Religion is one of the oldest and most influential aspects of human society. Throughout history, religious organizations have amassed enormous wealth and power, often owning vast properties, running various institutions, and making profitable investments. But which are the wealthiest churches in the world today?
In the realm of faith and belief, the wealthiest churches in the world stand as testaments to the financial power that religious institutions can amass. From ancient cathedrals to modern megachurches, these spiritual centers are not just places of worship, but also hubs of enormous wealth.
This article unveils the top 10 richest churches in the world, exploring their history, influence, and the sources of their substantial fortunes. As we journey through this list, we’ll discover that the wealth of these churches is not just measured in monetary terms, but also in the rich tapestry of their cultural and historical significance.
Church of Scientology – $2 billion
The Church of Scientology is estimated to be worth around $2 billion, with its various entities holding significant assets and annual revenues. The church’s financial history is marked by legal battles, including a long struggle with the IRS over its tax-exempt status. In 1993, the IRS granted tax exemptions to every Scientology entity in the United States after a 25-year battle. The church’s financial activities have been a subject of controversy, with leaked tax documents revealing substantial assets and revenues. Despite its significant wealth, the Church of Scientology and businesses under its umbrella received at least 30 loans worth $4 million through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) during the COVID-19 pandemic, a program designed to help small businesses stay afloat. The church’s eligibility for these loans was based on the terms of the program, which allowed religious organizations to apply regardless of their size. The church’s receipt of these loans has been a subject of criticism and controversy, given its substantial financial resources and the intended purpose of the PPP program.
Opus Dei (part of the Catholic Church) – $2.8 billion
Opus Dei is a Catholic organization that has been estimated to have global assets of $2.8 billion123. Opus Dei was founded in 1928 by a Spanish priest, Josemaría Escrivá, and was granted the status of a personal prelature by Pope John Paul II in 1982. Opus Dei’s mission is to promote the universal call to holiness and sanctify daily life. The organization has been the subject of controversy and conspiracy theories, with some accusing it of secrecy, cult-like behavior, and heavy-handed recruiting tactics. Opus Dei has also been accused of having undue influence in global politics and the Catholic Church. However, Opus Dei has denied these accusations and maintains that it is a lay organization that seeks to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church. Despite its significant wealth, Opus Dei has been reported to engage in charitable works and has established several educational institutions around the world5.
Trinity Church – $6 billion
Trinity Church in Manhattan has a diverse investment portfolio worth $6 billion, making it one of the richest churches in America. The church’s financial success can be attributed to its tax-exempt status and wise management of its holdings, which can be traced back to a gift of 215 acres from Queen Anne in 1705. The church’s real estate arm, Trinity Real Estate, has entered into joint ventures and partnerships, significantly contributing to its wealth. Trinity Church has also engaged in charitable activities, giving away about $10 million annually and funding humanitarian projects, including affordable housing initiatives. The church’s financial history is intertwined with its real estate development, and it has been involved in significant commercial deals, such as a $650 million agreement with the Walt Disney Company. Despite its financial success, the church has faced criticism and concerns about the impact of its real estate activities on the cultural and social fabric of New York City. The church’s financial activities have been a subject of public interest and debate, given its significant wealth and real estate holdings.
Church of Sweden – $11.42 billion
The Church of Sweden, or Svenska kyrkan, is an Evangelical Lutheran national church with a significant financial presence. It is the largest Christian denomination in Sweden, with around 5.6 million members. The church’s financial history is intertwined with its ecclesiastical mission and its commitment to social and environmental causes. The church has a diverse investment portfolio and has been incorporating sustainability factors into its asset management2. It is also involved in political advocacy and supports various humanitarian and educational projects, often in partnership with other organizations3. In 2020, the church’s total income was reported to be SEK 477.5 million, with donors including Sweden and the European Union34. The Church of Sweden has a rich history, with its origins dating back to the 9th century. It became a separate entity from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century and has since played a significant role in the religious and social life of Sweden1. The church’s financial activities and advocacy efforts have been a subject of public interest and debate, given its significant wealth and its involvement in various social and political causes.
Church of England – $11.97 billion
The Church of England, with an estimated wealth of $11.97 billion, has a significant financial presence. The Church Commissioners for England, which manages the endowment fund of the Church of England, published its financial results for 2021, reporting a fund value of £10.1 billion at the end of 20214. The church’s wealth is primarily derived from its large endowment, which generates approximately £1 billion a year in income, making it the church’s largest source of revenue1. The church’s financial activities have been a subject of public interest and debate, given its significant wealth and its involvement in various social and political causes. The church has faced criticism in the past for investments in arms dealers, unethical loan companies, and companies with poor environmental records. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to make the church’s investments more ethical, including divesting from major arms manufacturers and all fossil fuel investments in 20201. The church’s financial history is intertwined with its real estate holdings, as it is one of the largest landowners in England, with some 16,000 church buildings in 13,000 parishes covering the whole of England, as well as 43 cathedrals2. The church has also been involved in various charitable and social initiatives, and its financial imbalance has been a topic of discussion, particularly in relation to the distribution of its assets and funding for clergy pensions.
Seventh-Day Adventists – $15.6 billion
The Seventh-Day Adventists are a Protestant Christian denomination that emerged from the Millerite movement in the 1840s. They believe in the imminent second coming of Christ and the observance of the Sabbath on Saturday. They also emphasize health, education, and humanitarian service. The Seventh-Day Adventists have about 21.5 million members worldwide, with a strong presence in North America, South America, and Africa. The Seventh-Day Adventists are known for their conservative and literal interpretation of the Bible, as well as their distinctive doctrines, such as the sanctuary, the investigative judgment, and the remnant.
