75: Mormons and Money – An Introduction to Church Finances

Nick hosts a panel discussion about different aspects of church finances with Heather, Clay, and Mimi.

Play

References:

Reuters – Mormon church made wealthy by donations
Businessweek – How the Mormons Make Money
Time – Kingdom Come

D. Michael Quinn – LDS Church Finances from the 1830s to the 1990s
D. Michael Quinn – The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power

14 Comments

  1. SteveS

    Fascinating and useful discussion. This episode reminded me why Mormon Expositor is one of my favorite Mormon-themed podcasts. Cheers.

    Reply Jul 23, 2014 @ 08:25:26
  2. davey

    Simple idea about tithing.

    $10000 exists in a fake nations economic money supply.
    The people all donate 10% gross to the LDS Church.

    After 1 year…….LDS church collects $1000
    After 10 years…LDS Corp owns 65% of the money supply. ($6513.22) to be exact.
    After 23 years…LDS Corp owns more than 90% of the overall money supply.

    Thus, The Church is a giant cheese grater… grinding away money from their cheeseheads…

    Reply Jul 23, 2014 @ 22:00:33
    • SteveS

      There’s a flaw in this logic: The LDS church will necessarily spend some/most of the $1000 in cost of services rendered, and other operational, general, and administrative expenses, putting it back into the overall economy’s money supply. Therefore, the Church only amasses a greater proportion of the overall money supply to the extent that they horde their income instead of spending it to improve the overall well-being of the nation/community.

      I’m interested in trying to motivate charitable organizations to spend their funds in efforts to do good, in opposition to the (human) tendency to horde their reserves against fear of possible negative future outcomes.

      With a millennialist-focused church, the urge is particularly strong because everyone in the organization is waiting with baited breath for the “shit show to begin”, as someone on this podcast episode so delicately put it. But I’m not so sure that’s what is motivating the higher-ups these days in the corporate LDS church leadership. Ever since the year 2000, we really haven’t heard much of the “jesus will come in our lifetimes” rhetoric. The last person to have possibly been alive when JS made the prophetic pronouncement that Jesus would come again before the generation after his own died off didn’t come true. Rather, I see the Church investing its profits into real estate and for-profit ventures as a different kind of retrenchment. Perhaps they see a period of lean times emerging for the church as it finds itself at odds with social mores of contemporary society. Perhaps it thinks it will need to draw upon these vast reserves to keep the temples and church-owned universities open in an era of increased persecution from without and diminishing revenues due to the departure of disgruntled, dissolutioned, and disenfranchised members from within.

      Would that there could be financial transparency in the Church again, as well as collective enfranchisement about how and where and when to spend the church’s funds.

      Reply Jul 23, 2014 @ 22:31:48
  3. davey

    An example from my life…. I made 35,000 in my first job after college as a 25 year old BYU grad… I was told to get married and have kids (assuming wife would stay home)… and was also told that I was worse than an infidel if I could not provide for my family. and yet when I did my budget… 10% Tithing and generous fast offering really, really hurt…

    Income 35,000
    401K Contribution 3500
    state/federal (28%) 9800
    Rent ($700 month) 8400
    Insurance 500
    Food 2400
    Gas 1000
    Car Expense 2000
    clothes 500
    house furnishings 1000
    internet service 500
    cell phone 500
    stuff to make wife happy 500

    Disposable Income Remaining $4,400
    Gross Tithing (10%) $3,500
    Generous Fast offerings ($50 month) $600

    Disposable Income after LDS Church contributions — $300

    my point is that tithing doesn’t really HURT someone who makes 100,000K a year (assuming they budget appropriately) but for someone living on a bare bones budget…10% is a really big deal.

    Reply Jul 23, 2014 @ 22:31:04
    • SteveS

      Davey makes a good, simple illustration here about how the flat tax-style tithing of 10% of gross (or even 10% of net) is just way too regressive for most members. Rock Waterman’s blog posts on tithing were a revelation while I was still trying to make membership in the church work for me.

      Reply Jul 23, 2014 @ 22:35:05
  4. William Law

    According to Robert Millet it’s called “THE RELIGION MAKING BUSINESS.”
    Do a google image or text search for: religion making business.
    Yes, there it is, the long and the short of it, can’t be any more succinct.
    Robert Millet has his hand on the pulse of Mormon Magic Realism,
    History reminds us, humans have short memories and go forth and multiply.
    Robert Millet is a Pharisee in good standing, an expert on Religious Understanding and dispenser of Mormon Wisdom.

