in Thom’s article is ‘more money’. Apparently, with enough of it any church can turn around it’s infrastructure/program spending ratio from 80/20 to 20/80; any church can afford their old, collapsing, multi-million dollar buildings; any church can afford multiple pastors and admin staff, A/C in summer and heat in winter, modern office equipment and kitchens, etc.; it’s all very possible…just tithe!

  77. There’s a Back to the Future aspect to this. You talk about tight budgets forcing staff to be replaced with volunteers. Actually, a cause of tight budgets has been the increased use of paid staff. Forty years ago, a typical church of 200-300 would have one pastor and a part-time secretary. Now there may be part-time or even full-time staff for Christian Education director, music director, youth pastor, treasurer, and perhaps more. Some of this is probably because of a smaller number of stay-at-home women who in a prior generation gave a lot of their time to volunteer at church. Some is due to greater expectations, particularly for music–there’s a lot more work to preparing a band than playing hymns on the organ.

  78. While I agree in general with almost everything in the article and there is never any doubt that churches need to do a better job of spending dollars on the right things, nevertheless, the comparison is not completely fair.

    Unlike charities whose “product” is their charity, churches “product”are things like teaching, discipleship, care, counsel, support. How do you quantify the six years of sitting under teaching that buttressed your soul for the moment you lose your wife in a tragic car accident? How do you quantify, the counsel you got from a pastor or elder in a church that kept you from making disastrous decisions that would have ended all hope of relationship with a teenage son or daughter, or destroyed the family fortune, or torpedoed a marriage? How do you quantify the good will created in the community when your building is used as the Red Cross emergency shelter when a tornado or flood devastates the local community? There are thousands of these type of gains, that tithes and offerings “paid” for in support of personnel and property.

    The TRUTH about church budgets is more complicated than this article indicates.

    • Chosenrebel, You must be a pastor, deacon, church secretary, or Sunday school teacher. . You show that you have a complete and correct understanding of what a church stands for and the far reaching impact a dedicated church group has in it’s community and the world. . You are one of the few that do.

    • Chosenrebel Which of the caring and teaching you mentioned requires a hired professional and should assume believers who work in the marketplace are inept to comfort, counsel, teach, admonish, provoke, or any of the 58 “one another” instructions in the NT? Do not all believers have a direct connection to the head of the church? Can they not all “hear his voice” (the chief shepherd)? Are they not all “royal priests” who “proclaim the glories of him who called them from darkness to light”? I can’t find anywhere in the NT where “teaching” equals lecturing in strict one way communication with perpetual dependency results every week till we die. The NT calls for full reproductive teaching. Luke 6:40; 2 Tim. 2:1,2 What % of churches will ever be used for shelters? .5% once every 10 years? There are hundreds of millions of people in the world who have never heard the gospel, mostly because American believers consume 84% of their “giving” to buy goodies that benefit mostly themselves. This is a severe case of self-centeredness and ethnocentrism driven by the clergy and acquiesced to by the laity for passivity status. The use of God’s financial resources is severely corrupted, by comparison to anything in the scriptures.

      • Tim, In the time of Christ , when someone was ill and they needed the care of the surgeon, the surgeon was very ill trained. As today the surgeons are far better trained and use the most up to date procedures, would you want them to go back to then, I think not!!! The Christians of yesteryear had only a brief knowledge of the teachings of Christ. and that of the Bible as many never had any formal education. Only the select few were tutored. With the Biblical Colleges and Seminaries of today our clergy are better trained. I prefer the clergy of today and we must remember that we cannot go back to yesteryear. Our small church supports two missionaries to Mexico. We are small but quite effective. Just stop arguing with God and get to tithing and stop complaining about. it. Between you and Tom don’ t you have something better to do.

      • Doris – How does “surgery” fit in with this? Did you just ignore the scripture I gave? You can prefer whatever you want to prefer. I am a tither and I don’t use it to buy stuff that benefits mostly myself. My giving goes beyond me. You consume most of your “giving”. That’s pooling not giving. Your small church could support 10 missionaries if you practice Hebrews 10:24,25 instead of hiring a Bible expert to lecture you every Sunday. The silence of every “layman” is not “effective” to increase “love and good works”. You are the one arguing with “surgery”. Go to the Bible. You probably have one, or five. Let your giving be giving beyond yourself, not primarily to yourself. That is the nature of giving, unless you allow the traditions of men to redefine it to buying a weekly Bible lecture and other misc. professionalized “services”.

      • Actually Tim, I agree to a degree with almost all of what you said here. I think your mistake is that you make it an either/or rather than a both/and. Both models have strengths and weaknesses. My point is simply that it is stacking the deck to not acknowledge that God has used both and continues to use both. By the way, our particular church building has been used in the way talked about (as a shelter) two times in the last 6 months and three times in the last 8 years.

