Social Question

elbanditoroso's avatar

Are there too many churches? (not talking about religion, but talking about economics and overhead costs)

Asked by elbanditoroso (14558 points ) March 11th, 2014

Driving from one point in suburban Atlanta last night to another point about 20 miles away, I counted 41 churches of one denomination or another. There were at least six flavors of baptists, and a couple pentacostals, and then a smattering of the “mainstream” religions. No synagogues, however.

They varied in size from HUGE (mega-church, thousands of seats) to very small – no larger than a medium sized house. They ranged from shiny bright modern architecture to modest red brick, and in a few cases, just clapboard siding.

Each of these congregations has a couple things in common:

- they have overhead costs—heating, cooling, insurance, water, and so on

- I imagine that many of them – the newer ones for sure – have some sort of a mortgage to pay the cost of the building construction

- I imagine that most of them have salaried employees – the megachurches for sure, but possibly the smaller ones as well. Likely the minister draws a salary of some sort.

- they don’t pay property taxes

To me, it seems like the overhead – just for buildings and personnel – must be huge, and it’s repeated at each one of the congregations.

Could these funds be better used if congregations merged and lowered their overhead, and made use of the funds to help church members and the world at large?

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19 Answers

hominid's avatar

@elbanditoroso: “Could these funds be better used if congregations merged and lowered their overhead, and made use of the funds to help church members and the world at large?”

Sure. They could close them all.
You’re assuming (at least in this question) that the goal of a church is to help church members and the world at large.
They’re competitors. How many restaurants did you pass on that trip?

zenvelo's avatar

It’s their congregation’s money, don’t they get to choose how to spend it? And they serve their followers the way the followers wish to be served.

Various Catholic dioceses have consolidated parishes in recent years, and almost always results in an outcry from parishioners.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Religion is NOT about rationality or economy of scale. It would seem that the number and variety of churches is driven by demand. In this town they can’t board up the churches and schools fast enough, as “believers” and those with children can no longer afford to live in the town and thus flee in droves. I was talking to a gentleman aged 82, who was extremely worried that his church which was established in 1904 could not list 3 congregants between the ages of 18 & 45.

gailcalled's avatar

In my town with a population of under 2000, there is one traffic light, a Main street two blocks long and 7 churches (all small).

In the entire county, population 63,000, there are 11 Roman Catholic churches alone.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@zenvelo “It’s their congregation’s money, don’t they get to choose how to spend it? And they serve their followers the way the followers wish to be served.”

I don’t think the OP claimed or implied otherwise.

GloPro's avatar

Don’t they get ridiculous tax breaks?

Darth_Algar's avatar

@GloPro “Don’t they get ridiculous tax breaks?”

Yeah, they pay no taxes. Not even the huge megachurches who operate in sports arena-sized buildings and generate tens (in some cases hundreds) of millions of dollars a year. Almost makes me want to start my own religion. Seems like a good racket to get in to.

Cruiser's avatar

We have 333 churches in my county of 515,000 people…that is roughly 1,500 per church yet I know some of these Mega churches will have over 20,000 in their congregation and I know of one Church where you have to buy your Christmas Mass tickets through Ticket Master months in advance.

All asfaict are doing fine and serving the community in many great ways.

zenvelo's avatar

@Darth_Algar The OP is implying that society (us) can offer opinions and dictate how churches spend their money and that churches should be made to consolidate to cut overhead costs. Yet as @hominid alludes, no one says that Starbucks should consolidate.

LuckyGuy's avatar

In this area, churches are downsizing and combining. One building has closed and is for sale. The expansion plan for another has been in the works for 4 years now with no start date in sight.

I wonder if the poor job market and rising price of gasoline is convincing more people to stay at home and self study via the web (or silently reading) if they feel they need it.

GloPro's avatar

@LuckyGuy The larger churches have their sermons and services on webcam on their websites. You can go to your weekly mass whenever you want!

KNOWITALL's avatar

Yes they should, we have 493 here in this city alone with 436,712 people. That is a LOT of money. We’re also the headquarters for Assemblies of God and So Baptist Convention I believe.

Jaxk's avatar

I’m not a regular church goer but some of my family is. Church becomes a social club as much as a place to worship. When my mother gets sick, her fellow parishioners come by to help out and visit. Everybody knows each other and consolidating would disrupt that social aspect enjoyed by the small churches. Neither religion nor the social interaction is driven solely by financial consideration. At least not from the parishioner point of view.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@GloPro Exactly. That is why I don’t understand the need to drive through the snow to go to church. I know people have that need; I see it when I drive past a church letting out in time for Sunday brunch.

GloPro's avatar

@LuckyGuy How else is everyone in the community supposed to know what good, God-fearing people they are? In my little town in NC growing up, half the people there were there to be seen, and Sunday afternoon they’d all get together to eat and gossip about everybody else there.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@zenvelo “The OP is implying that society (us) can offer opinions and dictate how churches spend their money and that churches should be made to consolidate to cut overhead costs.”

No, the OP is simply ruminating over a thought. Nowhere is he saying that society should dictate how churches are run or use their money.

zenvelo's avatar

@Darth_Algar Why are you explaining what is implied in the OP, and excusing it, when what he actually asks is these funds be better used if congregations merged and lowered their overhead, and made use of the funds to help church members and the world at large; which happens to be expressing his own opinion on better use of funds.

I stand by my original statement that the congregation has a better way than @elbanditoroso does on how it wishes its money to be spent.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@zenvelo

He said “could”, he did not say “should”. And sure, he’s expressing his view, his thoughts. What of it? He’s doing it on a message board which is of no consequence to anyone except maybe the people choosing to post here. It’s not like he’s charging into his nearest church demanding that they use their funds this way or that. And it’s not like he’s demanding that in this thread even. He’s simple asking “could”, as in hypothetically. The same as asking “could society do more to take care of (insert whatever topic here)”. Simply asking the question isn’t the same as demanding or trying to force others to do in a certain way.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Thanks all. I have been out of town and have not had a chance to reply.

I believe that @Darth_Algar described my question best – I noticed something on the drive home and was cogitating about it. Whatever my personal views on religion, my concern was only about overhead costs and operational budgets.

Although some people try to impute something to what I wrote, that is simply not accurate. And to a degree, it is insulting. People who read more into what I wrote than i wrote are actually being overly defensive, where no offense was made.

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