How much of a churches budget should go to missions?

by Matt Svoboda on March 26, 2010 · 29 comments

This post is somewhat a follow up from my last one, even though they are pretty different.

In my last post I addressed how much pastors should(or shouldn’t) get paid.  With me, it is an issue of stewardship.  In my opinion, churches have horrific stewardship when they pay pastors monstrous salaries. But, that has already been discussed.

In this post, I want to hear your thoughts on how much of a church budget should go to missions?

I have always had the philosophy that churches should aim for a budget that gave 50% of their income to missions, local and foreign.  I know this is a lofty goal and for some churches it just isn’t possible.  Nonetheless, I think it is a healthy goal for every church to strive for.

I would really like to hear from the Senior Pastors that interact here at SBC Voices.  Is there an emphasis in your church to try to give a higher percentage to missions year by year?  Is there an outspoken goal for missions giving(in terms of percentage)?

I am not saying missions giving, CP only.  I don’t believe in CP-onlyism.  :)

What do you all think a healthy range is in terms of missions giving? 25-50%? Is that too high?  Hopefully, our churches are partaking in local, national, and international missions.  It would be great if every SBC church could give 10% to the Cooperative Program(although I understand that some can’t).  On top of that 10% our churches should be setting apart money for local and national church planting, community development projects, etc.

So, what is an appropriate goal that churches should strive for? Is it unrealistic to lead our churches to giving 50% of our budget to missions?

1 hariette petersen March 26, 2010 at 12:49 pm

If a church is following the gospel in their ministry, then everything they get and spend is going to missions, isn’t it? What is “missions”?

2 Matt Svoboda March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

There is a difference between “ministry” and “missions.” The distinction is important, especially in a conversation like this.

3 Jeff March 26, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Most Cooperative Program money doesn’t go to missions. Most of it goes to pay the salaries of bureaucrats at the state convention offices. If you are in a BGCT church in Texas, 72% of CP money never leaves the state of Texas, and only 14% goes to the IMB.

4 hariette petersen (a.k.a. SelahV Today) March 26, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Jeff, I’m in Oklahoma. What do those “bureaucrats” do?

5 Jeff March 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm

In the BGCT, they mostly find new ways to waste money:

http://www.baptistpress.com/bpnews.asp?id=24299

6 hariette petersen (a.k.a. SelahV Today) March 26, 2010 at 1:58 pm

Matt, so what do missionaries do with the money they get from missions’ giving? Do they give it to missions or use it for ministry? selahV

7 Ben Woods March 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

The difference (in this case) is a technical one. Could you say that the missionaries that receive support use their support for doing ministry? Certainly…missions is basically a subset of ministry…but blurring the distinction of the words isn’t constructive to discussion in this case. So, all missions ARE ministry…but not all ministry are missions.

I think Matt was operating on the assumption that:

Missions = Direct activity to cause the spreading Christianity to places and people where it currently is not.

Therefore, while the church upkeep budget is important for ministry…that portion of a church’s budget would not be considered missions…not would the church secretary’s salary, etc., at least in the way that the terms would be defined in this case.

I realize that is an emotional argument for a lot of people…meaning “everything that we do is missions” vs. various other definitions of the word….but debating the definition of the word isn’t really relevant to this discussion, and isn’t productive in this case…as Matt gave enough information in the post so that we could know what me means when he says “missions.”

Instead of advocating for “everything we do is missions”…it might be more productive in this particular case to accept the the owner of the blogs definition of missions….and then make your point about what else is important enough to take a certain percentage of the church’s budget….instead of trying to undermine the clear terms that have been set. No matter how “clever” it might seem to do so.

No one is suddenly going to go, “OH! You have cleverly shown that the word has a different definition….and therefore my point is invalid!” They will simply use a different word to define what it is that they originally were thinking, and then the argument will be “what percentage of the church budget should go towards direct activity to cause the spreading Christianity to places and people where it currently is not,” and nothing will have been accomplished in a long, and unnecessary debate over the meaning of a word.

8 David R. Brumbelow March 28, 2010 at 9:02 am

I know what you all mean by missions, but I agree with SelahV that all a good church spends is missions.

Example. You spend $10 in a remote area in another part of the world so the church building can have light, so they can meet and preach the Gospel; that’s missions. You spend $10 in Texas for light bulbs so people can meet and preach the Gospel; but that is not missions. Really?

It’s all missions including salaries of a pastor in America, or salaries of missionaries in another part of the world. Where do you draw the dividing line between people being lost enough for it to be considered missions? Should we reclassify some of our missionaries in areas where the Gospel is more available, as preachers rather than missionaries? We sent Buckets of Hope to Haiti; we also occasionally help out a needy family here while sharing the Gospel. Both are missions.

