rules-of-thumb

Using rules of thumb to gauge church health is problematic because they are, well, rules of thumb. There will always be exceptions, extenuating circumstances, and even disagreements on the right metrics.

I thus realize I am taking a risk when I publish these broad guidelines. There is the greater risk that someone will take these numbers as infallible and perfectly suited for his or her congregation. Please let wisdom prevail. So many factors, such as demographics, multiple sites, and history will always provide better insights than mere numbers.

Nevertheless, I provide you these ten rules of thumb as a starting point. You can then wisely discern how well and specifically they apply to your situation.

  1. Number of acres needed for church site: one acre for every 125 in attendance. This ratio is based on useable acres. That number is affected by zoning requirements, water retention requirements, and property shape, to name a few.
  2. Parking Spaces: one space for every 2 people in attendance.
  3. Parking Area: 100 spaces for every acre used for parking.
  4. Evangelistic effectiveness: 12 conversions per year for every 100 in average attendance. Different congregations used different terminology: conversions, baptisms, professions of faith, salvations, etc. In this metric, the number refers to those in the past year who became Christians and became active in that specific congregation.
  5. Seating space per attendee: 27 inches. That number was 20 inches at one time. It has changed due to larger posteriors and greater cultural space desires.
  6. Maximum capacity of a facility: 80% full. This old tried and true ratio is still good. When a facility is 80% full architecturally, it feels 100% full.
  7. Retention effectiveness: For every 10 new members added per year, average worship attendance should increase by 7.
  8. Effective giving; For every person in average attendance, including children and preschool, $26.00 in budget receipts. For example, a church with an average worship attendance of 100 should average at least $2,600 in weekly budget giving. This ratio is obviously greatly impacted by demographics.
  9. Maximum debt payment budgeted: 33 percent of annual income for most churches. Up to 40 percent for fast-growing churches.
  10. Maximum debt owed: 2.5 times the annual income of the church for the previous year.

So how do you evaluate these rules of thumb? How is your church doing? What would you recommend I change or add?

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Comments

  1. Don Matthews says

    Concerning the 80% rule I would say that if you wait until you are 80% full you are already losing people. When you get to 65% full you need to start making changes so you never get to 80%.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Don-

      Well stated. The only caution I would give is to make certain you don’t lose the dynamics a crowd brings. Sometimes you can move too quickly, and thus a move at 85% or 90% is better. Every congregation is different.

      • Don Matthews says

        Yes I agree. However, if the problem is parking, SS or worship space there a long lead time to go through the planning and implementing. It needs to be in process as you get to that 80% level. You can push the envelope as long as the people see that we recognize the issue and are in the process.

  2. Chris Cannon says

    Wow! Very enlightening and challenging. We are in So Cal, leasing a warehouse. We average 1,200 on weekends…and have less than an acre of land. (Us So Cal people don’t really know what acres are!) My guess is we are behind in conversions. No way for us to measure that, at this time. Good food for thought. Thanks for what you do for us pastors!

    • Thom Rainer says

      That is incredible Chris. Where do people park? There’s no way you get 500 to 600 cars on one acre. Thanks for the input.

      • Chris Cannon says

        Ah yes! Forgot to mention we have a reciprocal parking agreement with our neighbors. We have more parking than any church should be allowed to have! For free! Huge blessing! I failed to take that into account when doing the math. That’s why you’re the man, Thom! Thanks for all you do!

  3. says

    The acres needed is way low for our area. State and local codes for parking, percentage of ground cover, water retention, set backs, etc. would make 1 acre far too small.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Your situation is true in many areas Rick. I remember that was the case when I served as a pastor in Florida.

  4. says

    Thom,
    You do a superb job in your books in dealing with church growth and missional topics. However, as a pastor/church planter not in America – I laughed most of the way through this list. This is probably a great list for American churches – but I have to think non-Americans would start cracking up as well when they read this.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Randy –
      I’m glad I brought some laughter to your day. I just changed the title of the blog so that the readers will know that these rules of thumb are for American churches.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Nate –

      Keep in mind that these guidelines are rough. You have look carefully at your own context.

