Clergy priorities on what their church would do with a sudden financial windfall, by denominational group…

Protestant clergy and laity discuss

priorities for spending church funds

(Original release date:  May 10, 2006)  What would you do with an unexpected financial windfall?  This question was posed to almost 1,700 Protestant ministers and churchgoers, with a twist:  they were asked for their first priority for how to spend a sudden windfall their church might receive.

 

Research results being released in the May/June edition of Facts & Trends magazine show the spending priorities of clergy and the people in the pews don’t always match.

 

Two studies were conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona).  One is a representative sample of 504 Protestant church ministers nationwide, and the other is a companion survey of 1,184 people who attend Protestant churches at least once a month.

 

Clearly the top priority among ministers is to build, expand, or update their church’s buildings and facilities (31% say this is how they would spend a sudden financial windfall their church received).  This is followed by increasing community evangelism activities (16%), paying off debt (12%), and adding staff (10%).

 

Much less likely to be a top priority for spending a sudden influx of cash are giving more to foreign missions and evangelism (7%), spending more on social programs such as homelessness or education (6%), and giving more to domestic outreach or evangelism (3%). Unlikely to be top priorities are saving or investing it for the future, increasing denominational giving, increasing church programs such as Vacation Bible School or different classes, adding or updating technology, adding or updating Bibles or hymnals, increasing advertising or marketing efforts, raising staff pay or benefits, or increasing staff training and education (each is a top priority for under 3% of ministers).

 

Churchgoers sometimes have different priorities for church finances than do pastors.  Among laity, three priorities are tied for the top position:  paying off debt (18%), increasing social programs, such as helping with homelessness or education (18%), and building, expanding, or updating church facilities (17%).

 

Of the four top clergy priorities, facilities and debt are also among the top priorities for laity.  But only 8% of laity put community evangelism as their top spending priority, and just 2% say adding staff is their top priority.  On the other hand, laity are far more likely than clergy to say the first priority for increased spending should be social outreach.

 

Other priorities among laity:  giving more to domestic missions and evangelism (9%), giving more to foreign missions and evangelism (8%), increasing church programs (8%), saving or investing it for the future (6%), and adding or updating technology (2%).

 

From the findings, it may appear at first glance that evangelism, missions, and outreach are a higher priority for clergy than for their congregations.  In reality, both put a fairly high priority on evangelism – they just have different priorities for where the evangelism should take place.

 

Pastors focus primarily on their local community (16%), versus foreign missions (7%) or overall domestic evangelism (3%).  But 26% of pastors say their first priority would be spending money on evangelism and outreach of some type.

 

Among laity, 25% put evangelism and outreach as their first priority, but laity are equally divided among local, domestic, and foreign evangelism as their top priority.

 

Pastors from larger churches are considerably more likely than others say their top priority is paying off debt.  Evangelical pastors are much more likely to put a high priority on new or better facilities than are mainline pastors (38% to 22%), while mainline pastors put a higher priority on social programs than do evangelicals (13% to 2%).  But overall, there is considerable consistency in what different types of ministers (age, denomination, church size, etc.) would do with a financial windfall.

 

There are also very few differences of opinion among different types of laity.  Like the ministers, laity in larger churches are particularly concerned about paying off debt, but people attending evangelical churches do not differ much from those attending mainline Protestant churches in terms of how they would want the money spent.

 

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, noted that while few churches are likely actually to experience a sudden financial windfall, the research helps clarify the overall budget and spending priorities of clergy and laity – and where those priorities sometimes fail to meet.

 

“It is particularly interesting that laity are three times as likely as clergy to say their first priority would be spending on social programs, and considerably less likely to put buildings and facilities as their top priority,” Sellers said.  “This doesn’t mean one side or the other is wrong – just that each group probably needs to understand the priorities of the other group more clearly.  For instance, ministers may need to do a better job explaining why improved facilities should be a budgetary priority and will further the ministry effectiveness of the church.

 

“In the same way, members of the congregation may need to do more to facilitate church spending on social programs – including volunteering their own time and leadership to make this kind of outreach happen more often,” Sellers suggested.

 

Finally, Sellers noted that pastors rarely would spend the money on themselves.  “Only one percent would raise staff pay or benefits, or increase staff training and education, as their top priority,” Sellers stated.  “Virtually all ministers are thinking first about their church, their community, or the world at large before their own needs or desires.”

