Here is how he got this number.
The International Bulletin of Missionary Research estimated $410 billion/year in giving to “Christian” causes worldwide over the recent years. This was broken down to $160 billion to churches and $250 billion to parachurch organizations every year. Let’s assume that $347,000 per baptism is simply the total giving of $410 billion divided by the number of baptisms tracked. If this simple method was used, then the cost per baptism is tremendously overstated since we would have to assume a large portion is allocated to the operations of those churches and parachurch organizations.
I am assuming the primary mission of these organizations has something to do with making followers of Christ. The question is how much is being spent on the core mission of these organizations and how effective are they? A comparable question in the business world is asking how much do we spend on marketing and how effective is our program? For many companies, the benchmark is approximately ten percent of budget. Ten percent of $410 billion is $41 billion, which would make the figure $34,700 per baptism.
I would assume though that a church and parachurch organizations should be more focused to their mission than a companies, and, one could argue, their core mission should be their only focus. If a church were a business, would it really only devote 10% of the budget to getting out their message? Eyeballing, 30% or higher seems more appropriate. If this really is the case, I think $104,000 per baptism—or higher—is flabbergasting. And I suppose if one went with the argument that the only mission of a church or parachurch is making new Christians—a premise I don’t think stands up to biblical scrutiny—then the simple arithmetic of total expenditures ÷ number of new converts = cost/baptism, more or less. $347,000.I agree with him that this is very troubling.
However, while I think the point that he is making stands, I'm concerned that the method this was arrived at is not quite right, which we talked about in some comments on the site.
I had this to say (among other things).
Just wanting to better understand what your saying. I guess what I’m hung up on is this part.
"And I suppose if one went with the argument that the only mission of a church or parachurch is making new Christians—a premise I don’t think stands up to biblical scrutiny (I agree)—then the simple arithmetic of total expenditures (you just said this is not "biblical", I must be missing something) ÷ number of new converts = cost/baptism, more or less. $347,000."Do you see what I’m getting at. If the mission is about more than making new Christians, (that’s kind of been my point all along) why are we dividing new converts by total expenditures, when much of these expenditures go to something besides conversion efforts? Wouldn’t it make more sense to capture the amount being spent on advertising/evangelism/whatever you want to call it, and then come up with a number? Which I would probably agree with you is still too high. Am I nit-picking? I guess my concern is that if were going to put a headline out there $347,000/baptism, people are going to want to know where that came from.
I believe churches are unique organisms, which have multiple mandates. Consequently, not just baptisms, but alleviating suffering, pursuing justice, and making disciples, to name a few, are all aims of the mones given to the church and other Christian organizations world wide.
That said, his larger point, that there is no doubt way too much waste going on stands, and I agree with him.
You can check out the original article and our comments conversation here.