Relating to a recent post where we talked about the ongoing barebones survival of the tiny COG remnants, we’ve run some basic numbers about how much money, and therefore members, one of these splinters theoretically needs in order to operate.
As the COG continues to dwindle, a common question is how long some of these little groups can hold out before dissolving entirely from being entirely financially insolvent and organizationally unglued.
If the average church member makes about $52,000 per year, which is the U.S. median income, and supposing they give at least 15 percent of their income to the church between first tithe and freewill offerings throughout the year, we can do the following math:
The average tithe-paying member pays the following per year to the cult:
$52,000 x .15 = $7,800
If there are only 200 tithe-paying members in a COG group, the church makes the following annually off the backs of members:
200 x $7,800 = $1,560,000
COG groups including UCG and LCG have stated publically that 30 percent of their income goes to media projects to “Preach the Gospel.” That leaves 70 percent for operating costs, which includes properties and ministerial salaries primarily. Since COG groups often own very little property, and don’t pay any taxes, most of that remaining 70 percent goes to salaries for full-time ministers.
If assumed true in this scenario:
$1,560,000 x .70 = $1,092,000
A COG group of 200 paying congregants might have 10 or so high-ranking paid ministers, from regional pastors, council members or a strongman president or Pastor General. Split evenly, they each might annual make the following in salary:
$1,092,000 / 10 = $109,200
Which is a big salary for men who don’t really do anything than give a set of canned messages each Sabbath and conduct the occasional Bible study or wedding. Obviously, if an organization of this size has more than 10 full-time paid members of staff, the money would be distributed differently, but it’s still a considerable income for those fortunate enough to run the church.
Please note this is basing a member’s annual payments to their COG group based on a conservative rate of 15 percent between first tithe and offerings. It doesn’t include other ways the COG takes money from its members.
The bottom line is that even the tiniest COG group with 200 tithe-paying members making median national salaries and a proportional number of paid employees can collect a lot of money and healthy salaries each year, and combined over the years they have made quite a lot.
This is how tiny sects like PCG, which is still far larger than the scenario presented here, can stay aloft despite culling its ranks so aggressively, or how RCG with its 1,000 or so members can keep chugging along and affording to pay its small ministry and build its absurd campus in Wadsworth. It’s why there’s a big payday for dissenting or fired ministers looking to peel members off to form their own splinter and why running LCG after Meredith’s death will be such a huge financial boon. It’s why most COG groups prefer to concentrate power at the top among small handfuls of men instead of instituting big unwieldy councils. It’s part of why UCG hasn’t scrambled to replace the bulk of paid ministers who left for COGWA and why so many COG groups are loathe to hire new, younger full-time pastors from the ranks of their membership.
And ultimately, this math is why Herbert W. Armstrong got into the religions business to begin with and how the organizational children of his cult will continue to spin on for decades more after his death.