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.

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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 …


Liz

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.

Mike B

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

frankenduf

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

Caitlyn

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.

Bellyroll Martin

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.

Andy

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.

SFMichele

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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Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

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

Double-Chin McGee

I'm on your team bellyroll!!!

DonO

Huh?

$2,100 x 1,000 = $2.1M

$2,700 x (1,000/3) = $810K

Hardly the same.

Tim

One answer for the question in the second-last paragraph:

Some of us give to the Church (and para-church, and secular social justice organizations) because we believe that income is God's money entrusted to us. If you look at it from that perspective then it's about keeping what you honestly need and giving the rest, as opposed to giving what you want and keeping the rest.

We give out of love for God and concern for the poor. The sense of satisfaction (or warm glow, as you termed it) is a side-effect, not the motivating factor. It feels nice because it's a hint of what it's like to be truly human.

AaronS

As the "son of a preacherman" and a lifelong Christian, the teaching on "tithing" and "giving" is taught from an early age, at least in many Pentecostal churches.

Some teach that you are "cursed with a curse" if you "rob God" by not tithing (see Malachi 3). This is the economist's stick.

And some teach that if you do pay your tithes (Malachi 3 again), God will open the windows of heaven, blessing you with abundance. This is the carrot.

Still others teach that tithing was an Old Testament practice (though it started before the Law of Moses) and that, as Christians, we are called to be generous. Sometimes that is more than 10%; sometimes it is less.

As for me, I finally realized that plenty of people who DID NOT tithe were doing better financially that I was. And plenty of people who DID tithe endured some pretty rugged things. So what did I do?

Well, for one thing, I still give 10% of my income to the work of the Lord (though I no longer give all of my tithe to the local church). I realized that it is a JOY, a THRILL, a GLORIOUS BLESSING to partner with God in alleviating the suffering of hungry children, of sick folks, of those in need.

You see, I now give for the sheer joy of it! I realize that I'm not going to win the lottery because I give. Nor am I immune to tragedy. But at least I can say that in some small way, I have perhaps helped to show God's love on earth.

If one hungry child is spared, if one sick person gets help, tell me what possible better reward one could hope or ask for? THAT is surely a blessing poured out from heaven.

I don't give to make heaven; I don't give to avoid hell. I give because it is GOOD to give.

That being said, I've been unemployed (at least full-time) for over 18 months...and yet, as King David wrote, "I was young, and now I'm old, yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread."

I'm not rich. But I'm wealthy beyond all reason. I am happy. I have a loving family. And I get the great opportunity to reach out an help others just by giving a dime out of every dollar I make. (By the way, thank you for promoting "Smile Train"--a most worthy charity).

I think I am learning what it means when the Bible says, "God loves a cheerful giver!"

Most importantly, however, you are never more like God than when you give from the heart. The most famous Bible verse in the world--John 3:16--speaks of a God who gives abundantly, generously, sacrificially. And aren't we told to be like our Father in heaven?

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I wonder

I wonder if "Bellyroll" knows anything about the role of social systems in improving health. Research to find a cure in the future isn't the only way to improve health -- even if you think that a true, permanent cure is possible for whatever disease runs in your family. (Almost no one donates to disease research unless their own family has experienced the disease.) You've got to also help people right now, with the problems they have right now.

I've seen a woman at our large church who is clearly mentally ill (probably schizophrenia or bipolar). She attends every service, sits quietly, and leaves. She is middle-aged, fat, never has her hair combed, and wears clothes that are so worn that I assume they came from the thrift store. I've seen her at church -- where people smile at her, a few shake her hand, and a couple greet her by name -- and walking down the public sidewalk, where people pretend she is invisible.

Now I ask you: Which of these is the good neighbor to this woman? The one who smiled at her and shook her hand, or the one who stepped past her on his way to send some money to a researcher?

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Guido

It would have been better to compare the budgets of a church and a synagogue in the same place, i.e. Manhattan.
Aren't there jews in Manhattan anymore?

tejkaran

maybe the study will be more useful if the per capita income of those donating is also taken into account. When the donation is voluntary the amount that is considered donation worthy is also relative as compared to where a set standard amount of payment has been set as in case of synagogues.

ima2seven

$2700 really isn't "far more" than $2100, and I don't see how anyone can compare a congregation in Atlanta to one in NYC. I can just imagine the HUGE difference in avg. per capita income and salaries. Comparing a NYC church with an Atlanta synagogue is just apples and oranges... you have to look at what types of services to the community both offer, life cycle events, etc.

There is also a glaring omission in this article; While synagogues do charge dues, they almost never turn people away for an inability to pay. The dues charged is in no way a reflection of attendance. Just like in a church, everyone is encouraged to come and pray, even if they can't pay.

This article wasn't properly researched, I am sorry to say.

JJG

I think the comparison is misleading, because while churches spend a considerable amount of their income on charitable work, comparable Jewish charitable work is funded through other giving (the local Jewish Federation, for example).

JonathanF

Regarding the means that church has to persuade people to donate, a lot of it has to do with the church's teaching on the nature of money.

1) It starts with the owner of the money--the Scriptures teach that God owns everything, so everything we have is on loan. It follows that if there are people who need money, followers of God should be willing to give away to others ("freely give as you have freely received").
2) Jesus cast money as a rival god that demands servitude. A choice has to be made: serve Jesus or serve money. Giving away large sums of money is a way of defeating the power of money. (Jacques Ellul has a great book on this subject.)

This kind of teaching helps create a group identity: true followers of Jesus give away their money. Dan and Chip Heath in Made to Stick note how appeals to a group identity can often trump self-interest. People will ask themselves the question, "how should a person behave in this circumstance?"

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JonathanF

My last sentence should read

People will ask themselves the question, "how should a (Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, etc.) behave in this circumstance?"

JP

This is an interesting article as I am currently in an interfaith relationship and we have this debate during every Jewish high holiday.

I was born and raised Catholic but my boyfriend is Jewish. He attends an Orthodox temple in which they charge upwards of $200 per seat, per person, during the high holidays. We get into heated debates regarding the "dues" and what i call "praying fees". I don't understand as to why one should be forced to pay a fee to attend the "house of God"? Doesn't this favor those who are wealthy enough to afford seats and not to mention paying $2,000+ for praying dues? Isn't this a discriminatory way of keeping the less fortunate out of some synagogues? The whole concept of having to pay to attend a praying/worshiping service is not only foreign, but mind boggling.

Its great to hear that churches can voluntarily obtain as much money as imposed synagogue dues

Please enlighten me.

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