Most U.S. houses of faith have fewer than 100 members and annual income of less than $100,000, according to a Faith Communities Today report published March 24.
The report focuses on the financial data from the 2020 Faith Communities Today survey released in October 2021. It highlights the fact that a majority of U.S. congregations are small and with limited budgets but that a majority of worship attendees frequent houses of faith that have larger membership and budgets.
Most congregations (66%) have annual revenues of less than $100,000, but only 38% of weekly worship attendees frequent these houses of faith. By contrast, only 4% of congregations have budgets of $1 million or larger, but 51% of weekly service attendees go to these houses of faith.
The median income of U.S. congregations in 2020 was $120,000, down from $125,000 in 2015 and from $150,000 in 2010.
The overall median attendance in U.S. houses of faith was 65 in 2020. Among congregations with 100 or fewer members, median attendance was 45, among those with 100-250 members it was 155 and among those with 250 or more it was 700.
“Small congregations with weekly attendance under 100 have a median income of $87,000 and median total expenses of $86,000. The medium category with weekly attendance of 100 to 250 has a median income of $300,000 and median expenses of $285,000,” the report said. “The largest category with weekly attendance of over 250 has a huge leap in average budget size, with median incomes of $1,700,000 and median expenses of $1,200,000.”
Roman Catholic and Orthodox congregations have the highest median weekly attendance (400) and the highest median income ($400,000) among Christian faith traditions.
Evangelical Protestant churches have a higher median weekly attendance (65) than mainline Protestants (50), but mainline Protestant churches have a higher median income ($150,000) than evangelical Protestants ($100,000).
“The non-Christian faith communities included in FACT 2020 are very diverse in their financial structures. This makes it very difficult to make summary statements about their financial structures and so they are excluded from summary tables and figures,” the report said.
The vast majority (85%) of income for U.S. houses of faith come from participant donations, with fundraising events and rental income (both at 4%) comprising the next highest source of funds. Other revenue sources such as endowments, investments, school tuition and capital campaigns make up 6% of income combined.
Evangelical protestant churches receive the highest percentage of their budget from participant giving (87%), followed by mainline Protestants (81%).
Roman Catholics / Orthodox churches received a lower percentage (73%) from worshippers, but a higher percentage from fundraising events (9%) and school tuition (5%) than evangelical Protestants or mainline Protestants (both at 4% and 1%, respectively)
Nationwide, 44% of congregational budgets are devoted to staff salaries, with 76% of all houses of faith employing at least one full-time clergy. Mainline Protestants spend the highest percentage of their budget on staff salaries (47%), followed by evangelical Protestants (44%) and Roman Catholics / Orthodox (43%).
While most (96.5%) of congregations with 100 or more members have full-time clergy on staff, only 58% of houses of faith with fewer than 100 members employ at least one full-time clergy.
The number of U.S. congregations reporting financial difficulty has more than doubled over the last two decades, rising from 8.2% in 2000 to 19% in 2020. Of this total, 6% said they were “in serious difficulty” and 13% that they were “in some difficulty” regarding finances.
Congregations with fewer than 100 members were most likely (22%) to report facing some / serious financial challenges, but 20% of houses of faith with 250 or more also report some / serious financial difficulty.
Catholic and Orthodox (35%) had the highest percentage of churches struggling financially, followed by evangelical Protestants (19%), mainline Protestants (15%) and non-Christian houses of faith (14%).
The full report is available here.