    • Kris says

      I do not read anything about manufacturing those numbers. This article is about measuring them in a church which is growing at a healthy rate.

    • says

      I would agree that it ultimately is up to God but ask yourself, “Is our church provoding an atmosphere that promotes love and leads people to Christ? It would surprise you how many churches do not actively pursue the lost. Are you reaching oput to the lost and helping them get plugged in your local congregation? You cannot maufacture conversions but you can sow seeds. If you sow enough seed you will reep a harvest!

    • Thom Rainer says

      B –
      So much depends on the background and polity of the church. Most Baptists, for example, use the metric of baptism only after someone has been immersed in the presence of the local congregation.

  5. Chad McDonald says

    The $26/person, does that include all they give to the church or just regular offering? Does that number include what they may give in separate church offerings like building program, missions, sunday school, etc…?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Chad –

      That number only includes undesignated or budget offerings, not the designated offerings you noted.

      • says

        Hi Dr Rainer,

        I so much appreciate your practical and thoughtful insights. I’m a pastor of a new church plant and I was wondering, what would be a healthy budget for a church plant. We have no debt and I’m bi-vocational so I don’t draw a salary from the church. With that in mind, I’m curious to know how much we should be spending on facilities vs ministries vs saving up money.

      • says

        Hi Dr Rainer,

        I so much appreciate your practical and thoughtful insights. I’m a pastor of a new church plant and I was wondering, what would be a healthy budget for a church plant. We have no debt and I’m bi-vocational so I don’t draw a salary from the church. With that in mind, I’m curious to know how much we should be spending on facilities vs ministries vs saving up money.

        Thanks so much in advance.
        Tony Huy

        • Thom Rainer says

          Tony –

          I wish I could help. I am reticent to prescribe budget allocations to an individual church without more information. Though rules of thumb provide guidelines, every church, including new churches, have their own unique contexts. When I had my own consulting firm, I would spend at least a day or two getting information before I ever offered specific guidelines.

          Blessings to you.

        • says

          Tony,
          Dr Rainer has more insight into this, I m sure, but I have been serving in mission settings for most of my ministry — 40 years long now — part of that time as a church planter — and I would encourage you to consider two things on your church budget early on: (1) to seek to give 10% of your undesignated giving to outside mission causes and (2) to put a priority on purchasing quality discipleship or teaching materials for your church. If you place a priority early on on giving to missions and spending for discipleship, God will bless your church, I believe. I would also add to not be ashamed or hesitant to preach and teach about giving — in the right spirit and with the right personal example, of course.

  6. says

    #9 is kind of a hang up for me, because what I read is that its healthy for churches to maintain a certain amount of indebtedness. Would a healthier & more Biblical approach not be operate – day to day, plan, budget, dream, cast vision – debt free?

  7. Matt says

    I returned to your site to comment and ask a question about your post on questions to ask in an interview but then saw this post and thought it may be more relevant to my question. It provided good insight but I’m still unsure. I’m expecting an interview at a small church looking to hire an assistant pastor to help in young adult and youth outreach to help grow the church. I was wondering if I should be concerned about taking a position at a much older established church that had plateaued, if not possibly dwindling, and the new position staying relying on growth in a year or two.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Matt –

      I would love to offer you guidance, but I am unable to do so with the information you gave me. I do promise to pray for wisdom for you.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Let me encourage you John. It’s not just the width of the chairs; it’s the space between them as well. You are fine even with an abundance of portly posteriors.

  8. Justin Jordan says

    On #8 – are you including the total attendance with kids or are you only counting adults in service?

