Estimate: Christian Religious Leaders to Embezzle $86 Billion in 2024

The January issue of the International Bulletin of Mission Research (IBMR) reports that Christian religious leaders are estimated to embezzle $86 billion in 2024.

The disturbing statistic, which is easy to overlook, appears in Table 5 of the article “World Christianity 2024: Fragmentation and Unity” under the description “Ecclesiastical Crime.”

This estimate was compiled by data scientists Dr. Gina Zurlo, Dr. Todd Johnson, and Peter Crossing at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

IBMR has been publishing the annual estimate of ecclesiastical crime for decades. The statistic was born from the pioneering research of the late David Barrett, an editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia.

In 1983, Barrett authored the journal article “Silver and Gold Have I None: Church of the Poor or Church of the Rich?” which explored the financial state of Christian missions giving.

Barrett strived “to understand the totality of Christian finance,” according to his former colleague, Dr. Todd Johnson, which resulted in the development of “a balance sheet for global Christianity.”

Ecclesiastical crimes take on many forms such as skimming from an offering plate, restricted donation fraud (diverting mission donations to a personal expense account), and international cash smuggling.

Televangelists have transferred funds across international borders on private jets and failed to report these transactions resulting in “bulk cash smuggling.”

Individual leaders of hierarchically organized international churches with hundreds and sometimes thousands of individual churches in countries scattered around the globe also are guilty of this.

One such church that has been accused of this is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God of Brazil, led by one of the wealthiest televangelists in the world—Edir Macedo.

For over a decade the amount embezzled by Christian leaders has far exceeded the missions giving of churches.
To combat this problem, churches and ministries need to become more accountable and transparent with their finances.