Another point is that when a church is strengthened here, or a church is started here, it ultimately provides more money for missions overseas.

This is in no way objecting to international missions, North American missions, state or associational missions, or the Cooperative Program. I’ve been giving to them since I was old enough have money to give. I’m all for giving more to missions (under the usual definition of the word), but in a very real sense, all a church does is missions.

I think 50% is a great goal, but unrealistic for most churches. It could actually hinder the ministry of some churches which could ultimately result in less money going to the foreign field.
David R. Brumbelow

9 Jeff March 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

My church’s annual offerings total about $150,000 (which is pretty good for a church as small as mine).

Are we supposed to pay for all of the following on $75,000?

(1) Pastor’s salary, health insurance, and retirement.
(2) Part-time secretary’s salary.
(3) Custodian’s salary.
(4) Part-time music minister’s salary.
(5) $20,000 of building insurance (we are stuck with a very large building for a small membership).
(6) Other liability insurance.
(7) Utilities for a large building.
(8) Maintenance on the building.
(9) Local benevolence.

I suppose there will be people who would say that we shouldn’t own a building or have any paid staff, but let’s be realistic. We are stuck with both the staff and the building.

10 Matt Svoboda March 26, 2010 at 3:19 pm

Jeff,

Im not saying you should do anything… In this post I am merely asking questions. Do you not think 50% of a churches budget is a good goal to at least aim for? Thats all I am asking. I know that, realistically, most churches cannot give 50% to missions, especially small churches. But, that doesnt mean it isnt a goal that should be reached for.

Shouldnt our churches be giving as mush as they can to missions, even if that is only, realistically, 25%?

11 Brent Hobbs March 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Back a few years ago, I heard the missions giving at Bethlehem was right at 1/3 of their church budget. I’ve always considered that exceptional and a goal to work for.

Seeing as how average staff expenditures for a church are 40-60% of the budget, I don’t think 50% is particularly realistic.

We moved this budget year from just under 7% missions giving to a little over 11%. I did emphasize that pretty prominently to our church the Sunday before we approved the budget.

12 Matt Svoboda March 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

1/3 is exceptional… The only church I know that gives 50% of their budget to missions is Francis Chans church. With that being said, it took them 15 years and a ton of people to accomplish that. It certainly is not the norm and most churches cant do it realistically.

13 Matt Svoboda March 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

It is GREAT to hear that your church is making a point to increase your giving percentage to missions!

14 hariette petersen (a.k.a. SelahV Today) March 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Ben, I have not had the pleasure of meeting you in the blogs. Do you know anything about me? selahV

15 Rick Patrick March 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Matt,

If 50% is a worthy goal for all missions, can we at least say that 10% is a worthy goal for CP? I’m not into “CP onlyism” either. However I do believe in “CP firstism.” I support the GCRTF concept that CP is our “central means” of missions support. I take that to mean it should receive our first and best gifts. What else could it possibly mean? Our church gives 10% through CP for state and national missions, an additional 3% for local associational missions, another 5% through designated offerings (Annie, Lottie, trips, children’s homes, crisis pregnancy centers, etc.). I think total missions then would be about 18% of total giving, both budgeted and designated.

With regard to budget only, our breakdown is as follows:
13% missions
50% salaries and benefits
12% ministries
5% administration
20% building maintenance

Every situation may be different, but we would be VERY hard pressed to push missions giving to 50% of budget. It is so unrealistic we would be forced to fire half the staff, sell the building, cut most of our ministry events and basically cease functioning as a local church. Membership would be driven away to those churches still offering youth, children and music ministries. It would truly wipe us out. I appreciate your heart for missions, but I think the 50% figure is generally unrealistic for most churches.

16 Matt Svoboda March 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Rick,

I would say, yes! 10% is a great goal for CP giving. Especially for churches that are able to give a significant amount of their budget to missions.

I admit that for most churches 50% is unrealistic. Im not saying churches that are currently giving 10% to missions should try 50% next year- it would kill most churches. But they should maybe aim for 15% and then aim a little higher the next year, and then a little higher the next year, and on and on…

17 Micah Fries March 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I also think 10% is a great goal for CP, but I would take issue with “CPFirstism” concept. One of the frustrations I have with current modus operandi in SBC life is that our cooperative missions have usurped actual missions engagement by the local church. The task of global disciplemaking is given to the local church, not any organization, and too many churches simply hand their money to an SBC organization and then sit back assuming that they have accomplished mission, when in fact all they’ve done is given to the mission.

