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Researchers explored more than 1,100 church budgets - and here's what they discovered

Posted October 9

A new study analyzing the budgets of 1,159 U.S. churches with at least 2,000 weekly attendees found that nearly half of their funds goes toward paying staff.

In fact, the study found that 49 percent of these church budgets pay for staffing costs such as salaries and benefits, with church size serving as the strongest indicator of the size of pastoral salaries.

Additionally, information about staff salaries generally isn't available to everyone in a congregation, as 81 percent of U.S. churches said this information is mostly limited to church boards, subcommittees or senior staff.

And those are just a few of the notable findings in the report.

The study, titled, "12 Salary Trends Every Church Leader Should Know: 2016 Large Church Salary Study," was conducted by the Leadership Network and the Vanderbloemen Search Group.

Those behind the research say it "offers the most comprehensive, cross-denominational financial perspective ever amassed about large churches in North America," according to a press release announcing the effort.

Another related measure is the staff-to-congregant ratio, which was found to be 76 to 1 for U.S. churches.

"For every 76 people in worship, there is the equivalent of one full-time staff person, counting everyone from custodians to pastors (but excluding school staff, if a church sponsors a school)," reads the study's executive summary.

In addition to the salary findings, researchers found that only 52 percent of U.S. churches with weekly attendance of at least 2,000 spent 10 percent or more of their church budgets doing ministry beyond their congregations.

Perhaps not surprising is the fact that, among these churches, 98 percent of income comes from congregant giving; the rest is amassed from investments, facility rentals or other cash-raising endeavors.

Overall, the study explored 1,251 churches across the globe, though the majority — 1,159 — are located in the U.S., while 56 are in Canada, 23 are in South Africa, eight are in Great Britain and five are in other locations.

The 1,251 churches surveyed had weekly attendance of between 500 and 30,000 people, offering a lens into how larger churches handle staff salaries and other relevant expenditures.

Among the churches that participated, 361 had weekly attendance between 500-999, 390 had attendance between 1,000-1,999, 387 churches had weekly attendance between 2,000-9,999 — and 21 were at 10,000 or more.

"The goal of the report is to help church leaders, especially those of innovative larger churches, who want to know, 'How do we compare against other churches similar to us?'" read a statement announcing the results.

The Leadership Network is a nonprofit organization that works with Christian leaders, and the Vanderbloemen Search Group is a firm that helps churches find appropriate staff members, with the two sides partnering to explore the conditions inside of larger churches in the U.S. and across the globe.

"We partnered with Leadership Network because of their reputation as the leading organization to work cross-denominationally with North America's largest and fastest growing churches," William Vanderbloemen, CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, said in a statement.

Pastoral compensation has been a point of contention in the past, with experts and members of the public debating how much is too much when it comes to paying faith leaders.

It's a debate that kicked up once again in 2015 when Franklin Graham — leader of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan's Purse — was revealed to purportedly make $880,000 per year.

That led to questions about the salaries of Christian nonprofit executives as well as pastors, though William Birth of the Leadership Network told Religion News Service at the time that only 3 percent of churches with weekly attendance of 1,600 or more paid preachers in excess of $300,000.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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