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Chris Fane's Student Ministry News

A youth ministry blog consisting of a collection of articles and notes related to
student / youth ministry. Gathered by Chris Fane of egadideas.com

Clergy, Laity Differ on Church Spending Priorities


Protestant ministers and churchgoers were asked what they would do with an unexpected financial windfall in a new research study. Results showed unmatched top priorities between the clergy and the people in the pews when it comes to spending.

Released Wednesday, the study was conducted by Ellison Research, which took national samples of Protestant church ministers and lay people. The ministers surveyed were found to prioritize building, expanding or updating their church buildings and facilities as their top spending choice. In comparison to the 31 percent of clergy, only 17 percent of churchgoers agreed with making facilities their top funding priority.

Laity instead placed their first priorities on paying off debt and increasing social programs such as helping with homelessness or education. Updating facilities fell third on their list.

"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," said Ron Sellers, president of Ellison Research, in a released statement. "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."

Ministers said they would next spend the financial windfall on increasing community evangelism activities (16 percent), paying off debt (12 percent), and adding staff (10 percent). Laity did not list evangelism as high as clergy. Eight percent of the surveyed lay people listed it as a top spending priority. Giving to foreign missions were at similar percentages with seven percent of clergy and eight percent of laity.

According to the research, pastors focus primarily on their local community with 16 percent versus seven percent who prioritize foreign missions and three percent on domestic evangelism. Overall, 26 percent of pastors say their first priority would be spending on evangelism and outreach of some type.

Lay people showed a more evenly divided percentage of around eight to nine percent among all three. In total, 25 percent placed evangelism and outreach as their first priority.

By denominational group, evangelical pastors were found to put a high priority on better facilities than mainline pastors who prioritize social programs more highly than the evangelical group. And pastors from larger churches are considerably more likely than others to make paying off debt a top priority.

Sellers concluded that pastors place the church before themselves especially when it comes to spending.

"Only one percent would raise staff pay or benefits, or increase staff training and education, as their top priority," he said. "Virtually all ministers are thinking first about their church, their community, or the world at large before their own needs or desires."

Research results are being released in Facts & Trends magazine, a bimonthly publication by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. The studies were conducted on national samples of 504 Protestant ministers and 1,184 people who attend a Protestant church once a month or more.

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