The Seventh-Day Adventists’ wealth comes from their tithes, offerings, and assets. The church collects a mandatory tithe from its members, which amounts to 10% of their income. The church also receives voluntary offerings from its members and other sources. The church owns and operates various institutions, such as churches, schools, hospitals, publishing houses, and media outlets. It also has a large investment portfolio, which includes stocks, bonds, real estate, and businesses. According to a 1998 report by the Los Angeles Times, the Seventh-Day Adventists’ net worth was estimated at $15.6 billion5.
Catholic Church in Australia – $20.5 billion
The Catholic Church in Australia is part of the worldwide Catholic Church in communion with the Pope. It was established in 1803 by the first Catholic chaplain in Australia, John Joseph Therry. The Catholic Church in Australia is divided into seven archdioceses and 21 dioceses, each headed by a bishop. The Catholic Church in Australia has about 5.3 million members, which is about 22% of the Australian population. The Catholic Church in Australia is known for its social and educational contributions, as well as its involvement in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Catholic Church in Australia’s wealth comes from its donations, assets, and investments. The church receives voluntary contributions from its members and other sources, such as government grants and bequests. The church owns and manages various properties, such as churches, cathedrals, schools, hospitals, aged care facilities, and welfare agencies. It also has a $7.1 billion investment fund, which is managed by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. According to a 2018 report by The Sydney Morning Herald, the Catholic Church in Australia’s net worth was estimated at $20.5 billion6.
Catholic Church in France – $23.0 billion
The Catholic Church in France is part of the worldwide Catholic Church in communion with the Pope. It was established in the first century by the apostles Peter and Paul, who preached in Gaul. The Catholic Church in France is divided into 14 metropolitan archdioceses and 85 dioceses, each headed by a bishop. The Catholic Church in France has about 40 million members, which is about 60% of the French population. The Catholic Church in France is known for its cultural and historical influence, as well as its role in the French Revolution and the separation of church and state.
The Catholic Church in France’s wealth comes from its donations, assets, and investments. The church does not receive any public funding, as it is strictly separated from the state since 1905. The church relies on voluntary contributions from its members and other sources, such as legacies and donations. The church owns and manages various properties, such as churches, cathedrals, schools, hospitals, and charities. It also has a $16.5 billion investment fund, which is managed by the Association for the Management of the Works of the Catholic Church. According to a 2011 report by the French magazine Le Point, the Catholic Church in France’s net worth was estimated at $23.0 billion.
Catholic Church in Germany – $26 billion
The Catholic Church in Germany has an estimated net worth of $26 billion, making it the wealthiest part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and the fourth wealthiest religious organization in the world14. The church’s wealth is primarily derived from its large endowment, which generates significant income, and the church tax imposed on all its members. The church’s financial activities have been a subject of public interest and debate, given its significant wealth and its involvement in various social and political causes. The church has faced criticism in the past for investments in arms dealers, unethical loan companies, and companies with poor environmental records. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to make the church’s investments more ethical, including divesting from major arms manufacturers and all fossil fuel investments in 20202. The Catholic Church in Germany has a rich history, with its origins dating back to the Roman period. The church has played a significant role in the religious and social life of Germany, and its financial activities and advocacy efforts have been a subject of public interest and debate.
Catholic Church in Vatican City – $30 billion
The history of the Catholic Church in Vatican City began with the construction of a basilica over St. Peter’s grave in Rome in the 4th century A.D1. The area developed into a popular pilgrimage site and commercial district, but was abandoned following the move of the papal court to France in 13091. After the Church returned in 1377, landmarks such as the Apostolic Palace, the Sistine Chapel, and the new St. Peter’s Basilica were erected within the city limits1. Vatican City was established in its current form as a sovereign nation with the signing of the Lateran Pacts in 19291.
As for the wealth of the Vatican, it’s difficult to determine an exact figure due to the widespread properties globally2. Estimates suggest that the Vatican’s wealth is between $10 billion and $15 billion34. It has significant investments in various sectors, including banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, and real estate3. The Vatican Bank, officially titled the Institute for the Works of Religion, manages €5.9bn ($7.3bn, £4.64bn) of assets on behalf of its 17,400 customers5. It also owns €700m of equity5.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – $100 billion
The richest church in the world is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, with an estimated net worth of $100 billion. This places it at the top of the list of the wealthiest religious organizations globally.
- The early history during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, which is in common with most Latter Day Saint movement churches123.
- The pioneer era under the leadership of Brigham Young and his 19th-century successors123.
- The modern era beginning around the turn of the 20th century as Utah achieved statehood123.
The LDS Church originated in the burned-over district within Western New York. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, was raised in this region during the Second Great Awakening1. Smith gained a small following in the late 1820s as he was dictating the Book of Mormon, which he said was a translation of inscriptions found on a set of golden plates buried near his home in Upstate New York by an Indigenous American prophet named Moroni1. On April 6, 1830, at the home of Peter Whitmer in Fayette, New York, Smith organized the religion’s first legal church entity, the Church of Christ1.
As for the wealth of the LDS Church, it’s difficult to determine an exact figure due to the widespread properties globally45678. Estimates suggest that the LDS Church’s wealth is around $100 billion4568. It has significant investments in various sectors, including banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction, and real estate4568. The LDS Church also owns U.S. properties valued at nearly $16 billion7. However, these estimates may vary and are subject to change. Please note that these figures are not confirmed by any official sources4568.