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!

 

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God vs. Money

On August 21, 2018, my new book, God vs. Money, will be released. I wrote this book because I am firmly convinced our society, including the church, is in the midst of a war between the will of God and the lure of money. I am also convinced that money is winning the majority of battles because the opposition, the church, has ceased to put up a fight. God vs. Money is a call to arms. I implore you, as church leaders, to engage in this battle because, I believe, our lives depend on it.

Because God vs. Money is likely the last book I will write, I put every ounce of energy I had into each and every page. In doing so, I hope to get the attention of Christian leaders who must make attacking this foe a priority each and every day. My friends, if you care about the Kingdom and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true salvation for the world, get this book. Going to war is never easy, but this fight is one we have to take on and must win!

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:

God and Money both made promises. God has kept all of His and money has kept none. But money has better advertising and we keep falling for it. We live in a society where God vs. Money is a daily battle. It is a war and right now we are not winning.

 

In this book, I lay out a plan where those of us in church leadership can educate and inspire people who are capable of winning the war. These are the tools you are going to need to develop people who know how to go up against the lure of money and come out victors on the other side. I hope God vs. Money becomes a manual for pastors and church leaders to train and grow congregations of generous people who resist the lure of money and, instead, seek God’s will for their lives.

God vs. Money was not written to help you get more money.

It is intended to help you develop true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who understand they have been given infinitely more than they could ever give. In this book, I contend that a generous life is glorious and leads to everlasting life, while a life being controlled by stuff is a dead end that destroys us and the world around us. This needs to be a war we want to fight. Not just one we have to fight.

Let’s prepare for battle.

 

 

Here is what church leaders are saying about God vs. Money:

Mike Slaughter, Founder and Chief Strategist of Passionate Churches, LLC and Pastor Emeritus Ginghamsburg Church says…

Clif Christopher has been my main go-to coach in applying practical biblical strategies for stewardship in the local church. This is an excellent read for church leaders who find themselves in church cultures adverse to using the “Tithe” word. A great reminder that we as followers of Jesus are the means to resource God’s mission in the world with practical tools to help us apply.

Talbot Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Charlotte, NC, and author of Head Scratchers and Crash Test Dummies says…

Clif Christopher has written a Stewardship Tour De Force in God vs. Money.  I found the book both sobering and inspiring – sobering in its analysis of our culture’s obsession with money and yet inspiring in its description of the spiritual power of generosity.  Christopher does not flinch in his directives for pastors and church leaders – and I for one am glad for his boldness.  Highly recommended.

 

 

 

How Giving Data Strengthens Your Discipleship Path

The key to sustainable ministry funding lies right at the heart of the mission of the church: helping persons become fully devoted followers of Christ.  When people take seriously their discipleship journey certain behaviors begin to change such as frequency in worship, serving on ministry teams, daily prayer, and giving of their financial resources. Giving and generosity are clear and measurable indicators of discipleship. It is no surprise that churches with an effective discipleship path tend to have substantially higher levels of ministry funding.

So, how do we strengthen our discipleship path? And how can giving data help us?

For years, churches have collected the data needed to measure the effectiveness of their discipleship paths. But getting that data into an actionable format from their Church Management Software (ChMS) is often a nightmare.

A couple of years ago, a tool was created to address this problem.  MortarStone developed a web-based tool that works with ChMS systems to organize the mountains of data that churches have stored in their databases.  MortarStone’s tools enable leaders of discipleship programs, missions teams, stewardship committees, and pastoral care to easily and directly access the information they need while still protecting sensitive donor information.

With a growing emphasis on measuring impact, churches are realizing it’s not enough to simply count activities and participants as the primary measures of a successful discipleship program. Individual generosity is, of course, a vital indicator of spiritual growth and a key element on the discipleship path.

Church leaders want to know if lasting transformation is taking place.

With MortarStone, churches can measure growth in individual generosity and connect it to the ministry activity that precipitated that change.  When churches understand what is working and what is not, they can reallocate resources to programs and ministries that are driving life change.

