Health and Growth

How Churches Really Spend Their Money: 20 Fascinating Data Points [A New Study]

These 20 new stats on church finances from 1,231 churches are mind-blowing.

How Churches Really Spend Their Money: 20 Fascinating Data Points [A New Study]
by

Paul Maxwell

A new study of 1,231 churches supplies deep insight into how churches in 2019 spend their money. This study, The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP), published by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, gives pastors the ability to understand best practices, correct common mistakes, and create legacy-building budgetary practices that enable them to leave an impact on their communities for generations to come.

Here, we are going to take a look at [X] pieces of data that give pastors the critical insights they need to understand where they stand in the modern church landscape.

Let’s dig in.

1. Churches received $124.52 Billion in donations in 2018

This is an enormous sum of money. This statistic proves that church members are collectively passionate about the mission of the church. Often, how this money is distributed (as we will see below) corresponds to how the church’s leadership culture relates to its financial practices on a cultural level. How often a church teaches on giving, how proactive leadership is in analyzing finances, and what percentage of the budget is spent on personnel to maximize and grow church size and impact correlates to receiving a larger percentage of this $124.52B.

2. The average congregation size is 65 people

This average takes into account new church plants, older shrinking churches, and booming megachurches—analyzed as organisms that constitute a single population of communities seeking to make an impact for the kingdom of God. 

3. Congregational revenue ranges from $3,000 to $41,000,000 

The median congregational revenue is $169,000. This means that, as the congregational revenue increases, the number of churches that share in larger annual revenue calculations drastically decreases.

4. Giving increased most among African American Protestant churches 

Among African American Protestant churches, 59% of these churches increased their giving in 2018. This is likely in part due to the rise in the availability of mobile and recurring giving. Prior to 2017, the online giving industry was largely owned by business-oriented companies such as PayPal and Square, which were not optimized for church giving or congregational user experience. In 2018, companies such as Tithe.ly had already optimized and provided a fully integrated digital and recurring giving solution for churches.

5. Giving decreased most among Catholic churches 

56% of Catholic churches decreased in giving in 2018. This may be due to a slight latency among traditional churches to adopt digital and recurring giving solutions.

6. Churches that grew most were planted after 2000

The most obvious reason for this is that planted churches are geared toward growth as a categorial priority in early years, while older churches tend to be focused more on legacy, sustenance, solvency, and survival. 

7. Churches that decreased most were planted between 1975-1999

Churches planted during 1975 and 1999 decreased most in size. One primary reason for this decrease is the fluctuation that occurred in the 21st century in which conservative church planting movements began funding organization expansion outside the scope of legacy denominational oversight, and many of these mainline denominations planted churches between 1975 and 1999.

8. Most church revenue comes from small-medium gifts

28% of overall U.S. giving were in small donations (under $100k per year). 33% of giving came from medium-sized donations ($100k-$245k annually). Only 9% of church revenue came from large donations  ($1M+)

9. Most church revenue comes from individual donors

81% of church revenue came from individual donations. 34% of congregations have endowments, which constitutes on average 4% of their revenue. Only 2% of churches receive revenue from government grants; 12% receive from non-government grants.

9. Digital giving is growing rapidly as a fundraising industry standard

50% of congregations received gifts mid-service via a digital format. 14% of congregations offered text-to-give option. 5% of churches offered a giving kiosk option. The largest donations to churches cam by check (average gift: $4544), more than 4 times received digitally (average $1180) or in cash ($1020). On average, congregations receive 22% of their giving digitally, but this number is increasing daily.

10. Most congregants do not give digitally to their churches

24% of adult congregants made at least one digital contribution to their congregation in the past year. However, this is likely due to the relative novelty of digital giving platforms. Just like other manually administered eCommerce solutions such as the Starbucks app, Venmo, and PayPal, digital church giving solutions like Tithe.ly are growing rapidly in popularity as a primary means of facilitating financial transfers. 

11. Recurring giving is the future of church financial stability

55% of churches offer a recurring donation option through their digital service. Among those churches, giving tends to be higher than among churches that do not adopt digital giving solutions. The reason for this is twofold. 

First, digital giving can offer churches the opportunity to make recurring giving as easy as tapping a button in their church app, which establishes a more stable and long-term financial relationship between the giver and the church. Second, churches that offer digital giving tend to be more culturally modern, which represents a broader attitude toward technology adoption and growth that attracts more people to the church.

12. Capital campaigns have variable outcomes

Evangelical protestants make the most money through capital campaigns (58%), while African American Protestant congregations practice this least (18%). The average capital campaign goal is $850,000, and the average amount raised is $630,000.

13. Churches that teach on giving grow much faster

43% of congregations teach on giving either once per year or never. Only 36% of churches teach on giving quarterly. Among congregations that teach on giving weekly (9%), 90% of those congregations reported financial growth. Among churches who discuss giving monthly, reported financial growth was 73%.

14. Most churches don’t share their financial reports publicly

38% of congregations share financial reports through bulletin, 20% through newsletter, 13% through email, and 5% on their website. While 92% of churches create financial reports, only 81% share it with congregations.

15. Most churches track finances with accounting software

Tracking money—95% of congregations track their money. 14% track money with pen and paper, 18% use Excel, and 51% use accounting software.

16. Most churches only acknowledge gifts once per year

63% of churches acknowledge gifts annually through an end-of-year giving statement, while 28% acknowledge through quarterly statements.

17. Churches whose pastors analyze giving records grew faster

Among congregations whose clergy look at giving records, 58% report an increase in the amount of giving they received (42% of churches report an increase of 10% or more).

18. The average church spends most of its money on personnel

Where finances are spent, on average—49% on personnel, 23% on facilities, 11% on missions, 10% on programs, 6% on dues. Evangelicals, on average, spend more on personnel (51% of budget) and less on facilities (21%), compared with African American Protestant churches that spend 23% on personnel and 25% on facilities.

19. Older churches tend to spend less on property

50% of churches planted between 1975 and 1999 own their buildings, and the other half have mortgages. Only 11% of churches planted after 2000 own their buildings, and 89% have mortgages. This is, of course, due to the fact that churches planted later are still in the early stages of growth, making meaningful capital campaigns more difficult to execute successfully, and mortgages more necessary to build equity in its adolescent years.

20. Most missions budgets are spent locally, not internationally

On average, 61% of a church’s missions budget is spent on local missions. 20% is spent on U.S. missions. Finally, 19% is spent on international missions.

Over to You

Review these critical data points with your church team. How do these statistics interface with your congregation’s current situation, demographic, and season? How can you optimize your financial practices in light of these data points? How can you pivot certain habits and attitudes within your senior leadership team to more optimally succeed in growing your church according to your organization’s core values?

Let us know! We are always interested in helping churches to grow and more successfully execute the mission God has put on their senior leadership team.

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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How Churches Really Spend Their Money: 20 Fascinating Data Points [A New Study]