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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Introducing The MinistryWatch Index

New Index provides monthly look at revenue changes of largest Christian ministries.

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will offer his opinion on stories in the week’s news or, sometimes, offer a behind-the-scenes look at how and why we do what we do.

MinistryWatch has been collecting data on Christian ministries for more than 25 years. Each week, we share some of that data with you in our Ministry Spotlight, Weekly Review, and other columns.

But I have long felt we have not fully mined the richness of the MinistryWatch 1000 database. One of the new ways we hope to bring that gold to the surface is with our new MinistryWatch Index.

If you pay attention to the financial markets, you know about the Dow Jones Industrial Average or the Standard & Poor’s 500. These indexes (and they are just two of many) track the value of publicly traded companies. If you follow the markets closely, you also likely know the financial press reports other indexes on an almost daily basis. None of these indexes offer a comprehensive overview of the economy, but – taken together — they are helpful in getting a picture of the overall health of the economy, or a particular sector of the economy.

However, the non-profit space – especially the Christian non-profit space – has had no such index that helped track the overall health of the sector. I felt that such an index, properly executed, could be a helpful tool for ministry professionals, donors to these ministries, and others. That is why we created the MinistryWatch Index.

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How We Compiled the MinistryWatch Index

The MinistryWatch Index tracks the total revenue of the largest Christian ministries in the nation. So, the first thing we did was look at our database to identify ministries for which we had at least ten years of data. We ended up with a list of thirty-eight ministries that have about $9 billion in annual revenue. But in 2014 – ten years ago – these ministries had about $6 billion in revenue. We designated that as our beginning point. We then converted the number to a 100-point scale.

Our plan is to update The MinistryWatch Index monthly. We will release the latest chart on the second Friday of each month.

What Can We Learn from The MinistryWatch Index

One thing we can learn immediately is that the past three years have been very good for the Christian non-profit sector. Revenue at the largest Christian ministries has grown dramatically. That growth continues this year.

Other studies, especially those by Giving USA, suggest that philanthropic giving correlates closely to the rise and fall in value of the major stock markets. (Note that this relationship is correlative and not causative.)

The MinistryWatch Index seems to confirm that relationship. During the ten-year period we are tracking in the MinistryWatch Index, revenue at the largest organizations grew about 48 percent. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased in value by about 98 percent. In March of 2020, the Dow fell about 22 percent in a matter of weeks, though it quickly recovered. The MinistryWatch Index registered a drop of only about 8 percent in early 2020, and it also quickly recovered. In 2023, the Dow had a lot of ups and downs, but was in negative territory for most of the year (until a year-end rally). The MinistryWatch Index saw a two percent decline for the year.

The MinistryWatch Index is far from a perfect tool. Because each of the ministries that make up the Index update their financials only once a year, the Index will move much more slowly than I would like. It is also not possible to say (yet) if the MinistryWatch Index is a leading or lagging indicator of general economic health. It is a fair guess that it is a lagging indicator, but a meaningful drop in the MinistryWatch Index in late 2019 preceded the COVID-induced drop in the Dow in early 2020. A more granular analysis might yield more insights. We hope to do that analysis as our experience with the MinistryWatch Index grows.

Until then, I hope you find the new MinistryWatch Index helpful, or at least interesting. As always, feedback on this and any other work we do here at MinistryWatch is welcome. My email is [email protected].

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.