    PAX, Will

    Reply Jul 25, 2014 @ 20:05:15
  5. seasickyetstilldocked

    8 Billion a year in tithing alone….that makes me depressed.

    Ward budgets are such a joke. TBMs have no idea that the amount of money their ward gets back from the church is a direct reflection of what the church thinks about them.

    Reply Jul 30, 2014 @ 16:55:37
  6. John Shaw

    The information on budgeting money in this podcast is old, the Church changed to the a new process. The money used to only ‘virtually’ exist at the stake level, and the wards had funny-money. The stake still determines how much is passed through to the ward, by assigning a percentage for each category the wards ‘earn’ money. But the funds are allocated to the ward and the + or – rolls forward for a Ward, it accumulates at the ward just like it used to at the Stake Level.

    To the point of Fast Offerings, even if you spend more than you take in the check is honored because it comes out of the ‘central fund’.

    I was a ward clerk and stake clerk for the last 10 years or so.

    Reply Jul 31, 2014 @ 11:51:36
    • Nick B.

      John, I believe are correct on the budget issue – it was a change that was put in just as I was existing my time as clerk. Alas, my information is dated at this point. And of course you are right on the fast offering issue – everything comes from one or more central accounts these days.

      One of the things that I would dearly love to do – but will probably never get around to actually doing – is putting together a mock 10-K/Annual Report for the church, just to see what it would look like. The overhead for operations would be part of that. Although I will point out that $133MM of facilities expense doesn’t strike me as a lot for $11BN of revenue.

      Reply Aug 01, 2014 @ 07:09:26
  7. John Shaw

    Just finished and while the discussion was around revenue, there was very little discussion around just how money consuming many of these assets are. It is very common for leaders to suggest that there is a lot of money needed just to keep the lights on – from data in 2011 our Facilities group sent out, just the utilities for a meetinghouse averaged $9500 or so per UNIT meeting in the building with nearly 14,000 units in the US alone that comes to 133,000,000.00 – it does take a bunch of money to run the assets the Church owns -it would be good to hear some of that in the next discussion.

    Reply Jul 31, 2014 @ 13:18:25
  8. Bill

    One of my favorite things about having distanced myself from The Corporation is how much money I have to donate to other worthy causes. I determined that my total contributions were not going to decrease, they would just go to other places. How great is it to be able to TRULY make a difference locally. A $1,000 donation to the local homeless shelter or inter-faith group makes a huge difference. Mormon-themed podcasts also get a small pie of the pie as well! Good discussion!

    Reply Aug 05, 2014 @ 10:05:25
  9. J. Reuben Clerk

    I agree with SteveS regarding the saving/investing for a rainy day.

    To use my favorite, love-to-hate GOP prism, I believe there are “makers” and “takers,” that is, some stakes/wards/branches bring in more tithes/offerings than they consume, some don’t. I’ve heard that North America and Europe are primarily makers and other areas are takers, but the growth is disproportionately in the takers. It makes sense if you expect that easy access to the Internet (and to some extent societal rejection of the Church’s bigotry) is going to stifle growth in the “makers” of North America & Europe and lead to increased disaffection. I don’t know how any proselytizing gets done in the US where you know folks are hopping on Google after first discussions.

    I believe the Church leaders see the writing on the wall with respect to Church growth trends and, to preserve their financial independence, they are investing large sums of money wherever corporations normally invest large sums of money. These are the 7 years of plenty where they must store up for the coming famine.

    In sum, any rational business or person who anticipates decreased revenue and/or increased costs isn’t going to look for extra charitable expenses like disaster relief. In their minds, self-preservation is the main concern/obligation.

    Reply Sep 06, 2014 @ 18:27:30
    • Nick B.

      I wonder how much of the new missionary allocation has to do with that – i.e., you’re seeing far more of the surge in the US. Obviously there’s an issue with visas (new seminary graduation requirements anyone?) but the money centers are certainly the US/Canada. And while I don’t think that there is any one person who has the full picture, I do think that (a) the demographic projections the Church does are sophisticated and (b) you have a group of busy-savvy people who see the way things are going. Self-preservation is exactly the right way to look at this.

      Reply Sep 06, 2014 @ 20:14:34
      • J. Reuben Clerk

        A podcast interview of Hans Mattsson gave me the perspective of the North American and European money centers funding the worldwide church. As I listened to it, the thought occurred to me that sending the bulk of the surge stateside had the side benefit of focusing on the U.S. money center. I have to think the folks at the COB, like you and I, recognized this side benefit. But my guess is that sending missionaries at younger ages was less about baptizing (and any revenue derived therefrom) and more about reinforcing the missionaries’ commitment to the Church.

        Reply Sep 06, 2014 @ 23:19:14

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