  9. Will herndon says

    Awesome blog! Very insightful. I pulled out a measuring stick and measured my posterior to see if I fit in your 27 inches….check! :p

  10. says

    Interesting to see the new 27 inches per person rule of thumb — glad to see that in print!
    The 80% rule leads us to the 125% rule — that is, when building a room for 100 people, you have to build it to seat 125 (or in building for 1000, you build for a capacity of 1250)… since 80 is 80% of 100, 125% of 80 is 100.
    I have never seen a rule of thumb for the minimum percentage of a room needs to be filled without hurting the group dynamic. A major component is the size of crowd relative to the capacity of the worship center. Gene Bartow led UAB to build their own basketball arena since their perfectly decent crowds were being swallowed up the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. Imagine a football game being played in Jordan-Hare or Bryant-Jordan with only 35,000 in attendance—and the let-down feeling that would produce (of course, that doesn’t happen even in the spring game in Tuscaloosa). I would add that, in a small town, that the percentage in the “room full factor” needs to be higher. There people all know each other and having two services can be more difficult. It’s simply a cultural difference; they value being together and doing everything together in a way city folk do not.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Derek, I don’t recall where I first heard this stat (I believe it was from a reputable Church Architecture firm), but their figure was a minimum attendance of 40% capacity to avoid a “cavern” feel.

  11. Pete Barker says

    It breaks my heart to read the content and comments here. You chose a title that included “church health.” I am an architect by day and so you might think I would love this. I was predestiined to be in an SBC church from before birth. For some reason I still am. Roots even in Tennessee. My dad pastored in Arizona for 25 years. When I read stuff like this I really wonder why I stay (the real reason is that I love my church and pastor). Couldn’t at least one out of ten have been about something spiritual?

    • says

      Hey Pete, Thom has written many books and articles about church health which include spiritual factors. The “Transformational Church” is a great one (reading it right now). Of course number 4, evangelistic effectiveness, is spiritual. I’m a pastor and I believe we can be misunderstood when we mention the importance of certain “practical” things regarding church life and ministry. We are very, very interested in the spiritual life of the church – it’s why I’m in the ministry. But we also have to think about the nuts and bolts of the ministry also. Someone has to have a place to park and a place to sit. It takes money to build a building. When the auditorium gets too full, someone has to think about what’s next. Each month the electric company sends us a bill that needs paid. These are practical, real-life facts that pastors and church boards deal with. It’s not that we aren’t concerned with the spiritual health of the congregation – it’s that we have to see the entire picture which includes things some people see as non-spiritual.

      • Pete Barker says

        Shawn,

        Thanks for the book suggestion. I will read that with interest. I understand what you are saying. I am a business owner and have to think of many of the same types of issues, but I never equate them with the health of the organization. In my work I advise clients (very few are church clients) on many of these same types of issues for their facilities. My reaction was to the content coupled with the idea of church health. Thom commented on that a day or so ago too. I love the Church, and I love my church and pastor. I spend my day job thinking about facilities, but with all my other time I learn all I can and seve as able in building up the living stones that Peter talked about. That is my passion and I only say it to help you understand why I reacted as I did. My earlier response to Thom addressed how I now have a better understanding of the greater context of Thom’s writing.

  12. Todd C. says

    I share Pete’s sentiments… I do not believe these “10 Rules of Thumb” really are a measure of the spiritual health of a church. I’ve been in churches that more than measure up to these standards, but the people were spiritually anemic because the preaching/teaching solely on “standards” and “evangelism”. The result was a lot of infighting as people fought over differences in personal standards. A healthy church is one where the gospel is preached by pastors who are servant-leaders who regard themselves as members of the flock, not set apart from the congregation or higher up on some sort of spiritual ladder. I’m really grieved over this.

  13. Josh says

    Wow, you must have a completely different Bible than me. I’m sorry, but I don’t think it matters what country you put in the title of this – this is a recipe for a successful business, not a Church. I’m really saddened by this.