        Also, the previous church I planted gave away 23 tons of food a year, started a 1,800 square foot health clinic that has now served over 6,000 patients most of whom had no health insurance, 900 square foot clothing pantry that put warm clothing on children and appropriate clothing for job interviews on their parents, negotiated with the county office working with the homeless and near homeless and had them office out of our building for free and provided free Biblical counseling to all comers. You can read about the church in John Fuder and Noel Castellanos book, A HEART FOR COMMUNITY: NEW MODELS FOR URBAN AND SUBURBAN MINISTRY.

        All these ministries empowered unpaid servants of Christ and yet these ministries would not have happened without 1) a facility and 2) pastoral and elder leadership with the vision and dream of empowering people to serve the underserved.

    • I can’t agree with your premise. There are thousands of 501c3’s that provide counseling services, operate food banks, provide crisis intervention sercices, etc. Your contention that church provided services are somehow ‘priceless’ and that a value can’t really be placed on them is dismissive and disingenuous. Your series of “How do you quantify…” questions could just as easily be asked of services provided by highly ranked non-profits (see Charity Navigator) that manage to spend 90+% of revenue on programs and less than 10% on admin, fundraising, and buildings. The truth about church budgets is that far too many spend 80+% of revenue on admin and buildings and only 20% or less on programs. That shamefully skewed ratio is even worse for thousands of small churches that spend a disproportionate amount of their meager revenues simply to keep their large, expensive, older buildings and provide the full complement of professional and admin staff. Thom’s article simply points out that the problem of church closings is real and getting worse. The failed economic model embraced by these churches as well as their insistence on their sectarian ‘right of property and pastor’ is at the root of the problem. You and others who are responsible for maintaining the status quo now want to argue that the comparison with thousands of non-profits that do good work and manage to spend most of their income on non-admin/building costs is somehow not fair. Engaging in apologetics for the church’s shameful allocation of revenue is to deny the problem while the wave of church closings accelerates.

      • Tim, you appear to be an angry, narrow, flame-thrower. Let me ask you this: Who won you to Christ? Who nurtured your early faith? Who translated the Bible you hold in your hands? Where did those who led you to faith find their own faith nurtured? Was it in an “institutional”, “traditional”, “bricks and mortar”, “staff and building” church or a house church? Why are you so quick to pan the whole of what has sustained the Church (with all of its flaws) for the better part of 1800 years?

        Listen, I value the house-church movement. I think it has great potential. I don’t think it is a miracle cure for all the “evils” you see in the modern church but it does have great potential to help revitalize whole body mobilization in the priesthood of the believer. But there is no reason for your shock and awe, “burn it all down” approach. Have a good day.

      • Chosen,

        You apparently responded to my post but seem to be addressing Tim’s issues–not the one’s in my response.


      • Tom, you’re right. I think your article made some good points. I think Tim has taken it a bit off the rails.

      • Chosenrebel – God has not given us a model, or options to choose from. He has given one set of very specific instructions that apply to every culture and situation on earth. There are no “weaknesses” in his plan when it is obeyed. It is only man, and his flesh orientation that seeks to nuance and claim God’s single plan is not adequate. Man can tweak it better for our day and our location. Not so. God has used many things that men have concocted that nullify his specific revelation, but he only rewards obedience, doing what he asked for. There should be no authority given to “what God has used.” Remember what happened to Moses when he struck the rock instead of speaking? Who was it that said “Has God said…?” The current relativizing of God’s word is a fast track to mediocre faith.

        Since you have been raised in the professionalized version of leadership, you may not know Paul’s passionate instruction and example on ministry “free of charge”, not being a “burden” on God’s people, and working with his hands, etc. There are at least 6 texts on this. These are nullified with two twisted texts that push “double honor” equals full pay check + never work in the marketplace. Also allegedly “Jesus commanded” those who lecture the Bible to believers in perpetual dependency should get their living from the gospel. I am just finishing a book exposing the grossly corrupted exposition of all these texts by none other than those who devote their lives to the Bible. This will be a free book. I am a simple business man and can see how they blow off rules of interpretation they claim they follow.

        “These ministries would not have happened…” demonstrates you do not know the power of God when it flows through every believer walking the ‘new and living way” Hebrews 10:19-25. It culminates in the increase of “love and good works” through believers “provoking one another” and “encouraging one another”. Yet every hired expert believes lecturing the Bible will increase love and good works. I’m in favor of pastors and elders, but not the kind where one gift gets a honorific title to dominate the expression of truth and where elders are authority figures to elevate their opinions and visions over others as if God funnels his vision only through the them. I think you know how this functions and how the Bible is twisted for this end – “elders who rule…”, etc.

