'Churches run on trust', but 1 in 10 US Protestant congregations have had donations embezzled

One in 10 US Protestant churches has seen its donations embezzled, according to a new survey.

One in ten Protestant churches in the US have experienced the embezzlement of their funds.Pexels

A survey of 1,000 pastors by the Christian group LifeWay Research found that nine per cent have had experienced their funds being stolen internally. Ninety-one per cent said they were not aware of any embezzlement.

LifeWay Research executive director Scott McConnell said the figure shouldn't be that surprising, since most church administrations rely on volunteers and lack proper systems to catch those who are unruly.

'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.'

Some denominations are more likely to have experienced embezzlement than others.  For example, 16 per cent of Churches of Christ ministers have suffered compared with seven per cent of Baptists, and six per cent of Presbyterian Reformed pastors.

The research also explored how recently churches have had their financial audits, and how far their reserves could last. Smaller congregations tend to have more weeks of financial reserves than larger churches, and overall one in four churches only have reserves to support them for up to seven weeks.

The study findings echoed those of a 2016 LifeWay study that found many US churches struggling with a decline in financial giving.

McConnell said: 'It takes a lot of faith to run a church, especially when finances are tight. But some churches may be missing out on ministry, because there's not enough money in the bank to respond to needs and opportunities that arise.'