Being a missionary is rewarding work and an essential job to fulfilling the Great Commission, but at times making a living or earning a salary through missions seems impossible. So, how much money do missionaries actually make?
How much money do missionaries make on average? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, missionaries make on average $34,300 a year, which works out to roughly $16.50 an hour. This salary primarily comes through funds the missionary raises themselves or through a sending agency.
Follow the Money
Following the money, we see missionaries receive income on the field in two main ways:
- Fundraising – the most common form of missionary income
- Sending Agencies – organizations that take on missionaries and support them through financial plans, prayer, and networking
Two other supplementary ways are:
- Benefits – this could be a donated car, free gifts, or even living accommodations provided by base hosts or other missionaries.
- Tentmaking – Missionaries who work in a cross-cultural job while spreading the gospel through their work.
First, off the list, fundraising is the most common form of missionary income. For this reason, it is a large task for any missionary, no matter the country, ministry, or circumstance.
Although the amounts needed for each individual’s mission may vary, usually fundraising looks like scheduling meetings with donors and sponsors to set up a steady flow of income monthly.
To do this, missionaries begin recruiting sponsors by sharing their vision for ministry with friends, family members, or churches. They are proclaiming that they are dedicating their life to sharing the gospel with a certain tribe, tongue, or nation and admit they need help to get there.
A typical giving plan would be a monthly gift, that way the missionary can bring in a consistent income, and that allows them to see exactly how much they will need and know how much they will have.
Another option is putting on fundraising events. These events could be any number of things, from moving sales, small business fundraisers, selling goods or services, and more.
Whether through prayers or financial gifts, sponsors and donors can be lead to support the outgoing missionary. Ultimately, however, the fundraising process is guided by the Holy Spirit and God never fails to provide for His children.
God has been the one calling missionaries all along, He will be faithful and fulfill His promises to them, even as practically as bringing in the needed funds. Paul knew this and trusted God to provide for him even in the hardest of times.
His gratitude for the Philippians encourages missionaries today not just because of the support he received, but because with Jesus, he knew could be content in any situation.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:10-13 NIV
Sending agencies are separate organizations that take on missionaries and support them through financial plans, prayer, and networking. These organizations have sources of income from preexisting donors and contributors that they use to then support their adopted missionaries.
They are dedicated to supporting the Great Commission through the visions of the missionaries they believe in.
Additionally, some agencies even extend a stipend that covers additional costs for a missionary’s family, such as their children’s education and money for furlough.
Another way that missionaries are provided for are benefits. Unlike cold hard cash, benefits are more tangible things that make a living on the field possible. These could be a donated car, free gifts, or even living accommodations provided by base hosts or other missionaries.
Any specific item given freely by anonymous donors, friends, locals, or even through miracles, could be benefits that missionaries receive. Of course, benefits are not the only source of income for missionaries, they are usually mixed in with their other provisions.
Tentmakers are missionaries who work in a cross-cultural job while spreading the gospel through their work. Like the apostle Paul, tentmakers bring the gospel to the marketplace and live out the Great Commission as they make a living.
After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, and since they were of the same occupation, tentmakers by trade, he stayed with them and worked.Acts 18:1-3 CSB
Though the Bible is not at all against raising support, tentmaking is a completely unique way of supporting ministry. Through Paul’s example, we see that it allows the missionary the opportunity to dive into a different culture, add value to a community, and build relationships with clients, coworkers, and anyone involved.
In this way, they are building credibility with that community and showing them the character of Jesus in a context that they will understand.
If tentmakers can show how good Jesus is through their hard work, integrity, and creativity in the workplace, how could that transform the lives of the people they work alongside? It would not only transform their businesses but their hearts as well.
Tentmaking is different than simply sharing the gospel with a coworker. It’s cross-cultural. It’s reaching the unreached. It’s a mission. Like everything else Christians do, it is for the glory of God.
What is the Money Used For?
Missionaries use their income, whether sourced through fundraising, sending agencies, tentmaking, or more, to support themselves, their families, and their ministry. Depending on the location, different types of housing, food, and transportation, are covered by their salary.
Their new realities of life shaped by the culture they live in play a part in costs and obtaining those costs. There are no ends to the different variations of each missionary’s journey.
The main chunk of their salary goes to their ministry opportunities too, which could be any number of things. Whether that’s blessing their neighbor with a gift, providing for an orphanage, building a schoolhouse, or buying books for churches, their mission is the same: to share the love of Jesus wherever they go.
This goes without saying that missionaries live incredibly frugal lifestyles and most times barely scrape by. No matter what, however, God is protecting them and of course, their whole reason for being where they are isn’t for the money, but for the eternal reward of winning souls to Jesus.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-21 NIV
Is it Worth it?
Despite roadblocks and hiccups that come up when fundraising and creating an income, missionaries know that no matter what happens it is all worth it.
Following Jesus means dying to yourself and picking up your cross each day, even if that means giving up your normal comforts of a full bank account, known language, and familiar culture.
Christians are never called to stay in their comfort zones, in fact, most missionaries agree with Philippians 1:21 that says:
For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.
No matter the fate of a missionary, their heart’s desire is to know Jesus and let others know Him too. They want to fulfill the Great Commandment of loving God with all their heart and soul and loving others as well.
They long to share the Gospel with every tribe, tongue, and nation all for the glory of God. It’s no wonder they’re willing to give up what most would call a normal life and a normal salary to follow the call God has put on their lives because that is what truly matters.