How is “the church” funded?
June 1, 2010 10:52 AM   Subscribe

I guess in the basic sense, offerings trickle up the hierarchical structure, right? So in the Catholic Church in the US, the Conference is funded by local offerings that are sent from the local churches to the Conference office. Is that right? Is that how most Judeo-Christian denominations work?

If so, my question is how does that work specifically? Is it a flat fee that each church pays up? A percentage of offering? Does the church get to determine the amount? If not, who does? What about things like weddings and funerals, where the church’s income isn’t from offering but a service fee?

Is the structure of the church funded any other way? Government or private grants? Does that money trickle up too?


1) I’m concerned mostly with churches in the United States, although I understand that many (most?) major religious structures are international. But, to continue with the Catholic Church example, I’m content to know how the Catholic Conference is funded. I don’t need to know how the Pope is paid.

2) I’m mostly interested in major Judeo-Christian denominations. Specifics to particular denominations would be greatly appreciated. So for example, how do the Lutherans differ from the Methodists?
posted by ericc to Religion & Philosophy (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The only church I can speak with any specifics about is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or rather the Mormons.

The mormon church has a lay clergy, which means no one is payed for the work they do.

Members give a tithe of 10 percent of their annual income to the church, and that is sent to SLC Utah where it is distributed to a ton of different projects. Buildings, Charities, Food Pantries.

The prophet of the mormon church and the 12 apostles receive a "living stipend" because they work full time for the church, but from what I understand its less than 200,000 a year.

Local leaders (Bishops and stake presidents) spend 40-60 hours a week working and receive no money.
posted by lakerk at 11:16 AM on June 1, 2010

As far as Protestant churches go, many have no hierarchical structure whatsoever (Baptists, 'nondemoninational chuches,' etc) -- the offering goes towards overhead things: paying for property maintenance, utilities, and salaries for the various church staff. Anything extra goes towards either the church's layaway (I used to attend a Baptist church that would print the year-to-date budget for the church in the weekly bulletin, and anytime we were behind what was necessary to keep the place running, there needed to be money to keep the lights on) as well as to various charities. In more hierarchical denominations (Lutherans, Episcopaleans, etc) the money goes both ways, like taxes: churches that meet their overhead give a certain amount extra to the larger body, and churches that need help receive that help from the larger body.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:27 AM on June 1, 2010

The Catholic Church is its own banker, so things are maybe a bit more complicated. There's the diocesan tax that's levied on all parishes, plus repayment of debts the parishes may have incurred to do repairs to church buildings, etc. Then there are the individual collections for various things, from replenishing the priests' retirement fund, to paying off diocesan expenses such as hosting World Youth Day or whatever. All this comes out of the collection plate, as well as fundraising activities and individual donations.

Then all that kind of thing gets replicated up a level, as the Conference taxes and levies the dioceses (sp?).
posted by LN at 11:27 AM on June 1, 2010

in the US Catholic church, wealthy churches tend to help fund poor ones ... money goes up the chain from the wealthy ones to the diocese, which sends the money back down from the diocese to the poor ones. How much a Catholic parish pays and receives depends on a lot of things -- does it have a school? Is it run by diocesan priests or ordered ones? Does it have any retired religious it's supporting? How large is it? How wealthy is it? What other programs does it support? (soup kitchen? thrift store?) Some funds are specified for particular things; other funds are general. (For example, the diocese's cut is often paid largely through the "annual diocesan appeal" where the donated funds go specifically to the diocese; there's also a "retired religious" appeal, special capital fund appeals, etc.)

Most dioceses in the US make this information fairly accessible and open these days (though a few are still backwards and secretive). If you called your local diocese's chancery office they'd probably be happy to answer more specific questions.

