The Cost of Doing Business

The Cost of Doing Business September 15, 2022

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What does a church receive in offerings?   Depending on the type of church, annual giving seems to be somewhere between $800 and $1,400 a year per person.[1]  Most of the church members don’t tithe or give anything, but that is the average. For simplicity, let’s just say that is $1000 per year per person. So, if you took one of the Facebook groups I am involved with (around 1,100 people) and formed a church, the income for that organization would be about $1.1 million a year based on the above average.

Where does the money go?  On average, churches spend about 47% of the money they receive to compensate their staff.[2]  This includes salaries and other reimbursements like housing allowances and mileage reimbursement. My main concern with staff is just a nagging little thought: are they spending most of their time doing ministry or running the organization? I know they all have good hearts and work hard, but what percentage of that work would go away if there was no organization? Twenty-two percent of church income goes to property and maintenance, and 10% helps keep programs running. Of the remaining budget, 5 to 10% goes to mission type expenses.[3]

So, for our fictitious Facebook church, do these 1,100 people really need to spend $1.1 Million to pay staff, maintain a building, and sustain the programs that make it viable? I suppose that is a question all 1,100 people must answer for themselves. With access to information and online connection abilities, do we really need to do this, or do it in the same manner we have always done it?

What if the headquarters were much smaller and simply a place to equip people with supplies to do ministry and counsel and train others? In the Christian faith, the apostle Paul seemed to think that a pastor’s job is to equip the people to do ministry. If that ministry is really done outside the walls of the church building, couldn’t the space for the leaders be a much smaller office space? Here, occasional equipping type classes and essential meeting and administrative work could be done on a less than full time basis.

For that matter, what if a much smaller staff recorded classes and online resources that supported people’s learning from their remote locations? Even a church of 1,100 usually doesn’t need to house people for education all at the same time. Training is usually for an hour on Sunday and a couple of hours on another night. If the staff didn’t need to maintain a large building, it would require much less of everything, including building maintenance, staff, bookkeepers, less programming, etc.

What if the organization just rented a meeting place occasionally—like once a quarter—for gatherings, fellowship, and to celebrate? As I mentioned in a previous chapter, with advances in technology and the way people get information, the need for gathering together to receive the sermon, experience worship, and get coffee could most definitely be done from a distance. Occasionally, they could rent a space and come together; but it doesn’t have to be a continual thing. If a couple rents the church to get married, they could just as easily rent another facility.

What if people maximized the places where they are already going to fellowship and get together with other people, instead of coming to a specific location at a specific time to be supervised in their gathering? I don’t have anything against large group gatherings, but it seems to make fellowship tougher for some people, not easier. I recently went to a somewhat larger church, but noticed I mainly interacted with the same 8 to 10 people every week. I was glad to see them, but I wondered why I couldn’t meet them somewhere else. As an introvert, I would much rather meet someone at a coffee shop where we can talk, than go to a huge building that has a coffee shop in it along with 1,100 other people. It’s hard enough to talk to 2 or 3 people at once, let alone much more than that.

What if half of the budget were spent on social justice issues? What could we do with $550,000 a year in our little Facebook church? I couldn’t find a consistent number on total giving for all church organizations. But let’s just say it’s $50 Billion. If that is true, what could we do nationwide with $25 Billion going directly to the poor and homeless and other charity groups? When the church was small and met in homes, it was particularly good at sharing its resources. Now, most of that money goes to running the organization.

I know some churches do better than others in some of these areas. For example, some churches give more to outside charities. Some have less staff than average, but some also have more.

The small churches that I pastored had relatively small budgets. Attendance was usually under one hundred, so the budget was less than $100,000. Most of the congregation was closer to that original mindset of the early church and was good at sharing resources, and they were usually pretty thrifty and expected me to follow suit. But that didn’t mean we didn’t follow the same models, financially. About half of the “income” still went to the staff (me), and about 20% to the cost of maintaining the building. We spent a fair amount of time maintaining the organization and holding meetings. We still practiced for the “show,” and worked toward that happening each week.

Even if we don’t cut the staff in half and move into a much smaller building, I wish we could examine it in a realistic way. I don’t think future generations will be able to comprehend why we spent so much money to gather in one place when we could do it in a better, more efficient way. I don’t think they will understand why we need such a big organization when we can do much of it ourselves.

Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity

Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multipl

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