Understanding the cost of missionary support

By April 17, 2015
(Photo Courtesy to Reach Beyond)

(Photo Courtesy of ReachGlobal)

Int’l (ReachGlobal) — [EDITORS NOTE: This is a community post from ReachGlobal blog.]

It often surprises people when mission candidates share the amount that they need to raise per month. One candidate in the process of raising support told me that they will often hear, “Wow, I don’t make that much,” when they explain that they need to raise $6,000 per month.

Let’s talk about that.

Missionaries are those who, in response to God’s particular call on their life, often must give up traditional employment opportunities for the purpose of following God’s call to a foreign context. Either they cannot legally earn an income in their country of residence, or they simply do not have the time for traditional employment. It has always been an important function of the church to fund these apostolic Christians in their quest to see the gospel news take root in new and foreign neighborhoods. “We ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8).

We should never use the cost of sending missionaries as an excuse to no longer send long-term personnel internationally. That would be to abandon the call on the church to fulfill the Great Commission. It is true that in today’s world the role of missionaries is changing, but not the need.

To be sure, a missionary wage is not opulent. Missionaries in our organization make a fair but modest income. But, we are not comparing oranges with oranges when we measure our income against what missionaries need to raise.

Think about this. The total amount a missionary raises includes the following:

-salary

-health insurance*

-travel expenses (for all ministry-related travel, domestically and internationally)*

-ministry expenses*

-cost of educating children overseas

-housing

-taxes (including all of social security)*

-continuing education*

-retirement*

-cost of setting up a home overseas

Each of the starred items are “hidden costs” in the United States as these are paid partially or fully by employers and never show up as compensation. In addition, there are expenses missionaries have that most of us don’t, including the need to pay for the education of children.

If they are living in cities with high housing costs (often the case in Europe and Asia), the housing costs are significantly higher than the United States. It is not unusual for a modest flat in a place like Hong Kong to cost $3,000 per month. To provide faithful presence among neighbors, it is often strategically required to live in expensive cities.

In addition, whatever ministry expenses a missionary has must come out of the support they raise. Travel to coach or train nationals, for instance, comes out of their ministry account (which they must raise). In today’s world, many missionaries live in one place but travel to multiple countries training, coaching, and mentoring. All costs come out of what they must raise.

What we often don’t think about are the actual costs of ministry personnel in our local churches. On top of salary, you have benefits paid by the church, the cost of offices and facilities, the cost of support personnel who assist them, as well as the covering of ministry expenses. It is a much larger bill than we often realize. The difference with missionaries is that everything shows up in what they need to raise. There are no hidden costs.

Mission incomes are quite modest. It is the ancillary costs that are not. The next time you have sticker shock, remember what the number means and does not mean.

(This post originally appeared on the Leading From The Sandbox blog.)

 

15 Comments

  • Christoph says:

    That is a good article. A good comparison would be salaries of a Pastor here in North America and add cost of living to the missionary’s “salary”.
    I served as a missionary in Central Europe

  • Josh says:

    I would add that it is accepted that a pastor should make a profit while most do not make the same distinction for missionaries. Every penny most missionaries raisd is expected to go towards feeding the homeless or ending sex-trafficking. It can get expensive, but I know on my first longer trip overseas, it had me feeling guilty everytime I bought a Coke. This shouldn’t be the case.

  • Mukul Prasad says:

    Good article to go through, for a person, who opts to serve as a life-time laborer for Missions apart from a Missionary. I’m a local missionary in Calcutta, India, served in Nepal as well….

    • Rose says:

      Hey Mukul, how are you? I am praying over traveling to your city and if you wouldn’t mind, would love to chat about your work as a missionary and your city?

  • A good and realistic article. It took us so long to raise our support and equiping fund. We were almost 69 & 61 when we arrived in Bosnia almost 16years ago.

    We went independent after a year and a half.now are both on SS and hubby has a small pension. We are self-supporting. God has provided us with a completely renovated ministey building with a rent free apartment. The people who gave us this send enough money to cover utilities and operating expenses and God regularly blesses us with donations to meet other minustry expenses. All without our beating the bushes for supporters.

    I share this because I want to encourage others that, indeed God will supply abundantly more than we ask or think if He is in Our calling. Prevailing wisdom is too often prevailing and seldom wisdom.

  • Jacky says:

    may God provides for U Mukul, thru the wealthy christians who couldnt go and pray!

    • Your Name says:

      We’ve been in Colombia 19 years and very little of our support comes from “wealthy” Christians. The working and middle class of nearly every country give more than the wealthy. And we are so grateful.

