In 2006 when I entered into full-time ministry, one of my goals as the Pastor overseeing finances was to find trends and ways to routinize the budget process. The first step in the process was to create a more accurate budget projection. One of my first epiphanies to creating an accurate budget projection is understanding the per capita giving total. In other words, when I divided the annual giving total by the average adult attendance (yes, kids are essential to church health, but not to this formula), then divided that total by the number of weekends in the year (typically 52), it provided an average giving per person per Sunday (or weekend if you have Saturday services). That sounds far more complex than it really is; here’s an example:
Total Annual Giving: $1,750,000
Average Weekly Adult Attendance: 1,000
Number of Sundays: 52
Per Capita Giving: $33.65
For years the church where I work had a per capita giving number that seemed never to change. The weekly giving per person total remained steady even when the attendance fluctuated. When it came to projecting the upcoming budget target, all I really needed to do was watch the attendance trend and multiply estimated attendance by the per capita number by the number of Sundays, and boom – I had a budget projection.
Increasing Per Capita
As static as the per capita giving was at our church, it actually fell well below the healthy range. In 2013, the Unstuck Group’s data gave a healthy range between $37-$40 per person per Sunday. At that time, our church was below the healthy range, and as a leadership team, we made it a goal to increase that metric. I started sending handwritten thank you letters to everyone who gave to our church for the first time. I started writing blog posts for our church, sharing personal financial tips and providing updates on how our church was fulfilling its mission. We talked about giving openly during the service. We offered finance classes like Financial Peace University to the church. We created an easy-to-read chart that compared current giving to the budget in our weekly communications. It wasn’t immediate, but the per capita slowly increased.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Prior to the pandemic, our church attendance trajectory was up and to the right. The KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) revealed that new people were checking us out, the assimilation plans were working, and per capita was above the healthy average. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Like many churches, the pandemic hit our attendance hard, and post-pandemic attendance remains lower than in 2019. However, our per capita giving is off the charts high. Why? Mainly because of math. If the people committed to your church remain faithful in their giving, but the overall attendance drops, the math works out in favor of a higher per capita total.
Interestingly, according to Tony Morgan’s Unstuck Group, the 2022 per capita average is now $65. That’s way over the 2013 healthy church averages. That means churches with a per capita giving that is too high might be in decline, and that’s the exact opposite of what any church wants. It’s like maintaining a healthy diet; it needs the right amount of several food types. Balancing the per capita total with increasing attendance keeps a healthy ratio.
KPIs and metrics are great tools to help evaluate the health of a church. However, it’s important to remember that they are a means to an end, not the end. If the “end” is a high per capita, whittle the church down to just a few large donors. Remember, the “end” is the mission. It’s sharing the Gospel and building up believers to become Christ-like, even if it lowers per capita stats.short url: