Multiplication Center

Per Capita Giving and our Large Church Compensation Survey

September 6, 2018

For those of you that have already read our Free Compensation Survey Summary Report, 7 Vital Benchmarks in Church Compensation, you noticed the findings about Per Capita Giving embedded in a discussion on whether the growth of the church influences compensation. You can check the report for the answer to that specific question.

Download the report here: 7 Vital Benchmarks in Church Compensation.

The table, entitled “When Annual Growth Rate Increases, So do Pay Raises,” shows the per capita giving based on church size range. For the purposes of our analysis, the per capita figure was calculated by dividing total giving by worship average attendance. A few points to make there:

  • That is the most accurate way to do this to get a comparison across a wide range of churches in a survey format.
  • Based on feedback we know lots of people measure it different ways.
  • Some tell us they measure it by only looking at total giving divided by households that actually give during the year. In some cases that makes the per capita look like DOUBLE or TRIPLE the number shown in the survey data. You have to remember that in many churches almost half the attenders give no recordable contributions.
  • Some don’t look at average worship attendance, but instead look at it by those that attended at any point during a year. We all feel we know people are attending less frequently on a weekend basis, and those that work it out this way calculate a different per capita. (Usually lower per capita)
  • Some want to look at it as only examining what comes through regular giving channels that are recorded. This means those that give electronically, by check, or other means by which a giving statement can be developed and recorded. They desire to exclude “cash offerings” that are unrecorded or attributed to one person. (On a percentage basis though these tend to be small in large churches.)

Just keep that in mind as you look at the data. I had a call from someone who challenged our figures as being too low for a large church, but instead, their method of calculation was different from our survey.

Don’t Get Fooled in Your Giving Analysis

Having briefed you on the formula used in our analysis, when you read down the right-hand column you will see that certain size ranges have slightly different “per capita” numbers. The highest tend to be in the smallest size category we studied, 500-999, almost $300 more per capita than the largest size category.

But here is the kicker for me. COMMENTARY: Per capita is the wrong way to look at this.

As to the table in the report, it has little impact on the pay raise, which is really the point of the table.

The call from a church leader helps explain the point I am trying to make:

“We are trying to set our budget and feel the best way to project what we expect next year is to take the per capita number and multiply that by our average attendance projection. But even when we do that our giving would have to grow significantly.”

In some cases that is very well true.

But in many other cases I think that per capita will fool you every time. Instead, I encourage churches to be more sophisticated in the analysis of those that give through their church. Instead of looking at totals, look at the “bands” of giving.

How many give a total of over certain thresholds throughout the year?

I will leave it to you to set the thresholds. Should they be $10,000 an up, $5000-9999, $4000-$4999, etc? Again, I will leave it to you to find what is meaningful there.

Here is one of the things you will find:  A large percentage of your attenders don’t give anything, or anything that is recordable.

A good percentage gives consistently at a similar level every year. Direct quote here:

Congregant: “I started tithing $100 a week 10 years ago and I have always been consistent.”

Me: “Has your income changed?”

Congregant: “It’s higher now but at least I am consistent.”

You get the point.

Think About Growth, Not Just Giving

Instead of comparing total per capita we should want to see people consistently giving as God leads them and as they grow in discipleship. So how many give at each level? Are these the same people or new people? How are we challenging each person in their growth of giving?

So, if you’ve read our Free Report, 7 Vital Benchmarks in Church Compensation, you may want to now re-read it with this in mind.

There is a lot in there besides the compensation data.

Don’t forget all our Salary and Compensation reports are available here:



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