  14. Thom Rainer says

    Pete, Todd, and Josh –

    I understand your perspective if I defined church health from the perspective of this one article. This article deals with simple metrics that have been used for years. If you read my works to any degree, you will note that I do not view these issues to be paramount to true church health. For example, I wrote two blogs in January 2012 that dealt with the main issues of church health. Here is what I noted:
    1.The churches have a high view of Scripture. A number of research projects over the past four decades point to this trend. Healthy churches have leaders and members who believe the totality of the Bible, often expressed as a view called inerrancy.
    2. A large number of church members read the Bible daily. The simplicity of this trend often surprises church leaders. But we can no longer assume that all of the congregants read their Bibles every day. That is a practice that must be encouraged and monitored. In our research on spiritual health of Christian, we found that the highest correlative factor in practicing other healthy spiritual discipline was reading the Bible every day.
    3. The churches have a priority and focus on the nations. This priority is manifest in short-term mission trips, in care and adoption of the orphaned, in giving to mission causes, and in the number of congregants who commit their lives to reaching the nations with the gospel.
    4. The churches have a missional community presence. The leadership and members do not look at their community as a pool for prospects. Rather, they love their community. They serve their community. The live in their community. They have deep relationships in their community.
    5. The congregations have membership that matters. These healthy churches are high expectation churches. Membership is much more than completing a card or walking an aisle. These churches have entry point classes that set the expectations of membership. Church members are expected to serve, to give, to be in small groups, and to be accountable to others. Church discipline is practiced in most of these congregations. Because membership is meaningful, the assimilation rate in these churches is very high.
    6. The members are evangelistically intentional. The gospel is central in these healthy churches. As a consequence, the sharing of the good news is natural and consequential. But leaders in these churches do not simply assume that evangelism is taking place. There are constant reminders of the priority of evangelism. There is inherent in many of these churches some type of accountability for ongoing evangelism in a number of contexts.
    7. These healthy churches have pastors who love the members.
    That love is obvious in their words, their actions, and their pastoral concern. It does not mean that a pastor is present for every need of a member of a church member; that is physically impossible. It does mean that the church has a ministry in place that cares for all the members. Above all, though, you can sense intuitively when you walk into these churches that the pastor deeply loves the members, even those who may often oppose him.
    8. The churches allow their pastors to spend time in sermon preparation.
    Our research has confirmed over the years that pastors in healthier churches spend more time in sermon preparation than those in other churches. For that to take place, the congregation must understand the primacy of preaching, and they must be willing for their pastor to forego some areas of activity and ministry so he can spend many hours in the Word.
    9. There is clarity of the process of disciple making.
    Such was the theme of the book, Simple Church, written by Eric Geiger and me. For the healthy churches, the ministries and activities are not just busy work; instead they have a clear purpose toward moving the members to greater levels of commitment toward Christ.
    10. These churches do less better.
    They realize that they can’t be all things to all people; and they shouldn’t have such a flurry of activities that they hurt rather than help families. So the leaders of these congregations focus on doing fewer ministries, but doing those few better than they could with an overabundance of activities.
    11. The process of discipleship moves members into ongoing small groups.
    A member is almost guaranteed to leave the church or become inactive in the church if he or she does not get involved in an ongoing small group. These groups have a variety of names: Sunday school; small groups; home groups; life groups; cell groups; and others. The name is not the issue. The issue is getting members connected to ongoing groups.
    12. Corporate prayer is intentional and prioritized.
    Prayer is not incidental in these churches. The leadership regularly emphasizes the importance and priority of prayer. The congregation is led regularly in times of corporate prayer.

    I realize I could do a better job of clarifying some of my blogs. Sometimes it’s difficult in the course of a daily blog to offer a larger context. As a result, a single blog may seem to have misplaced priorities.
    The good news is that I feel confident that each of you three men love the Lord and want what’s best for His Church. Thanks for commenting and thanks for reminding us what really matters.

