Nearly 50 percent of the budgets of large churches funded primarily by congregational giving goes to paying staff salaries and a majority of them keep their congregations in the dark about the specifics of these payments, according to the 2016 Large Church Salary Study from the Leadership Network.
Information for the study was compiled from a survey of megachurches — congregations with weekend worship attendances of 2,000 or more adults and children.
This year's survey is said to have been the largest cross-denominational research project anywhere on large church salaries, staff and budget issues. Some 26 percent of the 1,650 megachurches in North America responded to the Leadership Network survey and more than 15,000 specific salaries were culled from 1,251 responses.
Among the highlights of the study is that 49 percent of the total budget in megachurches is spent on staffing and 81 percent of the churches participating in the survey said that knowledge about specific salaries is mostly limited to the board, a subcommittee of the board, or senior staff.
The only other way to see the salaries earned by specific staff members at these churches is if congregants demand to see the figures.
Churches, including houses of worship such as synagogues and mosques, are not required to file Form 990 which is a United States Internal Revenue Service form that provides the public with financial information about nonprofit organizations.
According to Forbes, the lack of transparency in this area when it comes to churches remains a source of concern among the laity.
Concerned about the effect that the lack of financial transparency has on non-believers citing Paul's letter to the Corinthians which states: "For we are taking pains go do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men," the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability requires that member organizations provide audited financial statements on request. Even this organization, however, hasn't escaped controversy.
In his book, Stop The Prosperity Preachers, the Rev. Frank Benson Jones argues that lack of transparency is one of the things that draws the wrong type of people into ministry. He argues that churches and other religious organizations should be required to file IRS form 990 and that if the profits were removed, only prophets would remain.
"I have heard of some churches that require the members of the staff to sign non-disclosure agreements, and that is a sure sign the church is doing something wrong. Requiring churches and religious organizations to file an IRS form 990 would in no way impede the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, but it would help to expose those greedy preachers who are using the constitution to conceal their improper accumulation of wealth at the expense of American citizens," said Jones.
"Any evangelist who preached to a congregation that the pastor should obey 2 Corinthians 8:20-21 by giving full financial disclosure to the congregation would not be invited back to that church and would probably be put on the undesirable list by other prosperity preachers who heard of the evangelist's message," he noted.
"Any evangelist who is known for failing to support a pastor's right to maintain the confidentiality of a church's finances would be committing economic suicide and would eventually not be welcomed by the prosperity preachers who could afford to give such an evangelist the largest offerings.
"I find it strange and appalling that the salary of the president of the United States is made public; the salaries of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are made public; the salaries of every state governor are made public; but the salaries of pastors and church employees are kept confidential and top secret," he added.