An Inside Look at How Church Finances Fund “Worldwide Efforts to Love God and Neighbor”

Contributed By Scott Taylor, Church News managing editor

  • 27 December 2019

The Salt Lake Temple photographed in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 4, 2019. Photo by Kristin Murphy, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely appointed mission.
  • In light of recent media coverage, the Church has released two statements explaining its use of member tithes and donations.

“The sacred funds donated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are an expression of faith, devotion and obedience to the biblical law of tithing.”

In collecting tithes and donations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses member contributions in a myriad of ways—helping the poor and the needy, building temples, offering free-of-charge genealogical resources, providing worship and gathering locations, supporting its missions and missionaries, and investing in education and institutions of learning.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the sacred tithes and generous donations of its members in worldwide efforts to love God and neighbor,” states a Newsroom article posted Friday, December 20.

Titled “How the Church of Jesus Christ Uses Tithes and Donations,” the Church statement comes during a week when media has been publishing about the Church and its finances.

“In light of recent media stories that have misrepresented the Church’s approach, the Church provides the following summary,” the article said, highlighting five areas of emphasis.

  • The Church is committed to helping the poor and the needy.
  • The Church builds temples and connects families through genealogical work.
  • The Church provides worship and gathering space for its members.
  • The Church supports a global missionary program.
  • The Church invests in education.

The statement also includes video clips from a 2018 interview Newsroom conducted last year with the Presiding Bishopric, who under the direction of the First Presidency administer the temporal affairs of the Church.

The Poor and Needy

Latter-day Saint Charities, the Church’s global program, works with worldwide local charitable organizations—such as the Red Cross—in emergencies, natural disasters, and other needs. The efforts in providing assistance and relief primarily benefit those who are not of the Latter-day Saint faith.

President Russell M. Nelson spoke in October 2019 general conference about Latter-Saint Charities and the Church’s humanitarian efforts, which is a small portion of what the Church spends to help those in need.

The Church’s most recent annual report showed more than $2.2 billion in aid given in 197 countries since the Church’s humanitarian arm was created in 1985.

Also, men, women, children, and families receive assistance in food, housing, and other temporal needs from the leaders of the Church’s 30,000-plus congregations through its welfare program. That provides billions more dollars of assistance beyond the humanitarian outreach.

Plastic-wrapped bales of blankets are loaded onto conveyor belts on the tarmac at the Salt Lake International Airport. Some 8,000 blankets were included in the recent humanitarian shipment. Photo by Jason Swensen.

Temples and Connecting Families

The Church helps connect families across generations through ordinance work done in temples, with 217 of the sacred buildings worldwide either operating, under construction, or announced.

Temple work by members draws upon support from FamilySearch, the Church’s nonprofit family history organization, which offers free of charge its genealogical resources to anyone.

The spires of the Salt Lake Temple rise into the sky Thursday night, July 18, 2002. Photo by Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News.

Worship and Gathering Spaces

For its 16 million members across the globe, the Church funds its 30,500 congregations and thousands of meetinghouses.

Besides being spaces for regular worship services and activities for the Latter-day Saints, the meetinghouses also serve as locations used for community education, family history research, and emergency response.

Church members in Ghana sing from a hymnbook in a worship service. Church leaders announced in June 2018 that they have formed a committee to suggest major revisions to the Hymns and Children's Songbook hymnals for the first time since the general hymnal was published in 1985. The new project is not expected to be complete for several years.

A Global Missionary Program

More than 65,000 full-time volunteers for the Church currently comprise its global missionary force in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beyond the missionaries’ own personal financial contributions to their service, the Church adds significant financial support to cover the costs for the missionaries and the 399 missions, including apartments, automobiles, mission offices, and mission homes.

Elders Jason Andersen and Chet Norman do their missionary work in Tonga on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Investing in Education

With an eternal emphasis on secular learning as well as spiritual learning, the Church provides wide-reaching educational investment, the article points out.

The Church sponsors several universities—Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, as well as BYU-Idaho and BYU-Hawaii—and a business college for a combined enrollment of 93,000 students.

A campus sign at the entrance of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Photo by Nate Edwards, BYU.

Additionally, the PathwayConnect program provides higher education opportunities worldwide, including a university degree for those with limited resources or chances to earn such on their own.

Also, the Seminaries and Institutes program offers daily religious instruction to some 400,000 high school students and 300,000 students annually.

The Newsroom article cites several recent media observations about the Church and its financial operations and principles.

  • “The fact that the Church of Jesus Christ has been able to fund the operation of meetinghouses, temples, educational institutions and missionary work—while also building up reservoirs of resources for the difficult days that eventually come—is a model that should be celebrated and emulated by governments and other institutions around the world,” one opinion editor writes
  • “The Church follows the same sound financial principles it teaches its membership. It avoids debt, lives within its budget, and prepares for the future,” said the Newsroom piece. “Little wonder the pages of the Wall Street Journal recently praised Utah’s strong economy, in part because of the state’s ‘predominant [Latter-day Saint] culture that encourages out-of-fashion virtues such as thrift, delayed gratification, and stable families.’”
  • Scholar D. Michael Quinn, who published a 600-page history of Church finances in 2017, summed up his findings to a newspaper reporter as “an enormously faith-promoting story,” adding that if Latter-day Saints could see “the larger picture,” they would “breathe a sigh of relief and see the Church is not a profit-making business.”
  • And a Deseret News op-ed offered: “Yes, the Church saves and invests its surplus pennies, but it also helps vastly reduce the debt of college students, gives to the poor regardless of background and supports one of the largest non-governmental welfare programs in the country. Most importantly, it does all this without enriching those at the top.”

The Newsroom article concludes: “The sacred funds donated by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are an expression of faith, devotion and obedience to the biblical law of tithing and a desire to build Christ’s Church through living the two great commandments to love God and neighbor.”

On December 17, the First Presidency issued an initial statement on the care for tithes and offerings and the Church’s accountability of such.

“We take seriously the responsibility to care for the tithes and donations received from members. The vast majority of these funds are used immediately to meet the needs of the growing Church including more meetinghouses, temples, education, humanitarian work, and missionary efforts throughout the world. Over many years, a portion is methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future. This is a sound doctrinal and financial principle taught by the Savior in the Parable of the Talents and lived by the Church and its members. All Church funds exist for no other reason than to support the Church’s divinely appointed mission.

“Claims being currently circulated are based on a narrow perspective and limited information. The Church complies with all applicable law governing our donations, investments, taxes, and reserves. We continue to welcome the opportunity to work with officials to address questions they may have.”