 

Study Details:

Both studies were conducted by Grey Matter Research (formerly Ellison Research), a marketing research company located in Phoenix, Arizona.  The sample of 504 Protestant ministers included only those who are actively leading churches.  The study’s total sample is accurate to within ±4.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level with a 50% response distribution.  The sample of 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more is accurate to within ±2.7 percentage points under the same parameters.

 

Both studies were conducted in all 50 states, using a representative sample of pastors and laity from all Protestant denominations.  Respondents’ gender, age, geography, church size, and denomination were carefully tracked to ensure appropriate representation and accuracy.

Money frees you from doing things you dislike.  Since I

dislike doing nearly everything, money is handy.

Groucho Marx

A PASSION FOR

RESEARCH THAT

MAKES A DIFFERENCE

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Clergy priorities on what their church would do with a sudden financial windfall, by church size and theology…

Laity priorities on what their church would do with a sudden financial windfall, by denominational group…

Laity priorities on what their church would do with a sudden financial windfall, by church size and theology…

 

Top Priority

 

All

Southern

Baptist

Other

Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All

Others

Build/expand/update facilities

31%

43%

29%

29%

20%

39%

24

Increase community evangelism activities

16

16

18

13

19

20

15

Pay off debt

12

9

14

9

6

18

10

Add staff

10

7

6

11

13

9

13

Give more to foreign missions/evangelism

7

6

11

5

2

5

8

More social programs (homeless, education, etc.)

6

1

8

6

11

1

9

Give more to domestic missions/evangelism

3

6

3

2

5

2

4

Increase denominational giving

2

2

2

--

8

--

2

Save or invest it for the future

2

1

2

5

3

2

3

Increase church programs (classes, VBS, etc.)

2

2

--

9

3

--

3

Add/update technology (computers, A/V, etc.)

2

3

--

2

--

3

2

Raise staff pay or benefits

1

1

2

2

2

--

2

Top Priority

Small

Mid-size

Larger

Mainline

Evangelical

Build/expand/update facilities

32%

32%

23%

22%

38%

Increase community evangelism activities

15

19

17

14

18

Pay off debt

8

12

22

9

12

Add staff

9

14

7

11

10

Give more to foreign missions/evangelism

8

2

9

3

8

More social programs (homeless, education, etc.)

6

5

7

13

2

Give more to domestic missions/evangelism

5

2

2

3

4

Increase denominational giving

1

4

1

4

--

Save or invest it for the future

4

1

2

3

1

Increase church programs (classes, VBS, etc.)

4

1

2

7

--

Add/update technology (computers, A/V, etc.)

3

--

1

2

2

Raise staff pay or benefits

--

3

1

2

1

 

Top Priority

 

All

Southern

Baptist

Other

Baptist

 

Methodist

 

Lutheran

 

Pentecostal

All

Others

Build/expand/update facilities

17%

15%

19%

22%

8%

24%

17%

Increase community evangelism activities

8

7

6

12

5

6

9

Pay off debt

18

22

16

18

29

12

16

Add staff

2

8

1

1

--

1

2

Give more to foreign missions/evangelism

8

9

13

2

4

11

8

More social programs (

   homeless, education, etc.)

 

18

 

13

 

16

 

18

 

14

 

18

 

19

Give more to domestic missions/evangelism

9

11

7

6

19

10

7

Increase denominational giving

1

1

1

--

2

1

1

Save or invest it for the future

6

4

4

5

7

4

8

Increase church programs (classes, VBS, etc.)

8

5

12

6

10

7

7

Add/update technology (computers, A/V, etc.)

2

2

1

4

1

2

1

Raise staff pay or benefits

1

1

1

1

1

--

2

Top Priority

Small

Mid-size

Larger

Mainline

Evangelical

Build/expand/update facilities

25%

14%

14%

14%

19%

Increase community evangelism activities

8

7

8

8

8

Pay off debt

12

21

20

19

17

Add staff

1

2

3

2

2

Give more to foreign missions/evangelism

5

6

11

4

10

More social programs (homeless, education, etc.)

18

21

16

23

16

Give more to domestic missions/evangelism

7

9

10

6

10

Increase denominational giving

--

1

1

1

1

Save or invest it for the future

8

5

6

7

5

Increase church programs (classes, VBS, etc.)

9

6

7

7

8

Add/update technology (computers, A/V, etc.)

1

2

2

2

1

Raise staff pay or benefits

2

2

1

3

1