Religion is, by definition, a non-profit enterprise. No matter which faith you look at, it deals with salvation or the well-being of your soul after death, not with profit margins. However, this does not mean that a staggering amount of money does not pass through churches each year.
Technically, the church does not charge money for the services it renders to a community. Unlike Europeans, people in the United States don’t have to support the church financially through a church tax. So how do churches cover their operational costs and avoid bankruptcy? There are a few ways.
The biggest influx of money comes from direct donations. Many people and organizations donate to the Church out of the goodness of their hearts. They believe this is good for their community and their spiritual well-being.
Some corporations, however, have more mundane concerns in mind when they donate. Donations are excluded from income tax, so in many cases, a business might choose to make a substantial donation to pay less in taxes. Even with the donation, their end-of-the-year bill ends up smaller this way.
Churches can also organize frequent fundraisers. They may auction items associated with worship or other material donations, sell food, and so on.
They may also collect fees associated with the rites they perform. For example, it is customary for people to make donations when they get married in a church. The wedding would also come with some administrative fees. While these tend to be modest, the Church does administer a large amount of these per year, so the revenue stacks up.
Churches may also rent out any available space. For instance, if a choir wants to practice there, or if a business wants to share their parking lot. If a church owns residential property, it can also lease it out just like regular people do. Some churches are getting creative and offering their steeples to network providers, who pay rent to use them as cell towers.
In addition, the Church earns passively from relying on a lot of volunteer labor. They do have to pay and support their priests and ministers, but volunteers certainly lighten their labor costs.
Moreover, the Church is exempt from taxes, which means it gets to hold on to almost everything it makes in any fiscal year. But how much is that exactly?
What’s the total?
It’s hard to tell since donations vary based on who is making them, where, how often, and so on. Even politics play a hand in this — conservatives running for office might give more around election time in order to improve their public image. In other words, the statistics are quite volatile.
Research published by Sambla.no dove into private donations found that the average American donates roughly $800 per year if Christian. For Muslims, the sum is closer to $1,300 per year. Jews donate more than the other two groups, with an average of $1,440. Based on the demographics of the United States, accounting for the unaffiliated part of the population, this yields roughly $200 billion annually.
Note that this is merely the revenue generated by donations. Renting out space and property, as well as selling goods during fundraisers bring additional profit. Because many churches are independent of one another (even if they fall under the same religion), there are no cumulative reports. For example, the Mormon Church is estimated to be worth about $70 billion, but it’s just one of many.