10 Ah-Ha Moments About Church Funding Today (Part 1)

More and more churches are experimenting with alternative funding models to meet their ministry needs

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A few weeks ago a pastor reached out to me with a question: “What’s new in church funding?” Her congregation was beginning to feel the pinch that so many congregations are experiencing—their offering income wasn’t enough to live out the congregation’s mission. They began to wonder: Might there be other ways to bring in income so we aren’t reliant solely on the offering plate? 

This pastor’s question brought a smile to my face. After reading countless articles and books, interviewing dozens of ministry leaders, and exploring this topic with hundreds of students, I finally have some concrete data to share. This fall, my research team and I identified a list of 200 congregations in the U.S. and Canada who have experimented with more economically sustainable models for ministry that are aligned with God’s mission for their community. This isn’t to say that these congregations chucked out the offering plate entirely—quite the contrary. The offering still plays an important role in each of these congregations. However, they have decided to look at how God might be calling them to live even deeper into their mission by starting a social enterprise, renting out their church property to a neighboring ministry, securing grants, eliminating church programs that were no longer related to their mission, making changes to their church’s staffing, and more.

We surveyed this group of 200 congregations to learn more about their funding models and we received over 100 responses! To our knowledge, this is the first survey of its kind that looks at the broader landscape of church funding focusing specifically on congregations with more creative funding models. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this survey with you over the coming months. Today, I want to share with you the first five of the most surprising findings from the survey and next week I’ll share five more.

  1. Alternative Sources of Revenue: In more than two-thirds of the congregations surveyed, 60% or less of the congregation’s income is coming from donations. Often I’ve heard congregations say that they didn’t want to pursue income sources outside of the offering plate because they could never make enough money to be worth the work. Generally these congregations have experimented in a small way (like posting on their website that they will rent out their space for $100 per event), bringing in limited income or even losing money after the cost of facilities and cleaning. 

In contrast, many of the congregations who responded to this survey were using one or more alternative income sources and were not only breaking even but bringing in substantial income to supplement (and in some cases even supersede) the amount coming in through the offering plate. 

  1. A both/and Scenario – Mission and Money: While there were certainly some congregations where its mission was the primary motivator for shifting its financial model, in most cases it was a mix between mission, decreases in church attendance, and concern about long-term financial viability driving the change. As I was asking around for recommendations of congregations who might be a good fit for this survey, I came across a few leaders who felt it was an “either/or” scenario. You either cared about God’s mission and your community or you cared about your church’s finances and long-term sustainability—you couldn’t do both! And yet, in most of these congregations it’s clear that both factors were at play. 
  1. Top 3 Funding Strategies: The three most popular funding strategies these congregations used were: renting church property, creating self-sustaining ministries, and securing grants from organizations outside of judicatory/denominational church bodies. I wasn’t surprised to see renting property at the top of the list, but I was surprised to see that self-sustaining ministries and securing grants ranked so high. Many congregations I have interacted with didn’t even know their congregation could qualify for grants outside of their judicatory/denominational body. Similarly, I have rarely heard of congregations starting a ministry with the intention of it becoming self-sustaining. I find many ministry leaders assume that all of their congregation’s ministries will cost money – it’s just the cost of doing ministry. 
  1. Social Enterprise On The Rise: Congregations who are looking to live out their mission in a new way are most likely to start a social enterprise and/or sell products and services. While starting businesses out of the church is certainly not a new concept, I’ve rarely heard of a church council putting this idea out on the table, instead it often springs up from entrepreneurial members or staff. I wonder if the pandemic has caused congregations to shift in their thinking around social enterprise and even selling products and services as so many turned to these options as a way to support their communities during the pandemic. A great example of this is the Global Blends pay-as-you-can deli.
  1. Renting Property: Congregations looking to raise additional funds are most likely to turn to renting their property. Renting can be a great source of ongoing income for congregation’s who own property. About a third of the congregations who have or are currently renting property received 0-9% of their congregation’s revenue from rentals, another third received 10-24%, and the final third received 25%+ from renting their property. Imagine what your congregation could do if it received an additional 5% of its revenue from renting unused or underused property?

Has your congregation ever experimented with bringing in additional income outside of donations? Let us know below!

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Ben McDonald Coltvet
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing these findings @gracepomroy! At the congregation I attend, paid partnerships are a key part of our income. We have a commercial kitchen that hosts mobile chefs, cooking classes, and a pay-as-you-can food truck ministry; we host nonprofits that need office space; we have day rentals for downtown events; and we share our worship space with other worshiping communities that pay modest monthly rental. It all adds up (and requires ongoing communication to share the space well).

Last edited 10 months ago by ngibson001
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Arlene Flancher
1 year ago

Wow, Ben!! This is super cool and inspiring. Thanks for sharing!

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