  • Bob Bowling says:

    Hey, you forgot the financial costs of “fundraising” trips and tools. I do mission work in Thailand and many of my friends go to their home countries and have to travel to many states and cities for meetings and speaking/preaching. Thankfully, they often are hosted with friends, but other expenses like food and gas are quite spendy. And how about “tools”?! Creating newsletters. Printing and mailing costs. Time and expense of creating DVD’s, video reports, slide shows, working on websites, etc. A HUGE area of work and expense that a person back home does not need to do!

  • Lil says:

    Thank you for the article. I would like to add a few more expenses that are forgotten. Language study, especially in countries with difficult languages can be a huge expense. Many missionaries have their offices in their homes. Many have Bible studies and meetings in their homes. Some even have churches meet in their homes. That is not only a financial outlay, but an emotional one as well. Many missionaries and their families need emotional support and counseling, especially if they are not in proximity to other mature believers. That can be another expense.

  • Nicole says:

    Ditto to all those above!

    I’m a cross-cultural worker in the midst of support-raising right now, and this is the #1 question I get from potential supporters! Thank you for this article and the clarification on everything that goes into our support. And I have even more to add:

    * International taxes (those of us from the USA, at least, have to pay taxes to both our home country and the one we are living in)
    * Travel health expenses such as vaccines, travel doctors (specialists), & international insurance (in addition to regular health insurance already mentioned)
    * For some, education expenses. Many agencies require additional Bible training on top of our “regular” degrees. Or Bible school students often have to go back to school to get a secular degree once they know their area of ministry. Often at least part of that comes from support.

  • Tim says:

    One other expense most do not realize is that many Mission agencies also withhold 10-20% of what the individual raises to pay for agency expenses incurred keeping the missionary on the field (like employer portion taxes, postage for receipts sent to donors, salary for a paid secretary or bookkeeper, etc..) it all adds and if you are also dealing with currency exchange, that US $ may quickly lose much of it’s value.

  • Guy says:

    After many years of independent travel with my wife and kids we are astounded at the cost of working full time for a mission organization.
    I’m a qualified mechanic with skills in woodwork and metalwork which I recently used to teach at the local high school for 2 years. We as a family lived in Uganda for three months where I taught mechanics and some woodwork to a group of students on a vocational training farm. At the time we lived in Britain but now live in Canada. Missions and travel has always been on our hearts and is the reason I became a mechanic. Just recently I was going through the process of working in Africa for a large mission organization until we received an email laying out the support we would need to raise to be there. Bearing in mind the compound has a hospital, school, accommodation and vehicles for the missionaries we were still expected to raise an initial payment of 40-60,000 and then another 8-10,000 a month. As you can imagine I’m floored by this colossal amount of money needed to send a family of five to Africa. Your article does answer some questions but I’m still flabergasted that a God loving agency potentially needs $180,000 to support a family in Africa.
    I know God’s hand isn’t short and if it’s his will he will provide for us. I just bring myself to expect that much money from people. It feels like greed or waste.
    I wondered if it’s a North American thing but then spoke to friends in the church and they too are astounded. How can this be right when there are people struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day and we go out minister to them from our opulence. We had Bulgarian friends in Britain and they too struggled to see “American missionaries” who lived in the richest part of Sofia come to their church and preach a Jesus who would meet all their needs. Surely there’s something a miss here. I’m not suggesting we live in mud huts but when money is expected that would keep a local family for 180 years you’ve got to start asking where is the sacrifice being made.
    Any help you can offer for me to get my head around this would be appreciated.

  • Your Name says:

    Bro. Praise the lord I am from Punjab Ludhiana. Doing ministry from last 10 years as evenzlist . lord use me different part of India. People’s got dlivrence and save. I am working in utter perdesh. Bihar Punjab. Rajsthan . nepal . now I need financial help. I have also 100 people flock in Ludhiana. Plz. Replyel. Me.
    Pr. Varinder Singh

  • Connie says:

    Excellent article. Our family is actually in the very midst of raising $6k per mo support for missions abroad! We absolutely and completely trust God will provide. But we’ve faced those same reactions and have the same hurdles (esp the visa & time restrictions). I didn’t get to read all the comments so this may have been mentioned, but the exchange rate is another factor. For us, we’ll lose nearly 1/4 of each dollar donated, and that’s w/o factoring in transfer fees. Again, thanks for this insightful article. It’s a helpful tool for us in this season!

  • Your Name says:

    As far as the one comment regarding living in opulence, the two missions I know of live in the villages, with the people, in the same housing the tribes are living in. They are there for years at a time. Maybe it depends on what mission organization you are going through. The cost of flying everything including people, in and out is astronomical. Both organizations are trslating the Bible into the language of the people, often it is a language that has never been written.

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