What would you guess are the largest Christian ministries in America by total annual revenue?
If you guessed an institution of higher education, you might be right. The No. 1, 2 and 3 spots on the list are occupied by universities with Baptist roots.
The list was compiled by Ministry Watch, a nonprofit donor watchdog group. All data are based on the latest publicly available information filed with the IRS, which sometimes means a lag of a year or two.
Some of the best-known Christian ministries — World Vision, Compassion International, Catholic Relief Services, Samaritan’s Purse — take a backseat to three of the nation’s largest private universities.
Grand Canyon University, begun in 1949 by Arizona Baptists, today ranks as the nation’s Christian ministry with the largest annual revenue, $1.47 billion. After nearly entering bankruptcy around the turn of the century, the university remade itself as a for-profit enterprise and then transitioned back to nonprofit status in 2018. It has kept its Christian identity while successfully blending on-campus and online learning.
Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, ranks No. 2 on the Ministry Watch list, with annual revenue of $1.34 billion. The vast majority of Liberty’s students attend classes online from all over the world.
Baylor University ranks No. 3, with annual revenue of $1.25 billion. Baylor maintains an affiliation with the Baptist General Convention of Texas but is governed by a self-perpetuating board of regents.
Two other universities are included in the top 20 largest Christian ministries: Pepperdine University, a Churches of Christ school, with annual revenue of $580 million, ranks 12th; and California Baptist University, with annual revenue of $388 million, ranks 17th.
Sandwiched between these schools on the list are household names among evangelical and Catholic Christians:
- World Vision, No. 4, $1,23 billion.
- Compassion International, No. 5, $1.1 billion.
- Catholic Relief Services, No. 6, $924 million.
- Samaritan’s Purse, No. 7, $899 million.
- MAP International, No. 8, $822 million.
- Food for the Poor, No. 9, $755 million.
- Feed the Children, No. 10, $610 million.
- Cru, No. 11, $600 million.
- Mercy Corps, No. 13, $565 million.
- Catholic Medical Mission Board, No. 14, $476 million.
- Convoy of Hope, No. 15, $439 million.
- Christian Broadcasting Network, No. 16, $391 million.
- Habitat for Humanity International, No. 18, $362 million.
- Young Life, No. 19, $361 million.
- Covenant House, No. 20, $320 million.
The list does not include denominational agencies and mission boards, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, which has an annual budget of about $272 million. Denominational agencies are not subject to the same federal reporting requirements as other nonprofits and educational institutions.
The Ministry Watch list of Christian ministries with annual revenue of $100 million or more includes 80 organizations with combined annual incomes of $24.5 billion.
Most of the organizations don’t shift places on the list from year to year, Ministry Watch said. However, this year Heifer Project International moved from No. 56 to 31 and Christian Appalachian Project moved from No. 54 to 38.
Also, most colleges and universities fell in ranking this year, the researchers said, due to COVID closures as well as a general decline in college enrollment and revenue nationwide.