        Your church and very few like it have been able to accomplish serving and giving more than the average. Yet in your church, what percent of the $ collected goes to ministry completely beyond the needs of those who give the $? The average according to my article I have from Leadership Journal is 16%. My favorite quote is “The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith, but that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.” Author unknown. I know you desire to increase “love and good works”. You must be willing to examine the systemic assumptions that suppress it, all the while claiming to increase it.

        I have only thrown scripture and Biblical rebuke. Where is my “shock and awe”? Where is my “burn it all down”? Is not the “way that leads to life” “narrow”? I’m only talking repent and obey the Word. I was brought to Christ at home with my parents. I was bored and confused by endless Bible lectures. God has been long suffering for 1800 years. It’s time to recognize the old bubble of corruption for what it is. The household of faith must continue to test and re-examine it’s words and actions. Acts 17:11; 1 Thes 5:21; Rom. 12:2. The Reformation did not fix everything. Most pastors will not dialogue for one second on the things you have with me. Thank you for your perseverance.

  79. Dr. Ramon de Torres Reply February 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Not only financially, the church has failed in the task it gave itself in ministering to the world. The model we have is Israel. The children of Israel failed time and time again to do’s will. God is demonstrating through this failure only he is Sovereign.

  80. Instead of closing, why not the megachurches which collected so much money pass some over to help them going ? By only maintaining the profit-making ones and closing the losing money ones, it makes Christianity looks like a business.

    • I disagree, with caveats. In general, it’s much healthier for a church to be responsible for itself. Typically, a church doesn’t close its doors until it’s down to a few dozen people, and the budget is symptomatic of the fact that there aren’t enough resources to do much of anything–insufficient people to staff (or be students) for Sunday School, often no parishioners who can lead the music (so they have to be hired, meaning an additional expense), few people to be reaching out to the community. A church that has dwindled in size almost by definition is one that is not drawing new members in. Is that really the kind of congregation that should be drawing away resources from other churches? Sometimes death is necessary to have new life, painful though I realize that is.

      I do think there’s a place for supporting a new church that’s starting, and possibly for a church that’s in a transition with a planned endpoint for self-sufficiency. And my church is currently supporting another congregation that is planted in an inner-city location, whose congregation is mostly people in extreme poverty who can’t possibly maintain a church themselves. The challenge is to make a situation like that a partnership rather than dependency. But that’s a totally different situation from a formerly vibrant church that has dwindled to the point that it can no longer pay the bills.

      • In other words, you are also in the opinion that Christianity is a business but not a true religion to help people. Maybe this also explain why there are several Abrahamic religions and also so many different sects of each.
        If the churches are not out to make profit for personal interests, I don’t see why the megachurches that makes mega profits don’t help the smaller ones.

      • I am absolutely not of the opinion that Christianity is a business. But I am very aware, as you seem not to be, of the unhealthy dynamics that tend to develop when there is long-term dependency of one person or group on another. I suggest you read “When Helping Hurts,” by Steve Corbett & Larry Fikkert, a book that has had a resounding impact on Christian ministries both domestic and international. And you didn’t even consider the non-monetary issues involved in dwindling congregations, which no amount of money will solve.

        As a practical matter, the “mega profits,” which are probably far smaller than you imagine, would disappear quickly if apportioned among all the struggling churches in the country, not to mention the world; as a spiritual matter, your continued references to them have a tinge of envy. And I do know many megachurches that provide help, through programs and partnerships rather than writing checks, to smaller churches.

      • You should read up more about other religions in order to understand the truth behind Christianity. If you know that Judaism was copied from a part of Hinduism and Jesus story from Buddha, you will understand the origin, practice and objectives of Christianity. Including why others sects like Mormonism or Islam existed, why all the killings, including Joseph Smiths.

  81. Preachers dictate that all money is taken in as tithes and limit the number of fundraisers churches can sponsor because they want to control the fundsn causes a lot of churches to decline.

    • I’m sorry to see that you’re so cynical. I wonder what has led to that.

      At churches I’ve been at, the pastors had no control over the money; there was a separate board responsible for the finances, and the pastor didn’t even know how much anyone gave. (At churches with a congregational form of government, even the pastor’s salary was subject to the vote of the congregation.) And at all of them, fundraisers were not used for the normal operations of the church–they might be used for a special project like a missions trip, but the leadership (which at times included me) strongly felt that we shouldn’t be asking other people to fund our operations. If the congregation was voting with their wallets, then the church leadership needed to respond to that, not to be dependent on outsiders.

  82. This is exactly how churches today are operating, including the one I attend. We have things backwards from what scripture teaches. Churches have conformed tof the world and it’s time for us to come back to our first love and stop being self-seeking.


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