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Mars Hill Albuquerque

During the opening, after the short video of Mark Driscoll, campus pastor Dave Bruskas told us that the giving target for Mars Hill Albuquerque (MHA) was $78,000. This was part of the giving narrative we’d heard in the video, so it wasn’t totally unexpected, but one rarely hears this sort of candor from the pulpit. In fact I can’t remember the last time I heard the pastor of a local church say how much money he expected of us from the pulpit for general operations. I typically only hear this kind of detail for a “special offering.”

I’m more accustomed to seeing line items in the bulletin; in Baptist churches and in one independent church I’ve recently seen a breakdown that includes the monthly budget, the amount given so far, the number of donors, maybe the corresponding figures for the week or month the previous year, or some combination of the above. These collections of numbers have gotten more common in the last couple of years, and they typically tell one of two stories: either 1) our church is growing, or 2) we’re not meeting budget numbers.

At MHA the $78,000 number for December was pitched as kind of both: the church is growing, and so the December budget number was a big number. I took this to mean that expenses were up, or they’re making plans to spend more money in the future, or something like that. It wasn’t entirely clear what it meant: whether it was meant to be a measure of giving capacity, or a number related to expenses, both, or neither.

Does $78,000 a month sound like a lot of money to you? Let’s do a little analysis.

There were four Sundays in December 2010, so that’s $19,500 per Sunday. MHA draws 600 people a week; I’m going to take that to mean that 600 different people attend some combination of their three Sunday morning and evening services. That works out to $32.50 per person. If we take that to be the “cost of service per attendance” or something like that it seems kind of high; I mean, would you pay that kind of money to spend a comparable amount of time in a movie theater to see a movie? A play? Some other kind of arts programming? I’m not sure what’s a fair comparison here.

On the other hand, if everyone at MHA tithes 10% of their gross income it suggests the average person makes $15,600 a year. That might be reasonable for a church of mostly students; in New Mexico the minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, and with 2080 hours in a working year (52 x 40) that’s again $15,600. Of course not everyone at MHA tithes 10% of their gross, and not everyone who goes to church there makes minimum wage (or works 40 hours a week 52 weeks a years) so it’s just an estimate. The studies I’ve read suggest that roughly 5% of churchgoers under 45 tithe; if that’s true at MHA their average tither makes more than $300,000 a year. Yeah. More likely they have a higher than average percentage of tithers, or have a small handful of rich donors.

What does it suggest about the salaries of paid staff? Well, MHA lists four people as pastors and staff: Bruskas, A. J. Hamilton, and deacons Donovan Medina and Matt Wallace [link]. If their staffing expenses are commensurate with Mars Hill’s reported 2009 numbers [PDF] they’re paying the average staff member the December 2010 equivalent of $120,616.80 in 2008-2009 dollars. That seems kind of high; I have to assume they have other staff positions (secretaries or band members, say) or are spending proportionally more on facilities (a historic theater in Nob Hill can’t be cheap) or utilities.

So I really don’t have a feel for whether MHA’s budget figures are high (meaning that either pastors are making huge salaries, the ministry is wasteful with money overall, or both) or low (meaning that they’re a lean efficient organization staffed by starving servants of God, etc.). With the kind of transparency Mars Hill offers in its annual report it’s hard to say.

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  1. February 7, 2011 at 3:42 am

    I think you’re leaving out a lot of expenses that the entire church contributes to though, yeah? First of all, 10% off the top goes to Acts 29 and church planting. I think Churches Helping Churches gets a regular contribution as well but I haven’t heard anyone say. You’re right on with the rent, utilities and you can’t forget all the coffee bar stuff and the Weekly. It adds up. Something else is not all the campuses make their budget quarter. I think part of being so open with the money is because we all need to pull our own weight but if a campus or campuses don’t make budget, the rest chip in.

    You seem bold enough to just ask Pastor Dave yourself. But it seems (from the two blog posts of yours that I read) you haven’t done so. This leads me to believe that you aren’t all that concerned? đŸ™‚

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