Some of these questions actually become extraordinarily complicated as when, for example, some Episcopalian churches decide to deaffiliate from the Canterbury communion and reaffiliate with the African churches. Who does the money belong to? Who do the records belong to? Who does the building belong to? Various US denominations do handle these issues different ways -- some are basically organized at the church level (Presbyterians), while others have more hierarchy and are organized at regional level (Catholics).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:45 AM on June 1, 2010

Southern Baptist churches are completely autonomous and free to do with their money what they would like. The national "body" is called the Southern Baptist Convention, but it is not an administration body- it is an organization that seeks to aid the churches in their ministry and help define the denomination. Churches typically decide to give a percentage of their budget to the Convention, which then doles out the money to various convention-funded entities, such as seminaries, Lifeway (print resources), publishing house, missionaries, etc.

There are also typically conventions at the state level which fund and administer entities within a state, such as a newspaper, retreat center, retirement home, etc. Churches choose what percent to give to state conventions. Often, there are also more local "associations" in a region or city which do the same thing.

But in a nutshell, yes, offerings trickle up from local churches to local, state, and national organizations that each church chooses to give to. Individuals can also give directly to these state or national groups.
posted by kraigory at 1:21 PM on June 1, 2010

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutherans organize finances like so: Parishioners give offerings as they are moved and able, which go to pay the minister's salary, the electric bill, and so on (this would include any fees charged). Big-ticket items, such as repairing the roof or repainting the manse, are funded by special collection efforts. Anything beyond expenses (hah!) is sent on to the Synod general pool, with a general target set by each congregation each year.

The Synod itself is further supported by private donations and bequests; some income also comes from selling land and school tuition. Interestingly, some of the students use the school voucher system to pay their tuition, so...make of that what you will.

Out of those general Synod funds, most go towards running the seminaries and various worldwide missions. Some more goes towards salaries, organizing conferences, publishing, etc. A very slight bit goes back to the congregations for whatever needs doing. But, since the idea's that each mission will be self-sustaining, the financial giveback really isn't much.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 2:00 PM on June 1, 2010

Clarifying the above regarding the Catholic Church: a church's budget is typically fortified by the passing of the collection plate each week. Each parish in a diocese (the local governing unit) participates annually in what's called the Diocesan Appeal. Churches are given particular target amounts depending on membership and income and have to pay those amounts either through parishoner donations or (if they're not enough) from their own church budgets. This collection is above and beyond what's given in the collection plate - at my parish, families are given a suggested donation of $425 / year, for example. In turn, the diocese uses the money to fund all of the programs on its balance sheet - a contribution to the local chapter of Catholic Charities (in my diocese, around 10%), marriage ministry programs, any local monasteries or convents, diocesan employees, etc. Depending on the Catholic Charities amount, you could argue that tithing does tend to redistribute from rich parishes to old parishes.

In addition to the above, parishes take up second collections about two or three times a month on average. About half of these are parish-level initiatives (give to the food bank, buy flowers for the church, etc), but another half are nation-wide collections for a variety of initiatives on the diocesan, national and international level. These include (off the top of my head) a contribution to the orders in the Holy Land, a contribution to the priests' and religious' retirement fund, a contribution to the scholarship fund at the Catholic University of America, a contribution to the Catholic Communications Campaign (which does, among other things, programs promoting marital stability and whatnot), the Peter's Pence collection (basically, the Pope's private charitable fund) and a contribution to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (which does the USCCB's poverty advocacy and charitable outreach work).

Addendum: local or national charitable programs may get government grants, especially since the establishment of faith-based initiative programs throughout the bureaucracy. Marriages are usually charged a fee, which can be quite substantial depending on the demand of the parish and all that might be involved.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:02 PM on June 1, 2010

Synagogues aren't generally part of a hierarchy, although many clergy or their synagogues are members of one or more organisations. The way it works here in Australia is that you pay your dues to the synagogue, and a surcharge gets added to pay for the relevant roof body. Charitable donations usually go directly to whatever body you're giving to, not via the synagogue (unless it were to have a surplus, if such a thing is possible).
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:38 PM on June 1, 2010

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