Giving and Growth Among the Top 200 United Methodist Churches

by | January 23, 2018

Over the last 10 years, I have been tracking data from the largest United Methodist congregations in America. Through this work, I have uncovered some interesting relationships between giving and growth among the top 200 churches in average worship attendance. You can use these figures as benchmarks to get a quick snapshot of your own church's financial situation.

(This data also fuels my annual list of the Top 25 Fastest Growing United Methodist Churches. I’ll link the 2018 edition when it releases here. You can also read previous editions here: 2017 Edition, 2016 Edition, 2015 Edition and 2011 Edition.)

Let’s look at some numbers:

 

Annual Operating Budget Income

Annual Operating Income, Top 200 ChurchesHere is the range of annual income among the largest 200 United Methodist churches, as measured by average worship attendance:

  • $18,210,000 - Highest
  • $3,591,487 - Average
  • $2,756,199 - Median
  • $875,000 - Lowest

 

The average income of the top 25 fastest growing is $3,377,130 which is 5% less than the average budget of the entire Top 200 list.

These numbers provide interesting insights regarding the budgets of the Top 200 United Methodist Churches. But what about relationship between total annual giving and average worship attendance? How might you you discover a relationship between giving and growth at your church?

 

Annual Giving per Average Worship Attendee

Giving per Attendee, Top 200 UM ChurchesAgain, among the top 200 United Methodist congregations in average worship attendance in the United States, here is the range of giving, as measured per average worship attendee.

  • $10,773 - Highest
  • $2,300 - Average
  • $2,230 - Median
  • $585 - Lowest

 

The average giving per worship attendee of the top 25 fastest growing is $1,570, which is 32% less than the average giving per attendee of the entire Top 200 list.

While the Top 25 fastest growing churches average 5% less annual income than the Top 200 as a whole, when divided by worship attendance, you see a big (32%) drop per attendee. This could suggest some economies of scale in the larger congregations or, perhaps, rapid growth occurring as a result of people new in faith who do not yet understand the principles of Christian Stewardship.

Additionally, you can project the giving health of your congregation, as compared to this range, by dividing your budget by your current average worship attendance. Are you above the median of $2,230? Below?

 

Per Capita Giving (aka, Weekly Giving per Worship Attendee)

Per Capita Giving, Top 200 UM ChurchesBreaking down the previous per attendee statistics on a weekly basis, we can determine an average weekly per person gift of those attending worship in a typical large United Methodist church in America.

Here are the average weekly gifts per attendee in the largest 200 United Methodist churches (in terms of average worship attendance):

  • $206 - Highest
  • $44 - Average
  • $43 - Median
  • $11 - Lowest

 

This number breaks down the weekly tithe and offering gift into a specific number. As with the annual gift, the average weekly giving per worship attendee of the top 25 fastest growing is $30, or 32% less.

The top 10% of per capita giving congregations receive at least $73 per person, per week, and the bottom 10% of per capita giving congregations receive less than $25 per person, per week.

 

Debt

Last, debt can be a useful tool for innovation, but how much is considered too much? Here’s where the Top 200 United Methodist churches stand in terms of total debt:

  • $21,102,000 - Highest
  • $2,755,031 - Average
  • $1,762,207 - Median
  • $0 - Lowest (60 of the Top 200 churches have no debt)

 

The average debt among top 25 fastest growing churches is $3,625,744, which is 24% higher than the average, again indicating a possible economy of scale, or perhaps the artifacts of innovations which have incurred short-term debt.

 

Debt to Giving Ratio

How much debt a church can incur without jeopardizing ministry may be measured in proportion to the size of a church’s annual giving—an indication of how quickly the debt can be repaid. A good rule of thumb is that anything under a ratio of 2.0 (debt twice the annual operating budget) should be manageable.

And here’s where the top 200 churches stand in debt-to-income ratio:

  • The average debt-to-income ratio is 0.9.
  • 27 of the top 200 churches have a debt to income ratio above 2.0.
  • The highest is 4.7.

 

Measure Your Church's Giving to Growth Ability

Fill out the following exercise to get a snapshot of your church’s financial situation, as compared to the above benchmark figures:

 

2017 End of Year Worship Attendance: _________

2017 End of Year Annual Operating Income: _________

Dollars per attendee (Income / Attendance): _________

Per Capita Giving (Dollars per attendee / 52): _________

Are you higher or lower than the $2,300 yearly average or $44 weekly average?

 

2017 End of Year Debt: _________

Debt to Income Ratio (Debt / Income): _________

Are you higher or lower than the 0.9 average?

 

If your church could benefit from some coaching to improve this snapshot, contact us. We’d love to help you!

 

2 Comments

  1. I assume attendance includes all, children, babys, etc.
    Do you have any data adjusted by region so that cost of living variations could be factored?

    Reply
    • Len Wilson

      Hi Reid,

      Here is the disclaimer from my blog about all UM church data:

      “This list is ordered on a 5-year trend according to self-reporting attendance numbers as recorded by the General Council of Finance and Administration office of the United Methodist Church.”

      Self-reporting means attendance is whatever the church declares it is. The check and balances here are a) that a church has to pay apportionment dollars on whatever they claim, so most churches stick with people in worship venues on Sunday (not babies in the nursery, etc.), as inflated numbers have negative financial consequences, and b) Pastors also must answer to their district superintendents about the numbers they report.

      That said, there is nothing preventing a church from adding bodies outside in-venue attendance.

      Reply

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