Churches Versus Synagogues: Voluntary Donations Versus Dues

Christian churches and Jewish synagogues rely on very different financing models, yet both “appear to raise about the same amount per member,” according to a survey conducted by?the Jewish newspaper The Forward (article by Josh Nathan-Kazis). While synagogue members pay annual dues, churches rely primarily on voluntary donations from members.

The Forward interviewed church and synagogue officials at institutions in Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Tulsa. Consider a comparison between a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Atlanta (Ahavath Achim) and an Episcopalian church in Manhattan (Church of the Heavenly Rest):

The two congregations are broadly comparable: Both serve slightly more than 1,000 middle- and upper-middle class households, have a multimillion-dollar endowment, employ about a dozen people and operate on an annual budget of $2.7 million.

Both draw around half their income from regular fees paid by members. But, like virtually all American churches, Heavenly Rest does not charge dues. Like most synagogues, Ahavath Achim does.

At Ahavath Achim, those fees are assigned by the synagogue, with each family paying up to $2,100 per year. Annual pledges at Heavenly Rest? As much, or as little, as you can give. While only one-third of member families participate in the church’s annual pledge drive, those that do give an average of $2,700 – far more than the cost of dues at Ahavath Achim.

So one big difference between the two models is that giving in churches is much less evenly distributed than in synagogues. That said, a significant number of synagogue members give extra, as the charts below (where the orange represents voluntary giving) demonstrate. In fact, the executive director of a Conservative synagogue in Boston estimates that 95 percent of members give more than required.

DESCRIPTIONGraphs courtesy of the Forward.

Given how easy it is to attend church services without donating anything at all, it’s interesting that members of Christian churches give so generously. Do they do it for the “warm glow,” or do churches have a different, less obvious, means of persuading people to donate?

The Forward has also put together some interesting statistics on how churches and synagogues spend their money. Here’s a preview: your parents will probably worry less if you become a rabbi than a priest …

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  1. Liz says:

    I’m not sure about the churches profiled, but the Catholic church I attended growing up in NJ had a way to encourage members to give–parishoners were sent a yearly box of dated envelopes for donations, to be put in the collection basket weekly. The church billed it as a way to take attendance–if you had a kid in the school, regular parishoners got a lower rate, and if you wanted to be married in the church or serve as a godparent, you needed a way to prove that you regularly went to church.

    Of course, they said you could put it in empty–but your name was on the envelope, and the volunteers who opened the envelopes and organized the donations were church members who would likely know who the cheapskates were. It was an interesting form of peer pressure, to say the least.

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  2. Mike B says:

    Is it just me or is this post just begging some sort of joke?

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  3. frankenduf says:

    does this blog have any concept of giving monetary support as a responsible adult should?- seems like every article about sharing involves some sort of reduction to behaviorism, raising free riding to some sort of cynical virtue- how about taking it as a law of nature- people share, communities share, churches share- it’s what makes humanity possible in the first place

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  4. Caitlyn says:

    That’s fascinating. I attend a Messianic synagogue, and our finances operate more like that of a church. We take up an offering during each service, and the rabbi frequently prefaces it with a statement that, unlike most synagogues, we don’t charge dues or fees or sell seats on important holidays, but are wholly supported by offerings. Interesting to know that we’re probably getting the same amount either way :)

    As for incentives, I can’t speak for all churches but I know that many of them preach a concept known as “tithing” – that God expects us to give part of our income back to Him (some say 10%, others don’t give a set amount) and that God promises to provide extra financial blessing for those who do. For people who believe that, it’s a fairly strong incentive to give generously.

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  5. Bellyroll Martin says:

    What is the point of this article?

    It’s sad that people waste so much spare change on superstitious garbage, when they could actually be using it to improve all of our lives by giving to the most effective research projects searching for treatments and cures for diseases and syndromes like alzheimers, parkinsons, MS, muscular dystrophy, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, pancreatic cancer and other cancers,Type 1 Diabetes, arthritis and so on. What a tragic waste of resources this country continues to propagate in the false name of magic bullets.

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  6. Andy says:

    Many churches use a pass-the-hat method of collecting money, which prompts members to give (and hence to be seen giving) in order to protect their reputation.

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  7. SFMichele says:

    I’ve been Catholic and now I’m Reform Jewish so I’ve seen both sides.

    For myself, I’d much rather step up to pay a stated dues fee
    each year backed and supported by transparent budget info than be prevailed upon by a pledge committee in my living room, or get the “someday you, too, can and should tithe” talk or the infernal “we need money” sermons.

    In both cases, the more affluent often can and do give more, and that’s great. More power to them. At the same time, I’ve yet to read about any synagogue barring someone who can’t afford the fees. They will do all they can to keep you in the congregation and be grateful for what you can give.

    Another point: Jews (even many Reform) do NOT handle money on Shabbat. Taking up a collection during services would be very, very strange — and wrong. On the Christian side, a collection basket passed echos the offering made during services, at Mass.

    Is $2,700 really “far more” than $2,100? Maybe in the aggregate.

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  8. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    How much do you make?
    We will take our portion.
    We take the volunteering out of contribution.
    Automatic RoboDeductions.
    Thank You. Come again.

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