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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Ways to Increase Donor Motivation

172

 

That is how many times I have donated blood. My first donation was through a blood drive when I was in college. It was a relatively painless experience and home-made cookies were offered as motivation! I started donating after that, but for years I did so sporadically.  At some point, I learned my blood type was O negative, a classification fitting only 7% of the population. As a universal blood donor, anyone in a medical emergency could receive my blood. After a brief uptick in my donations, life interfered and my motivation to donate waned.

When I was making my 50th or so donation, I learned something else. In addition to being O negative, I am also CMV negative.  Blood with these two qualities is the only type that can be given to newborn babies. As a donor, I am referred to as a “baby quad” because one pint of my blood can be divided and given to four different babies! After I knew this, I began to make the effort to donate every six weeks. I did this for a time until life got busy again.

Eventually, donating felt more like a duty than a joy and my motivation dwindled.

 

Months would pass without a donation. Finally, after several reminder phone calls from the blood center, I scheduled a time to donate. On the morning before my donation, I spoke with someone on the phone and happened to mention I was giving blood later that day. When I revealed, I am a “baby quad,” the voice on the other end got quiet. After a brief pause, through tears, she said, “Thank you.”   She explained that a few months earlier she had given birth and her baby daughter had required over a dozen blood transfusions. And then she said, “My daughter is alive today because people like you are willing to donate their blood.”

 

That moment reminded me of the reason I donate: giving blood truly is the “gift of life.”

 

Regardless of the type of donation, the primary motivation for giving is belief in the mission the gift supports. Knowing that my blood donation could help save the lives of newborn babies inspired me to donate again! It is up to church leaders to help donors connect the dots between their gift to the church and the church’s ability to do life-changing ministry. Showing your donors how their gifts are making a difference in the world will motivate them to give again.

Here are some ways to increase donor motivation.

  • Keep your mission front and center as a reminder of the importance of giving. The mission of your church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Do not assume everyone understands this single purpose. A recent study by Barna found that 51% of churchgoers state they have never heard of the Great Commission.
  • Have a clear and compelling vision that lifts up the unique ways your church is living out its mission in your context.  Without a clear vision, the church can become inwardly focused and self-serving. A clear vision has the power to shape and connect everything that the church does, both uniting and energizing the congregation in its life and purpose.
  • Create a Vision Statement that is simple and easy to memorize. State it regularly in sermons, in the liturgy, on communication platforms, and on the website.  In 10 Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, author Bishop Bob Farr says “I have never seen a church grow by hanging a mission and vision statement on the wall. On the other hand, I have never seen a growing congregation that didn’t deeply understand their mission and vision.”
  • Share stories of lives impacted and changed through your ministries. It is interesting to learn that 15 or 30 or 100 students went on a mission trip. But it is inspiring to hear one story of how a student’s faith was impacted by that experience. It is rousing to hear a story from someone whose life was changed forever by those students. Facts and data inform the mind but stories touch the heart. Donor motivation requires both.

Help donors stay motivated by connecting their generosity with your mission.

  • Preach on the theology of money and giving. While people will not contribute to the church because it needs money to pay its bills, they will be moved by a biblical message that shapes values and offers guidance on how they can faithfully use their resources.
  • Express gratitude. While receiving thanks may not be the only reason why people give, donors do want to feel their gifts are appreciated. A personal thank-you note is an opportunity to let your supporters know you value them and what they do. Gratitude is key to donor motivation.

 

It was just a simple, heartfelt “Thank you,” but it reminded me of the importance of my donation and reconnected me to the joy of giving. Maybe those who support your church need a reminder as well.

 

Donation #173 is already on my calendar.

 

 

 

To access Horizons’ free stewardship resources, click here to sign up for Giving365.

 

Horizons Announces the Addition of Dr. Rhodes Logan to the Team

Horizons is delighted to announce that Dr. Rhodes Logan, former Chief Development Officer for the United Methodist Church Development Center, has joined the Horizons team.

 

As the CDO, Rhodes oversaw the development activities of eight ministries of the United Methodist Church including annual, capital, and planned giving. Rhodes is an experienced development professional having also raised funds as a Campaign Director for the University of Tennessee and as the Director of Development for the United Way (Knoxville and Oak Ridge) and Carson-Newman University.

 

Through his ministry, Rhodes discovered his passion for working with local churches and religious non-profits. As a Vice President and Ministry Strategist with Horizons, he will continue to capably guide his clients to achieve funding for their missional objectives. Dr. Logan’s expertise spans all areas of development including capital campaigns, major gift solicitations, planned giving, annual giving programs, and development communications. The transformation of individuals and, in turn, the body of Christ, drives and inspires Rhodes’ development ministry.

 

Horizons’ founder, Clif Christopher says, “In my twenty-five years guiding Horizons, I do not think I have ever seen someone with the diverse skill set that Rhodes brings to the team. Not only is he highly committed to the mission of the Church, but he also brings a high-level of skill in all phases of capital acquisition. He joins Horizons as a proven professional.”

 

Horizons’ Managing Partner, Joe Park stated, “Rhodes began his development career in secular higher education but has followed his heart into serving the church at the General Board and conference levels and with faith-based non-profits like Africa University.  Now through Horizons, he brings his formidable skills to serve the local church as well.  We are thrilled to welcome Rhodes Logan to the Horizons Stewardship team!”

 

Dr. Logan can be reached at rlogan@horizons.net.

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