    • Pete Barker says

      Thank you for taking the time to tie this post together with previous work with grace. What attracted me to the post in the first place was the title. Interestingly I clicked “church health” on your menu and only this current post popped up. I happy to know that this current top ten list is not the sum total. Thank you again.

    • Todd C. says

      Thom,
      Thanks for your kind response. I greatly appreciate it. I’m very familiar with metrics and the analysis that goes into mapping them into forecasts and business plans in the corporate world. It’s incumbent upon business leaders to measure results and take an honest look at their organization to see if what they’re doing is successful. It’s a very common problem, though, for corporate leadership to get so caught up data that they cannot see anything else. The organization may be falling apart around them, but as long as the data reflect solid growth they think all is well. I call it “spreadsheet leadership” and the result is a disconnect between a leader’s perception and the reality within the organization. MBA schools teach students to manage organizations this way, but the good leaders realize that metrics are limited and their interpretation of the metrics can be off. That’s life in the corporate world.

      Sadly, this form of leadership has crept into our churches as we’ve developed this “Pastor as CEO” philosophy. We’ve taught our Pastors that they must have a certain “List of Ingredients” in a church in order to achieve success so they go off and pursue the latest fads in church growth. Over time, the pastors find themselves pressured to add certain ingredients that are in vogue so they can capture more “market share” amongst a dwindling customer base.

      What’s missing is the biblical notion that Pastors are undershepherds, serving Christ as HE builds HIS church. Churches are expecting unbiblical things from their pastors and we’ve taken them away from their main task of shepherding people. Our “List of Ingredients” often quenches the operation of the Holy Spirit in our churches as we look to the Pastor instead of Christ. May God save us from this cancer in our churches.

      Thom, I’m not directing these comments at you. I don’t know you at all. I see some of the titles of your books and it seems that you really do love the Lord and you want what’s best for God’s people. Please just take these comments as a word from the pew as many of us laymen are jaded right now. As you talk to these Pastors, tell them to stop chasing fads and business models for “success”. Christians crave a church family where the Holy Spirit is present and working in the hearts of God’s people. Whether it’s in a nice building with fancy toilet paper holders in the bathroom or if it’s in a small hut in Myanmar, Christ is enough. He’s all we need.

      With Kind Regards,
      Todd

  15. Wes says

    Isn’t the conversion rate often dependent upon context. Aren’t there some communities that are harder to reach? Hard ground so to speak, or am I off?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Wes –

      Absolutely. In fact, all of the metrics must be contextualized. That is why I shared the cautionary prefatory comments.

  16. says

    I hate to be a contrarian, but I’ve been in churches that met all of these that I would not consider healthy at all. This says nothing of body life or discipleship. A rock star preacher and a great worship band can draw a big crowd but that does not automatically equate to a healthy church.

    This may be the rules of thumb for the ability of a market driven American church to grow, but to me it says nothing about church health.

  17. says

    I could use some advice on the worship space and the 80% rule. Our sanctuary seats 196. Our current worship average is 145. We had been at two services in the past. Attendance at the services usually ran 80 in the first and 60 in the second. Overtime the attendance dipped into the 120’s. Last year we moved to one service and our attendance rebounded. We are now 80% full but if we go back to two services we will be less than 40% full in one of our services. We are looking to expand. Any advice on the two or one service format?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Lee –

      Is it possible to have a separate children’s worship? That would at least take some pressure off the capacity without reverting to two services.

      • Lee says

        Thanks! We have thought of that option. We might run into a volunteer issue and we are concerned with splitting the family in worship. Also, it might only equal about 10-15 kids going into the children’s worship service. Thanks for the help!

  18. says

    So, is #5 (27 inches per attender) the capacity? Are we to take the total from #5 and apply the principles of #6, or do they speak to the same capacity number?

