97% of church money spent on people who give it? Something's not right

by Terry Austin  |  December 29, 2010

I am reading through a boring book that is filled with interesting information. I hate it when that happens – someone has very useful material but their writing skills tend to make it difficult to locate and extract the nuggets. It is kind of like panning for gold in a desert creek instead of a Rocky Mountain stream. The gold is just as valuable but the experience of getting it may not be inspiring.

The recent nugget I discovered is the observation, after examining and reviewing and dissecting numerous surveys and studies, that ninety-seven percent of all money that people give to the church is spent on the people who give it. After wading through their research and conclusion, I think the ninety-seven percent figure might be a little overstated, but not by much. Think about it! We build and maintain buildings, conduct activities and events, hire staff to meet our needs, which consumes most of the money churches receive.

That’s discouraging!

The problem is that we have constructed massive organizations that require huge amounts of money to sustain. A successful church is expected to have multi-million dollar buildings, professional staff to minister to everyone in the family, as well as first-class media and entertainment resources. Anything less makes it very difficult for a church to sustain growth.

How many parents with young children are willing to attend a church that does not have children’s activities? How often do parents make church choices based on who has the best youth program? How important is it for a church to have professional quality musicians and state of the art video productions?

You might quickly say, "Not me!" and you might be right. However, if so, you are in the minority. For the most part, the churches that are growing today are the ones that have all of these things and more. Some of these churches are growing at phenomenal rates. There are churches with multiple thousands in attendance every week that did not even exist five or ten years ago.

At first glance it might seem that the existence of these enormous churches is evidence that more and more people are following Jesus. That would be nice, but incorrect. Every study reveals that fewer and fewer people are attending church and identifying themselves as Christians, almost every year. In other words, we are not reaching new folks, simply rearranging the ones we already have. The people attending these massive churches with massive buildings, professional programs, and slick presentations are leaving other churches and gathering in more appealing places.

The size of the median church in America is seventy-five attendees on Sunday morning. In the past fifteen years, I have preached in hundreds of churches in Texas and other states and can testify that this figure corresponds with my experience. There is a church within short driving distance of my home that recently constructed a new campus and announced eighteen thousand in attendance the first weekend. This church did not even exist eleven years ago.

These eighteen thousand folks represent the equivalent of two-hundred and forty median size churches. I don’t have any idea how many churches located in our city have two thousand or more in attendance each week, but it is a sizable number. In other words, thousands of churches no longer exist since folks are attending these large churches. Is this a good thing?

I have an opinion, but my purpose is not to offer an evaluation of this situation. My intent is to discover why Christians are spending such a high percentage of the money they give to the church on themselves. It is extremely expensive to do church like this. When we expect our church to provide everything for the entire family – entertainment, education, religious experience, child care, recreation, etc. – it requires a great deal of money.

The rationale for building this type of church is that it is the only way to reach modern day folks. However, given the fact that church attendance is not increasing, perhaps we are doing something wrong, or at least ineffective. It might be time to stop spending our gifts to God on ourselves and invest it in other places.


originally published by Terry Austin, partner at the Austin Group, at  The Austin Group provides consultation to churches in the area of stewardship, including fund raising, financial management, budget development, planned giving, and discipleship resources. The mission of The Austin Group is to prepare churches to experience generous stewardship.

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The GREAT Commission isn't so great in most of today's churches its placed on the back burners.
December 21, 2014 - 10:56:10 AM
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The sad truth is that many churches are filled with deceived people who think they are saved. These people don't study Gods Word for themselves, they don't share the gospel with every creature, all they do is attend church and eliminate "some" sin from their lives.
December 21, 2014 - 10:53:25 AM
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I don't see anything wrong with having a large church with lots of programs, especially youth programs. A Christian school would be an excellent idea to, and that takes tons of money. All of the large churches should have a Christian school. We have got to do everything we can to counter the terrible secular and anti-Christian agenda of the public schools and that takes organization and money.
Nike Chillemi
May 12, 2014 - 10:02:51 AM
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This is not the model Jesus gave us. He said GO and make disciples..not let the disciples come to us. Christians must stop sheltering themselves. Do do so is a slap in the face of God with a lack of faith that He will provide the way. Churches are becoming club houses and not Altars to the Lord.
Ed Flanderson
September 27, 2014 - 03:32:26 PM
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Maybe if churches had to fill out a 990 IRS form each year--like every other charity--to show where their money actually went, the ever-growing segment of the nonreligious public would see what shams they are and work to withdraw their tax exemptions. Oh, happy day!
September 29, 2013 - 02:41:53 PM
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I thank God someone had the guts to start this topic....I have always been of the opinion that if the church of God was to have millions of Dollars/Rands, the lost would be the priority of the Church....And I am of the opinion that, just because a fellowship increases in number, they should stay there forever...Some must be sent away to start new fellowships.

And this is my take as well, well I speak it casually and not seriously but it is something to think about:

Jesus gave a statistic of 1 over 4 people to be fruitful. In other words, the statistic is saying that if I seek to have membership of 10 000 in a fellowship, then only 2500 members will actually do the will of God...

Looking at this ratio, we as the Body of Christ should really be investing our time and money the 2500 to go plant church instead of spending it of the 10 000 members. Meaning, instead of spending Millions on operational costs of hosting 10 0000 people, I should be spending millions on sending out the 2500 to plant new fellowships.

Just a thought...and I know it may not be accurate but it is something to think about...

Jesus mentioned this ratio (1:4) and also mentioned the fact that many people would not really be on the "narrow path" that leads to life...meaning, it should not surprise us if only 2500 makes it to heaven. And if I am going to spend millions on the 10 000 because I want to maintain the 10 000 seating, and yet only 25% wins souls and teaches the true Word of God, then I might as well invest my resources on the 2500 so as to be more focal in winning souls for Jesus.

That's just my thought.

April 8, 2013 - 07:51:03 AM
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The problem is that the church has built a model that caters to middle class white people. Church leaders are more worried about attendance than they are the Gospel. I wonder what a church that was built to cater to the least of society would look like. It would probably change the world.
josh whitlock
January 17, 2013 - 10:37:01 AM
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Great though, Josh. I just happened to read this morning that the church in India (a country that has incredible economic diversity) made a concerted effort at one point to minister to the upper-class elite. They rationalized that if the privileged classes accepted the Gospel, it would trickle down to the lower classes. That model failed. So now, they are doing the opposite. They are ministering to "the least of these" and allowing the Kingdom of God to start small - mustard seed small - and grow naturally.

Thanks for your insight!
John Richardson
January 17, 2013 - 11:44:44 AM
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What is the solution?
Pastor Cunningham
November 3, 2012 - 11:41:24 AM
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Could you please provide the name of the book?
September 30, 2012 - 02:37:48 PM
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Can you provide the name of the book, or at least a little information about the book if copyright issues would be a concern?
March 30, 2011 - 08:17:58 AM
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