Embezzlement is a growing problem, globally, impacting Christian ministries and churches of every shape and size. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity projects thieves will take $170 billion in the year 2050, if current trends continue, but there are things that individual churches can do to protect themselves.

Q&A with Todd Johnson, codirector of the The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, on trends in church embezzlement.

Is embezzlement a special problem in churches and Christian ministries?

It is a particular problem with religious organizations because trust is so important. One of the things we found after someone had been convicted of embezzlement, some cases where a pastor was actually in prison, you had church members who still said, “I don’t believe he could do this.” They were the victims, but they still couldn’t accept it.

That shows the power of trust. And trust is good, but if it’s misused—which is the definition of affinity fraud—that’s really a problem.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, where you serve as codirector, projects embezzlement in churches in 2025 will be down about $10 billion. Why is that?

I don’t have a single clear answer for that. The projections are composite figures, all tied to gross national income, the demographics of Christianity, rates of Christian income and giving, and the dynamics of fraud. Those are all constantly changing.

It’s almost so complex underneath that it’s hard to ascribe a single reason. These numbers have competing trends within them.

Longer term, the center projects an increase in Christian embezzlement. What is driving that?

It’s going up because of economic growth.

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