LifeWay Research Study Examines Money and Embezzlement In the Church

With churches and other faith groups collecting tens of billions of donations each year, some of the money unfortunately goes missing.

About 1 in 10 Protestant churches has had someone embezzle funds, according to a survey released today (Aug. 3) of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors from LifeWay Research. The group conducted the survey Aug. 22–Sept. 16, 2016.

That figure isn’t surprising, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. Most churches rely on volunteers to handle their finances, he said.

Those volunteers are usually honest. But churches often lack systems to catch those who aren’t. As a result, he said, money that could have been used for ministry goes missing.

“Churches run on trust — but they also know people are imperfect and can be tempted,” McConnell said. “That’s why safeguarding a church’s finances is an important part of ministry.”

Overall, 9 percent of pastors say that their church has had funds embezzled. Ninety-one percent say they are not aware of any embezzlement.

Churches of Christ ministers are more likely to say their church had funds embezzled (16 percent) when compared to Baptist (7 percent) or Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (6 percent).

Pastors of mid-sized churches — those with between 100 and 249 members — are less likely to say funds had been embezzled (6 percent) than those with 250 or more members (12 percent).

LifeWay Research’s survey echoes a smaller 2012 study published in Fraud Magazine of churches in Kansas and Missouri, which found 13.4 percent of churches there had experienced embezzlement or other fraud.

A study of more than 2,400 fraud cases at businesses and nonprofits by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found 2.4 percent of cases involved churches or other charitable groups. The average loss was $82,000.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Bob Smietana