Columbarium – Part 3: How to Pay for a Columbarium

Here are two ways to build and fund a columbarium that I used.

  • The columbarium was built in phases due to the construction costs. Phase I cost $60,000. The pastor asked three families to each give $20,000 in exchange for a tax-deductible contribution and a double niche. All three families gave the money and we built it a few months later. As people purchased niches, that money would pay for the next phase until all phases were constructed. Sales from the sales phase would then become the source of the perpetual maintenance fund.
  • The columbarium was built all at once for a cost of $225,000. Solicited donations and sales of niches generated about $75,000 initially. The church was fortunate to have over $150,000 of reserves. In lieu of borrowing money from a bank, the church loaned itself the money and then as niches were purchased, the loan declined. At some point, the loan was paid off and then all subsequent money was used for the perpetual maintenance fund.

In all cases, handling the money for a columbarium requires careful record-keeping to ensure you know which niches or plots have been sold to whom. You need to keep copies of the agreement you have with each family, know where their money has been placed, and then have easy access to it when the time comes to inurn or inter a loved one for any expenses (engraving, buying urns, etc.).

Lead On!

Steve – all kinds of FREE church manuals and sample documents – 400 plus blogs on every church administration topic you can think of

Columbarium – Part 2: Funeral Costs and a Columbarium Niche Sales

Cremation is the safest and cheapest way to bury a person. A casket funeral can cost upwards of $15,000 (for the casket, the funeral home, the lot and concrete vault, etc.). That is money that is literally poured into a hole in the ground. Inurning (in a niche) or interring (in the ground) cremains can cost several thousand but it can also be done literally free.

  • For a few thousand dollars: the body can be cremated, placed in an urn, and then in a plot in the ground.
  • For free: the body can be donated to a med school which will cremate it; when they’re finished, they’ll return the ashes to the family who can then scatter the cremains

The cremains are placed in the columbarium in one of three ways:

  • In an urn which is set into a niche
  • Buried in the ground
    • In an urn (usually biodegradable) which is set into the ground and covered with dirt and grass, or
    • In a hole in the ground which is covered with dirt and grass
  • Scattered on the ground and grass

I built a columbarium at one church where we set aside a section of the wall for plaques of people whose ashes were scattered or interred elsewhere. One teen’s ashes were scattered at the beach while another member’s ashes were placed at Arlington National Cemetery near DC. In each case, the family wanted some remembrance of their loved one at the church and we were able to meet that need.

For each of these, we had different pricing levels. We sold niches for singles and spouses (kiddingly referred to as “double-wides”). We sold plaques to memorialize people whose ashes were elsewhere. We also sold interments (placing the ashes in the ground). In all instances, we standardized the wording format on the niche plates and plaques to ensure uniformity. We also sold the urns to be sure they fit inside the niche. I did encourage people with niches to personalize the urns and/or to place personal effects in the niche such as a picture or word tribute (both laminated). Some families did this as part of their communal grieving process.

The columbarium is a part of the family’s grieving and healing. That garden is a place of solace and remembrance.

Lead On!

Steve – all kinds of FREE church manuals and sample documents – 400 plus blogs on every church administration topic you can think of

Columbarium – Part 1: What is It and Why?

A columbarium is a place where the cremated remains of a person are kept. It comes from the Latin word for dove (columba) because doves build their nests in niches in a wall and cremains are frequently placed in niches. Burning a body has been a … [Continue reading]

Free Stuff is now entirely FREE. This is a website where I have posted scores of free documents, manuals, spreadsheets, etc. Over the 25 plus years that I’ve been a church administrator, I’ve created docs at all the churches I’ve … [Continue reading]

Your Money is Waiting

When a vendor is overpaid, they are legally required to return it. Sometimes vendors can’t (or can’t be troubled) find the person or company that paid too much. In those cases, they send it to the unclaimed property division that each state treasurer … [Continue reading]

Employer or Contractor?

This question comes up way too often. Churches want to classify people as contractors when they are really employees. I understand that it is a pain to get all the tax forms, set them up in the payroll system, and have the extra FICA expense. But … [Continue reading]

Wills for New Families

Having a child is a major legal decision. Most churches are great at helping new parents with new baby stuff: food for mom & dad, baby showers with gifts, support for mom (and dad) in the first few months, etc. Churches need to add a legal … [Continue reading]

Anniversary Gift

R & C’s 50th wedding anniversary was approaching and R asked me about making a gift to the church in honor of their anniversary. C loved the children’s music ministry and had volunteered there for decades. R asked if he give the church $50,000 … [Continue reading]