Is the Average Monthly Support Budget for a Missionary Crazy?

It takes about$10,000 per month on average for an average American missionary family to serve on the field.  A missionary budget like that seems high to most people.

[Based upon some feedback on this post, it’s been updated.]

I bet that seems like too much for a missionary.

Discover the Top5 Online Resources for Missionaries Raising Support… (that aren’t for Missionaries).

Many people who have commented to me about how much a missionary family has to raise per month often are shocked that it costs so much.

Do you know who does understand it?

People who hire employees understand the true cost of financially supporting an employee (in this case, a missionary).

If you owned a business, think about how much it would cost your business to hire a single employee to work on the other side of the world.

Or, think about how much each employee costs to work in the office in your home country.  You have to consider more than salary and benefits.  Depending on the workplace, a desk, computer, phone, internet, adequate heating/cooling, and any other job related materials are provided for each employee.  All of those things cost the business money.  “Corporate” isn’t around to provide that for missionaries, and so all that is needed for a missionary to live and work on the field is provided through generous supporters.

So is $10,000 per month crazy for monthly missionary support?

To answer that question, let me introduce somebody from MIT (because citing anybody from MIT makes you look really smart).

Joe Hadzima, Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management (at the time of his writing) wrote a response to entrepreneurs asking the following question:

How Much Does an Employee Cost?

It is easy to consider the base salary, but as I mentioned previously, the cost of each employee is much more than just the salary.  People in charge of hiring at businesses understand this.

So if we consider the full cost of an employee, is about $10,000 reasonable?

Hadzima explains much of the extra cost of an employee beyond salary for a particular field, and he cites a rule of thumb:

An employee costs about 2.7 times the base salary.

Using that rule of thumb, if each missionary costs about $10,000 per month, we would expect the salary to be around $3,700 per month (10,000/2.7).   That translates into an annual salary of about $44,400 per year (12 x 3700).

I could be wrong, but I think the average annual income in the US is around $53,000.

Conclusion: We are Not Crazy.

At least not for needing about $10,000 per month to support a missionary.

In fact, for that $10,000 per month, we would expect a missionary to have an annual salary below that of an average household in the US (about 16.2% lower, in fact).

Some encouraging news.

Remember that the average missionary’s salary is about 54% of their monthly support needs.  That would be $5,400 per month of the overall $10,000.  However, to make a better comparison, we should add another 6% for housing.  (Most missionaries, for tax reasons, have housing separate from wages, but most employees in the US pay for their housing out of their wages.)  Since that is more than $44,400 annually, we can see that ReachGlobal is able to deploy a missionary with less additional cost beyond salary than the rule of thumb would allow for.

[Update: ReachGlobal no longer has this resource available on their website.  If it becomes available in the future, we will update the link.  At the time, it did say that 54% was for salary, 6% for housing, 12% for ministry expenses, and I don’t remember the rest.  Hopefully they will have it available again soon.]

[Update: Links have been updated again.  The resource sometimes becomes unavailable; my guess is that they periodically update it.  Drop me a line if it’s not working.]

In fact, if we were to accept the average monthly missionary salary of $6,000 as reasonable, according to the rule of thumb, we would expect it to cost $16,200 per month to support a missionary (6,000 x 2.7).

Conclusion: Until it costs over $16,200 per month to support a missionary, the full monthly cost of sending a missionary family is not crazy!

Okay, so the additional cost beyond the salary isn’t crazy – but is the salary itself crazy?  Stay tuned for more.


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2 Responses to “Is the Average Monthly Support Budget for a Missionary Crazy?”

  1. jd December 6, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    You also need to cut that number at least in half. The wife is usually also educated, qualified, called, and employed full-time as well. So, the monthly income is actually $1,850!

    Companies with U.S. workers overseas also give “hardship pay” bonuses of 10%-25%. As most missions don’t pay that…the donor is getting a bargain. Additionally, and I don’t have numbers, but an oversees U.S. employee probably works fewer hours per week than the average missionary who in some cases is basically on-call. Friends I know easily work a 10-12 hour workday…with a 6 day work week. That translates into a 60 -72 hour work week. Taking 1,850 and dividing it by 4.35 weeks/month equals $425/week. Divide that by a 65 hour work week which equals $6.54/hour. This is not even what a burger flipper on minimum wage makes. Many of the missionaries I know…probably half have graduate degrees. I would say the donor is getting a bargain!!!!


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