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Do we make the most of $70 Billion?

My wife and I are big fans of Compassion and World Vision. It’s a big part of where we trade in our finances to reach a world that desperately needs to experience both the physical and spiritual love of Christ.

I greatly admire how both organizations are extremely intentional on telling us where they spend each dollar. Their “scoreboard” typically says that as much as 81 cents of every dollar that is given goes towards the ministry programs. That means as little as 19% is spent on overhead and salaries to get the funds where they are intended to go. Now I realize that number may be a little inflated. That administration may only refer to the administration of the home office and not all the on field administration. That number may only be 50%, I'm not close enough to all the details to pretend to know and that's not my point. 

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we had that accountability to publish where we spend our resources in our local churches here in the US?

I think it’s healthy that we communicate how much we take in each month and how much we spend in expenses. But in a world of increasing transparency and donors wanting to make the most of every dollar, is it time for us to take it even further?

Last year it’s estimated that local churches in the United States received nearly 70 Billion dollars in giving. As much as we have the potential to give even more, that’s a staggering number.

Would some of us be shocked to learn that sometimes we spend 70-80% of that to cover infrastructure, staff salaries and building? Once it became more known, how would it change us? Would we rely upon volunteer leaders even more? 


posted by Justin Forman | 2.08.2010 - 7:25 AM


It would seem that the church is content to just give 10% percent to outside causes and feel that they are justified in doing so. Because we're so inward focused now, we feel justified in saying that the other 90% is used for evangelistic purposes by drawing people into the church. I'm not sure that the overall statistics of church attendance are showing that we're getting a good return on the 90%.
commented by Blogger Don, 7:50 AM  

Great thoughts, Justin. Your concerns are certainly valid. I'm afraid we would be sorely disappointed if were able to get a picture of what our $70 billion is actually spent on. I wholeheartedly believe that we should take care of our pastors, church staff, and have nice facilities where we can gather; but the balance of the scales is way off.
commented by OpenID smorgasblurb, 7:53 AM  

Ouch!!! As a pastor for the last 15 yrs. and transitioning into a BAM philosophy mind-set, this is a very sobering question to propose. While I have been in some of the richest communities on the East coast, the fact that most churches have lost sight of living missionally by funneling funds into archaic methodologies and putting money aside for a "rainy day" (especially here in Massachusetts)is frustrating. Anyway, good thoughts and thank you for giving me more to think about.
commented by Anonymous Terry LeTourneau, 8:01 AM  

I am not sure where you get 19% spent on 'overhead and salaries.'

According to their current website 7% is spent on 'fundraising', 4% on 'management and general', and 89% on 'programs'.

However, I am sure that those 'programs' include a lot of salaries. Which is not surprising, ministry is primarily done by people, rather than by money.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 8:05 AM  

The statement that overhead is under 20% does not mean that 80% goes to a project. The writer would benefit by looking up the agencies he cites on www.guidestar.org and understanding their Form 990. For sponsorship programs, 30% of donor revenue is considered a "good" percentage going to a project. The cost of all of the people that manage the information flow and provide oversight consumes about half the money, with the other 20%going to the advertising.

Missionary enterprise, with very low advertising costs, may actually be far more efficient than the Christian NGOs. At least take a look at the salaries... I do not know any missionaries that make over $100,000, but you will find that most the execs. of the big NGOs make over $300,000. Is this really necessary.

David Befus
commented by Blogger David & Connie, 11:05 AM  

Don and Chris, I appreciate your thoughts. I agree that I think the balance has gotten a bit off and that's what I was hoping to shed light on.

Terry, its encouraging to hear some of the sobering thoughts you mentioned having been the pastor of a church for 15 years. I think sometimes in this consumeristic culture that we can easily lose sight of the mission of the church. The mission of the church matters and its more needed today than ever before.

David- I appreciate your thoughts about mission agencies. The real heart of this post was not at all addressed to mission agencies. I was just trying to raise the importance of transparency of our giving and wondering, "If we were given another 70 Billion Dollars, where would it be most effective? Would it be in building more infrastructure, more salaries, more church staff or unleashing the people in our pews to make a difference in their community?". Thanks for your insight into some of the groups mentioned.
commented by Blogger Justin Forman, 9:41 PM  

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