Here is a common example of using data to connect specific ministries with positive changes in key discipleship indicators.  An Executive Pastor compared the giving patterns of people who participated in small groups versus nonparticipants. The Executive Pastor discovered small group participants gave, on average, $2,133 more per year.  Based on the apparent impact of the small group ministry on the discipleship path, the church chose to invest $75,000 in new staffing to support small group ministries. Assuming a similar result for future small group participants, the church reasoned only 35 additional households were needed to cover the investment in staffing.

But this example is just the tip of the iceberg.

Church data can be used to track the impact of ministries such as Financial Peace University, serving ministries, and others. Want to know the impact of a recent mission trip? Curious about the effectiveness of your new member class or stewardship series? Want to know the differences in giving between your campus locations or worship services? With MortarStone giving data analysis, churches can effectively organize information and measure impact to make data-driven decisions regarding future ministry investments.

This technology exists to take the guesswork out of measuring the effectiveness of your discipleship path. By using increases in household giving as evidence of the transformative work of the Holy Spirit, churches can now make better decisions regarding programming and resource allocation.

As people deepen their walk with Christ through worship, spiritual growth, and service, the harvest of your generosity plan grows exponentially because you are cultivating in richer spiritual soil.

Joe Park is Horizons’ Managing Partner. Horizons is a national leader in guiding churches to increased funding, mission fulfillment, and transformation. 

Stewardship Discovery is our comprehensive diagnostic process used to assess giving practices in the development and implementation of plans to increase personal giving in churches. If you would like to learn more about developing a generosity plan for your church or using data to improve discipleship, please contact me at jpark@horizons.net or visit horizons.net.

This article originally appeared in Church Executive Best Practices Forum on Fundraising and Generosity.

How to Make Sure Your First-Time Donors Repeat Their Gift

The Law of Inertia states an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an external force. The same tends to be true about church donors. Church members who do not contribute are challenging to inspire. When someone donates for the first-time, it is cause for celebration! However, knowing how and when to respond to a first-time gift will ensure a repeat donation. Repeat donors will provide significant resources that enable your church to fulfill its vision. Here’s what to do.

Why don’t first-time donors repeat their gift?

Some of your church members will finally take the plunge and make a first-time gift to the church. (For insights on why 50% of church members don’t contribute, click here.) Sometimes, it is the only gift they ever make and you might never know why.  After significant study, non-profit researchers learned the number one reason first-time donors never make a second contribution. Can you guess what it is?

It’s not because they were ignored. Sending a personal thank you is recommended, however, it is not the most important factor in receiving a repeat gift.

It is not because they felt their gift was wasted or unnecessary. At the beginning stages of giving, people aren’t typically concerned about the stewardship of their gifts.

It’s not even because they lost interest in the organization. Their interest in the community doesn’t disappear overnight. Their interest in your ministry may continue, but they chose not to give again.

So, why do some first-time donors never repeat their gift?

 

The number one reason first-time donors don’t make a second gift — they were asked for a second gift BEFORE being thanked for the first one.

Receiving a sudden second solicitation can feel impersonal.

Likely we have all had this experience of being asked for another gift too soon after making a first-time donation. Charities seize the opportunity to ask for a gift because they think, based on your gift, you are sympathetic to their cause. As soon as your check lands on the Executive Director’s desk, another solicitation arrives in your mailbox. It feels impersonal and greedy.

Has this happened in your church? It shouldn’t.

We are the Church! We are all about love, and grace, and gratitude (among other things.)  Expressing gratitude lets donors know you care about them, not just their finances.

 

How you say thank you is as important as how you ask for support.

Your plan for acknowledging first-time donations should consider the following:

1) First-time givers should receive a thank you note within a week of making the donation.

2) Your thank you note should include information about how donations are making an impact through your church. Connect their donation with the church’s ability to achieve its God-given vision.

3) Do not make a second ask in the letter — the letter is 100% gratitude.

 

Here is a sample thank you letter to first-time donors to get you started.

This blog was adapted from the original published 11/2/2017.

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