  19. says

    Good article. I have served most of my ministry overseas pastoring international English-language churches. Some of these standards apply. Some do not. In Singapore we averaged in some areas 300% space utilization. And in Stuttgart we have 700 worshipping in a building designed for 150. Creative solutions to challenges have helped us get beyond many of the space limitations. Giving to building programs is also not exactly according to the US numbers. I wonder how churches in New York City would see these standards. But there still are some common sense limitations and adjustments that must be made. The ratios and percentages change a bit, but they are still there.

  20. Murray E. Phillips says

    I understand much of what you said in this article, however, how do you address decline in churches in rural areas or in the inner cities? Are these congregations simply to give up and close their doors? I think we have some bigger issues such as a society that appears not to see “religion” as an answer to the questions of life. I’ve lived long enough to see a lot of fads and programs come and go in the drive to build the “bigger” and “better” church. What I am observing is that most people, particularly those under age 40, don’t see the chuch as something that is relavent in their daily life. It appears that Christianity, in the American context, is all about “show” and not “substance”. Perhaps we need to look to Africa, Asia, and Latin America where the church is growing!

  21. Steve Morris says

    I would also like your opinion on ratio of pastors to attendance. I have always heard/used something like 1:150.

    • says

      I have seen the rule of thumb set at 100 – not including the senior pastor. And it would seem the ratio might go down (fewer ministers needed per 100) once you past a certain size, since you would be staffed up. Also fewer in contexts in which there would be a larger number of qualified volunteers. So, I too am interested in seeing your tale on this.

  22. Craig Kurimay says

    Thom,
    A word of encouragement. Anybody who has even casually read your posts would have understood that your “statistics” are simply that and in no way were an attempt to corporatize (this is a word) the body of Christ. Pastor Johnny Hunt has said many times, “facts are your friends.” While statistics should never drive the mission and direction of the body of Christ, they can be a helpful tool by adding information for leadership to consider as they prayerfully seek God’s specific and unique plans for their congregations. Ed Stetzer’s research and reporting accomplishes similar objects. Thanks for ALL you do!

  23. Joe says

    Thom,

    I am intrigued by what you mean when you wrote “church health.” Does that mean the spiritual health of your congregation? Growth? Measures to make people feel welcomed? Maybe I’m missing something, but when I think of my church and it’s health I think more along the lines of “do I and my people look more like Jesus today then they did yesterday? Last month? Last year? Last 5 years?” Colossians 1:28 pops into mind when Paul writes “we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.” I guess when I read your post I’m not sure how acreage, parking, money and facilities make the top of the list. Those things are important and need to be addressed, but seem distant when faced with the task of presenting our people complete in Christ. So, did I miss something? If so, I’d like to know. If not, what would you consider the top 10 things to determine spiritual growth?

    Thanks,
    Joe

    • Thom Rainer says

      Joe –

      I wish I had not used the words “church health.” I made the erroneous assumption that readers would understand my use of the phrase in the context of my other blogs. Please read my long comment in the comment stream. I hope that can bring clarity to your question.

      Thanks.

      • Joe says

        Blogging…where things get scrutinized and not enough grace given…not that you needed it, but you got mine. Thanks for your reply and your longer post. It does help clarify. I’m still curious though…what do you mean by church health? or where would I find your writing on it?

        • Thom Rainer says

          Thanks for the grace Joe.

          I have not seen nor have I written a concise or a comprehensive definition of church health. We typically write about specific components of church health: evangelistic health; discipleship health; prayer health; corporate worship health; small groups health; adequate facilities; missional health; fellowship health; and others. And even when different persons address different aspects of church health, they often approach it differently. Your question is a good one, but I am unaware if anyone who has tried to tackle that assignment.

