How much church can you get for minimum wage?

I ask the question “How much church can you get for minimum wage?” not to suggest that low-waged workers should be segregated into their own parishes, but consider the proportional sacrifices and ability to give.

I routinely advocate for the formation of new churches: to keep up with population growth, to replace those declining and defunct, and engage with under-represented groups of people. But this doesn’t mean we have the same level of resources we did in the 1980s or 1940s (or 1880s or 1640s.)

One down side of a secularizing culture is that it’s harder to make a case for funding a religious endeavor, unless, perhaps there’s some attendant ethnic or cultural reason. And with a trend of declining wealth, stagnant wages and increasing student debt, the people who are left to contribute are likely to have less to spare.

We’re coming out of church culture of big asks, big sacrifices and big capital projects. But that just doesn’t seem realistic — certainly not in the same way — in the future.

Now, we look at millions of America who are just keeping body and soul together. The churches have to prove their value; double so with new ones.

So, how much church can you get for minimum wage? And more importantly, how will they work? And what will they do?

The church, in its history, has been impoverished, tested, challenged and troubled. I can survive, even prosper. But how?

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. My experience in Chicago is quite a bit of Church. At least if you want to measure the amount of Church by the size of it’s edifice. I watch some big ones go up in some of the poorest communities in this country.

  2. I suspect that what you are getting at is the reality that Church may look very different. What will get funded are the basics which people strongly support, are involved in, and benefit from: spiritual practice, mutual care, religious education, service. I see a future of stripped down budgets, unconventional staffings (by 20th century standards), less emphasis on traditional buildings, etc.. How much church can you buy? Quite a lot. But its the mode of church that will change in the 21st century.

  3. I had dinner with a UUC Minister in Florida. My Mom attends his Church and he had joined us before she had some surgery. Their Church rents space from Seventh Day Adventists (they’ll always be assured a Sunday slot) and they want nothing to do with their own brick-and-boarder Church. The minister said no way would he be asking this congregation to get a mortgage. He gets a big chunk of his income doing “high end” weddings. He said he doesn’t want to depend on a Congregation for income either.

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