Budget Season

It is budget time. And I came across an article recently regarding expenses for churches and the priorities of church leadership. I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about metrics. So today’s blog continues that conversation.

Last April, Christianity Today’s Church Law and Tax Group completed a survey titled “Church Budget Priorities Study”. 1605 people responded. These were churches of all sizes.

In terms of expense metrics, the only data we have available for any comparison is found on the Metrics page of the URJ website. It is a bit dated – the actual data is from 2009. I would imagine that overall changes haven’t been significant. But updated metrics of similar sized congregations would certainly be helpful for future planning.

Some data points immediately stand out. “Domestic and Mission Support” for one, which combined totals approximately 9%. In synagogue life, we would speak about such work as Social Justice or Tikun Olam. I have a hunch these are direct expenses to support such mission work in their communities and abroad. Imagine a synagogue budget that reflects such a percentage of its overall expense devoted to social justice?

Synagogues that are members of denominations are certainly interested in dues payments to their Movements. The church survey notes that such denominational dues payments on average are 3% of a church’s budget. For congregations that have between 250 and 800 families, according to the Metrics reports, “MUM” dues are between 2.5% and 2.9%.

What synagogues allocate towards a mortgage or rent has always been of interest to me. In some ways this is like comparing apples to oranges. Rent in the URJ Metrics information is included in Building expenses while it is a part of the data point for mortgages in the church analysis. The average rent/mortgage for the churches that responded to the survey is 7%. Debt service for synagogues with 250 to 800 families is between 6.9% to 11.6%.

One other thing that stood out to me was salary expenses. Total salary expenses for churches were on average, 47%. For the URJ congregations, you need to combine expenses for Clergy/Pulpit, Religious School, and Early Childhood education. If a synagogue has an administrator or executive director and administrative support staff, these salary costs are a part of General Service and Administration. So again, we might be comparing apples and oranges, but you do get a feel.

The combined totals for these 3 metric data points for congregations with 250-800 families are between 48.1% and 54.8%.

The expense budget of a synagogue should be reflective of its priorities. Staff salaries are always going to be a biggest chunk of a synagogue’s budget. It is most often the staff that carries out the work – the sacred work – in so many facets of synagogue life.

The church mission related work, as we think about our own Social Justice efforts, gave me an idea. In addition to expenses, we should also be looking at how much time – both staff and volunteer – is devoted to the various aspects of congregational life. Wouldn’t it be great to have a better understanding of both costs and staff and volunteer time devoted to Social Justice, Lifelong Learning, Worship, Youth Group, staff development, board and leadership development?

You may think of other areas.

What I do know is that such metrics analysis is certainly helpful for future budget planning purposes.


2 Comments on “Budget Season

  1. Your view of synagogue salary expenses is somewhat myopic. What about program staff expenses? Facilities staff? Adult learning staff? And are we just talking about salaries or are we including benefits?

    Without better information about what goes into the church staff expenses and without a better understanding (on your part) of synagogue staff expenses, this comparison is not very useful.

    The % of expenses for our synagogue (at the upper end of your range) is far higher than 50%. Our salaries are typical for our area and if anything we are understaffed. If the church data is accurate, then we are spending far more than churches on staff.

    • Barbara,

      Thank you for taking the time to share your comments.

      The salary information for the church survey did include benefits. My apologies for not including that. I know for the URJ Metrics info benefits are also included in the various categories – Clergy, Religious School, Early Childhood Education, and General Services & Administration.

      Many synagogue leaders would feel the same as you, that their synagogue is understaffed. Using metrics for congregations based on both size and geography would no doubt be helpful. In many synagogues, it is the clergy that also carries the responsibilities for programming and adult learning.

      Again, thanks again for your comments.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.