  24. says

    I am assessing appropriate levels of volunteer staffing for Sunday morning teams and ministries. Are any general guidelines available that suggest ratios for Hospitality, kids ministry, student ministry, adult ministry, etc. based on number of attendees? Our church of about 1200 has good Sunday morning worship and a growing array of community and global missions, We have healthy volunteer participation and I believe our expectations are too high. Churches and companies assess staff headcount and budgets, but does anyone count levels of volunteers? Each volunteer costs something, either at the detriment of another ministry or the volunteer themselves, and our supply is not infinite. I’m trying to make a case for leaders to resist temptation to constantly expand methods and recruit more volunteers (not talking about Gospel outreach here, just service delivery), and to instead establish reasonable levels of satisfaction and contentment.

  25. says

    Hi Thom, I read your books a lot and must say they are very helpful.
    How would you translate thses rules cross culturally?
    I pastor in London (UK) a church of 500 in a sunday single AM service we have about 10,000sq/ ft in the main auditorium and about 25 car parking spaces!!

  26. rjteague says

    Thom, I read your long post in the comment stream, and I do appreciate the marks you listed in the primary post. But many of these seem to me to be symptoms of what really makes a church healthy, rather than causes. Intentional prayer… well that’s fine, but what if it’s intentional but theologically off base? Churches will not be dynamic enough or have members mature enough if they neglect Biblical and theological instruction. Yes, that happens in sermons, but if churches are about not just growth but worship of the living God, wouldn’t the Number One Rule be to teach members what that’s all about? Maybe that seems like a given, but there are many congregations in the country today emphasizing growth over substance. I wonder just what they will look like over the long haul. Organizational health in a church is awesome, but it won’t last if the underlying spiritual structure is secondary to growth practice. Which I realize you weren’t really meaning to say, but the list itself neglects the foundational faith health of the congregation, and only addresses the symptoms of it.

    I’d also like to reinforce the comment by Murray Phillips. The church growth movement sometimes seems to me to forget that rural, small town, and small numbers in the cities are congregations with different circumstances, sometimes radically, than big, successful suburban congregations with coffee bars in their gathering halls.

  27. Larry Kessler says

    Do you also do anLysis on how money is managed in these successful churches, salary, benefits, special groups or ministries?

  28. Bill Dodson says

    Tom:
    I have been financing churches for fourteen years, and I would like to suggest that the percentages of revenue you suggest as maximums for debt service are too aggressive. The 33% mark should be the maximum in a growing church. A mature or plateaued church should be under 25%. There’s no way a church can dedicate 40% of revenue to debt service safely. That level implies far too high leverage and an extreme danger to the ministry should revenue flatten or decline. We saw this happen in the last recession, and the result was disastrous. The most useful measure for determining proper debt service levels is the debt service coverage ratio. This would be derived by dividing EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, and depreciation) by the debt service amount. The resulting ratio should be no less than 1.25 (125%). This leaves the ministry with sufficient free cash flow to build reserves.

  29. says

    Hi Thom,

    Great article! Concerning #5 – 27″ per person… Is that 27 square inches per person? 27″ from row to row? 27″ wide chairs? Just looking for some clarity. We 6 yr old contemporary church. We just built a new auditorium that was approved for 445 seats but when we put out 300 of the 400 that we bought, 300 chairs just felt right. We are slowly adding chairs each month as we grow but I’m looking for a healthy stopping point. We are at 80% in our 11am service and 65% in our 9am. How packed is too packed? Our architect gave us some general calculations like: 7 to 10 square feet per person. Our auditorium floor is 3,500 square feet (not including stage & tech booth) so according to our architect, 10 sq ft would be 350 chairs and 7 sq ft p/person would be 500 seats. Just curious about your thoughts on how to space out rows versus room size.
    Second question: Can we expect non-prime service times like a 9am or 1pm service to hit that 80%? Just curious if non-prime service times are kind of destined to be at lower capacities like 65%?
    Thanks again for teaching things I didn’t get in bible school.
    Ben

    • Thom Rainer says

      Ben –

      Note in the article and comments the name of Tim Songster at COSCO. He is the best source to answer your questions. Thanks.

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