Instead, I would like to see churches actively budget resources to accomplish the mission that God gave them, and then to invest additional resources in a cooperative effort to reach people and places that they can’t reach on their own.

It may seem simple, and it may be just semantics, but I think local church first, CP second, should be the appropriate response by SBC churches.

18 Micah Fries March 26, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I should add that our church gives 8% to the CP, 1.5% to the local association and an additional 4% to the IMB & NAMB so my argument is not a cop out to get me out of CP giving. Instead, I hope that it’s an acknowledgement that the local church is the locus of Kingdom life, not an organization.

19 Rick Patrick March 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

Micah,

I think you’re right about the semantics. I agree churches should never just “throw money” at missions and avoid personal involvement, as the term “firstism” may imply. Your church’s pattern of missions support would qualify for what might be termed “CP centralism” meaning simply that CP is indeed the central channel for missions support.

By contrast, if your church redistributed your missions support pie by giving 1% through CP and 11% directly to IMB and NAMB then I would be forced not to consider CP as your central means of missions support. This is the situation I was trying to address by coining the “firstism” remark, playing off of Matt’s “onlyism” terminology. I like “centralism” better.

20 Micah Fries March 26, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Matt-

I agree that 50% is a phenomenal goal, to be fair though, I’d be happy if most churches got to 20%. Unfortunately most have to invest such a significant percentage toward staffing/debt/facility management that 50% is an impossibility.

Our church has a large staff for the size of our church, but we also have no debt and our facilities are new which makes management less expensive. That allows us to give over 23% to missions currently and my goal is to slowly increase that amount until we get to 50%. I shared that with the Elders over a year ago and they affirmed that decision.

21 Dave Miller March 27, 2010 at 2:52 pm

I haven’t even read what is posted here. But I would say two things.

1) The question is contrary to Baptist polity. We are a cooperation between autonomous churches and so there is no “should.” What each church should do is what it decides to do under the Lordship of Christ.

2) On the other hand…I will not vote for or support as leaders those whose churches give meager amounts to denominational missions. It is disturbing to me that many of our “key” churches give less than 1% to CP. They will not get my vote. I don’t have an exact quota, but it is probably in th 5 to 10% range.

Each church can do as it believes is right. But if you do not demonstrate leadership as a church in CP giving, you lose the right to lead in the denomination.

That is how I will vote. I don’t know who is going to be elected this year, but if they give 1 or 2 percent to CP, they will get elected without my vote.

22 Dave Miller March 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

I meant I haven’t read the comment stream.

23 Rick Patrick March 27, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Dave,

I agree with your comments about those seeking leadership positions essentially being disqualified due to the fact that their churches have not made the Cooperative Program their central means of missions support. Your 5-10% range also resonates with me, although I can be even more specific since the denominational average is 6.6% and I don’t want to vote for a “below average” leader.

I’m afraid on the matter of church autonomy removing the concept of “should” we are not quite on the same page. Let’s say we go to Red Lobster. The service is reasonable and the waiter friendly enough. I’m buying, so you graciously offer to leave the tip. Dave, you have the autonomy to leave whatever tip you want. I believe that freedom is completely yours. However, I’m not interfering with your autonomy when I say that you “should” leave a tip of 15-20%. That percentage is not only customary and reasonable, but on a practical level it is sufficient to support America’s table servers.

By the way, it’s okay if you disagree with me, just be nice about it. After all, I just bought you dinner at Red Lobster!

24 Dave Miller March 27, 2010 at 6:12 pm

If you pay for dinner, I will pay a 20-25% tip.

25 Eric March 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Matt,
Our church budget is $105,000 and we give 10% to CP and an additional $500 per month to support a church planter in NYC.
http://thecityresource.com/ (shameless plug – check him out!!!)
In all we give 20% to direct missions (orphan care, special missions offerings, etc.). Our long term (and I mean very long term) goal is 50%. But in all, I agree that anything helping us fulfill the Great Commission (cf. Acts 1:8) is “missions.”

26 Matt Svoboda March 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm

Praise God! 20% is a great mark, one which most churches can achieve, but many don’t. It is great to hear that you all aren’t content with that, but are striving for the 50%!

Your church is a good example for all Southern Baptists in terms of giving to the CP and to missions in general!

27 David R. Brumbelow March 30, 2010 at 11:33 am

Matt,
I agree. Eric’s church is a great example of a mission minded, evangelistic church. May God continue to bless and use them.
David R. Brumbelow

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