Totally Hypothetical Church Budget

This is in no a way a proposal for any church, chapel, parish, congregation, or whatever.  This is merely my attempt to think through a curious idea I got this morning.  The basic premise is this: given that the Church has a three-fold mission (worshiping God, building up the Body, ministering to the world), what if a congregation divided up its budget accordingly, taking hyper-literally the words of Jesus “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Too easily, churches of various traditions tend to favor certain functions over others.  And although recognizing a congregation’s particular specialties and capitalizing upon them is good stewardship of gifts, there is still a responsibility to follow all of Jesus’ commands, not just our favorites.

Now let’s see what this might look like in reality.  Let’s assume a small church of twenty adults, a mix of ages and wealth (some well-off businessfolk, some retired on fixed incomes, some just out of college and paying off loans, etc.), and the average income is $40,000/year.  Let’s assume also that they’re all tithing 10% of their expendable incomes (which is sadly unheardof in most American churches today).  $40k times 20 people = $800,000, and 10% of that is $80,000.  So let’s say this little church has $80k for its annual budget.  If it were to divide its budget evenly between God (worship), themselves (edification), and the world (missions), that’s $26,666.66 annual spending for each category.  Let’s simplify and say it’s $25k per category.  What could a church do with that money according to this scheme?

Actually, let’s start with the church’s tithe to the diocese/denomination.  10% of this annual income is $8,000, leaving $72,000/3 = $24,000 for each of the three categories.

A problem with working this out is that there are a number of things that don’t fit into any one category.  The building, or rented space, is used for a place of worship as well as a place of teaching, fellowship, and even outreach through various programs and ministries that a church could be offering.  So let’s split that cost evenly across the three categories (say, a fifth of each, for a total of $14,400).  Also, there’s the question of staff and clergy; pastors/priests/presbyters function as worship leaders as well as people who build up the Church.  And in many cases, they’re also leaders in outreach, though that’s more often covered by gifted evangelists among the people.  So let’s take the clergy salary from the worship & edification budgets (say, half of both, for a total of $24,000), and reserve the missions section for supporting evangelists and “social justice” ministers, whoever they may be.

Now, let’s start breaking this down with actual numbers, starting with the worship budget.  We’ve got $24,000 total, $12,000 of it is going to the clergy salary, and $4,800 of it is going towards the building’s rent/taxes.  That leaves $7,200 for a year’s spending on worship-related things!  Music in worship is valued in virtually every church, so let’s give them a budget of $3,000 to cover piano tunings (or other instruments’ upkeep) a CCLI license, buying sheet music, and so on.  This small church can’t reasonably pay a stipend for a music leader, so it’ll have to be volunteer.  Flowers are an oft-overlooked yet persistent tradition beautifying the worship space for special events and holidays, so let’s support them with $500 a year.  Vestments, now, are rather expensive.  Fortunately they should not need to be replaced too often; just cleaned regularly enough, so let’s save $1,000 for them.  Then there’s the communion materials of bread and wine which need to be bought regularly; $500 would be more than enough to supply a year’s supply for a church of twenty adults.  So let’s recap this $24,000 worship budget:
$12,000 toward the clergy salary
$4,800 toward the building
$3,000 for the music budget
$1,000 for the vestments
$500 for the flower guild
$500 for the altar guild (communion)
$2,200 for miscellaneous worship expenditures

Next let’s address the third of the budget devoted to edification, or building up the body.  As with the worship budget, $4,800 is already reserved for the building and $12,000 for the clergy salary, leaving $7,200 for other purposes.  A church of twenty adults probably wouldn’t need much of an office, but still a small one.  Let’s say the computer, printer, website, and other supplies amount to $500 in upkeep, and a 8hr/week secretary position would get paid nearly $10/hr, amounting to $4,000.  That leaves $2,700 to spend each year on educational materials, maintaining a library, or whatever else the church may want to do.  This varies too much for me to guess, so I’ll leave it vague:
$12,000 towards the clergy salary
$4,800 towards the building
$4,000 part-time secretary
$500 office upkeep
$2,700 educational materials, books, Bibles, whatever else

Finally there’s the missions budget.  One third of it ($4,800) goes to the building.  But let’s also give a rounded-up tithe from the missions budget ($2,700) to the global Church’s overseas missions.  That leaves us $16,500.  Not bad for a 20-adult-member church!  Let’s set aside $2,500 for in-house outreach programs, like the $2,700 budget for educational materials.  That leaves the church with $13,000 with which to support evangelists, missionaries, and other ministries such as pregnancy crisis centers, homeless shelters, food pantries, Feed the Children, and so on.  In allotting this money, it would be important to remember to resist the bias to favor evangelism over what’s commonly called ‘social justice’ (or vice versa).  After all, the Church’s mission to the world, just like Christ’s, is holistic; we are to minister to physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual needs.  It would be irresponsible for us to address only part of a person’s needs and ignore the rest.  So to summarize:
$4,800 towards the building
$2,700 towards global (probably denominational) missions organizations
$2,500 for outreach programs
$13,000 for physical/mental/emotional/spiritual ministries

Now let’s put this whole budget together in one single list, and see how it looks.  I’ll order it from largest amounts to smallest.
$80,000 total annual income from twenty adults’ tithes
$24,000 clergy salary
$14,400 building rent/tax/upkeep
$13,000 ministering to the needs of the community
$8,000 tithe to the diocese
$4,000 part-time secretary
$3,000 music budget
$2,700 global missions
$2,700 educational materials
$2,500 outreach programs
$2,200 miscellaneous worship expenditures
$1,000 vestments
$500 office upkeep
$500 altar guild
$500 flower guild

I still can’t get over the idea of a church of twenty adult members having an annual budget of $80,000.  See the potential power of tithing!  What an interesting exercise this has been; I wonder how practical this might turn out to be in reality.  The four churches in which I’ve spent any significant amount of time were all in very different situations denominationally and financially, so I’m aware no simple formula like what I’ve just described can be applied across the board.  But it could be an interesting principle to consider in future ministry settings.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm a Priest in the Anglican Diocese in New England interested in spiritual formation, theology, and the growth of God's Kingdom.
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One Response to Totally Hypothetical Church Budget

  1. Diana says:

    I know you posted this a while ago, but I think there’s a reason 10% tithes are no longer practiced as much. You say that the expendable income is what should be tithed, but the avg 40k is *before* taxes. Someone who makes 40k a year would pay about 20% in fed/state govt taxes (at least). 8k for the government, 3200 for the church leaves 28k for living expenses and savings (40000-8000-3200 = 28000). Since it is recommended that folks save 20% of their income for retirement, that’s another 8k, which leaves 20k for shelter, food, clothing, debt and recreation. That’s not impossible, especially for a married couple who both work… but it would be hard for a single person who proabable pays something like 1500-2000 every month in expenses.

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