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 …


@JD #32. What Jesus objected to was not paying tithes -- he explicitly said you should, and in addition you should give to those in need. The racket he objected to would, in today's terms, be if you had to pay dues only in Temple dollars, not regular money, and there's a currency exchange booth right here in the sanctuary with a 50% service fee.


Actually, it is really simple.

All synagogues were orthodox until modern times.

Synagogue was normally attended only on the sabbath & holidays.

On the sabbath & holidays it is forbidden to handle money by the orthodox.

Hence no communal plate.

If you go to Boro Park today (on a weekday), you will find collectors in the orthodox synagogues, both for charity and for the synagogue itself.


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned what kind of services churches and synagogues provide, and not the ones delivered from the pulpit.

Growing up in the Jewish in a non-Jewish area of DC, I always felt that belonging to a synagogue was kind of like being in a club. Granted, some people would mention "MOT" status, but I felt that it was easier for people of more populated faiths could simply pick and choose where they want to go, or were simply so numerous that they had no reason to belong to a building-based community. I am culturally American and Jewish, but the later portion of my identify was practiced in a confined space. There is no way our little synagogue could have survived on donations when we were located in a cornfield on the edge of a sprawling suburb.

That said, I participated in many Jewish programs and I know that synagogues in general have extensive programming. Do churches have this? Beats me. I always had the impression that churches offered a different way of socializing and networking than synagogues.



The Jews writing here are stopping just short of saying that Messianic Jews aren't real Jews at all because they believe in the wrong Messiah.

The Christians writing here are stopping just short of saying the Jews have to charge fees because they really don't believe in God, when it comes right down to it.


--Maybe an interesting comparison is the difference between general fund giving (the operating budget), Church projects (like a building fund) and then special events (such as funding a missionary). These might each have different pass-the-plate type collections and might have distinctions in effectiveness.--

Catholic churches do this, in fact our diocese expects them to so as to keep track of the different uses of the money. A parish church pays a percentage tax to the diocese out of the regular collection but not out of special fund collections. I suspect, also, that having two envelopes, one regular and one for the building fund, nets more money overall as people will put $X in each envelope, not donate $Y per week and divide it into however many envelopes there are. And there are extra envelopes on Christmas, Easter, etc.

However you work it, churches need to pay the bills somehow. This is not the great mystery people are making it out to be.



AaronS has it right. I just might add that 100% of what anyone (and everyone) has is on loan from God and according to the parable, we're accountable for how we use it.


Thank you for this informative article - especially on tithing. It seems wise to spare at least 10% although I am concerned with some people who cannot spare that. As you know, people of all income denominations file are always welcome at church but some people who are struggling to get by may struggle to put 10% in the weekly or monthly baskets.

The poor..who only make enough to pay bills (for living expenses to keep the lights on) and have food on the table. If they give at least 10%, that's robbing some of them of what they pay on bills! Surely, there's an exception here...


Um, what's the point of graphs that we can't read because they're miniscule?


The only time in the Bible that God asks us to test Him is in tithing: test Me (by your tithing) and see what blessings you will get (Malachi 3:10). As others have stated, if you believe the Lord provides for you, then tithing is a way of acknowledging Him.

As for Jews, they are legally bound to present an offering to the Temple. If they wanted to get really legalistic about it then they would need a stockade yard for the livestock, as God required them to bring a firstborn/clean animal as a sacrifice for their transgressions. Jesus is a Christian's sacrifice, where we enter a new covenant, cleansed by His shed blood.

"... until Jesus comes back and feeds a thousand from one loaf of bread, somebody has to buy or make the bread." Hmmm, perhaps we could consider the law of multiplication, where the Lord has blessed us with the ability to buy/make "bread" so that we can distribute it to those hungry for the living bread.



"Given how easy it is to attend church services without donating anything at all,"

This implies that you can't attend synagogue services without donating, which is not the case. The dues are for MEMBERSHIP, not attendance.

Not to mention you can't "pass the hat" on the Sabbath in a synagogue, because Jews don't carry money on Shabbat.

Mr. Bill

Pay for pray!


or do churches have a different, less obvious, means of persuading people to donate?

I believe they call that hell down here in Alabama...


@ Lynne Arons:

I just want to caution you to be careful of the vocabulary that you use to describe Christian hierarchy and structure. All Christians do not function under a Catholic-like structure, and that "Vatican" that you speak of does not exist for all. There are far too many denominations of Christianity for you to make that assumption. For instance, all churches don't have bishops, archbishops, etc. This in turn translates into a lack of a diocese/parish. These are terms and practices that are borrowed and passed down from the Catholic church, and aren't necessarily adopted in every denomination. Therefore, I would be cautious using the word "all."


The problem with synagogue funding models is they discourage people who are low-income or going through difficult times to get involved or stay involved.

My family belonged to a synagogue when I was young, but when my father was unemployed for awhile he had to go through a humilating process of pleading for reduced dues so my family could remain members of the temple. It turned off my entire family to being temple members ever again.

Being a member of a religous community shouldn't come with an entry fee.


I grew up Catholic in a small Connecticut town. Our church published a list each January of all the families who attended, and the amount of their contributions for the previous year. A very effective bit of social pressure brought to bear on the parishioners, and absolutely humiliating for the poorer children at the parochial school.

J.R. Eretz

In the Holy Scriptures, O. T., we see the House of Aron as the 'priestly' class as getting their hands on money. This is carried over into the N. T. that was heavily edited and put into the Bible. The Kohanim saw this was good and joined the disciples for good strategic placement.

Jesus took his message to the neighborhood. And it was the hood, hode, hud where they manifest as Robin Hood and Little Red riding hood. The hood comes from Yehuda, Ye'hud'a & Judas, Hud'a where we find the Gospel of Judas.

The French carried the message to England in the French-Norman conquest with Guillaume the Conquerant and his some Jewish knights.

The Cistercians had help of the Templars. The Templars went to help the Spanish using the name of the Order of Calatrava.

I never understood why so many Spanish, French and English sent out so many expeditions. Coronado looking for Quivira and ends up in Kansas. De Soto & De Leon looking for? Narváez Expedition with Alvar Nun~ez Cabeza de Vaca into Florida. Later, everyone is looking for the Northwest passage supposedly. Hudson Bay Company, com panes, the people of pan, our daily bread, are chasing fur supposedly. The St. Lawrence passageway is probed, the Chesapeake is believed to lead to the Northwest passage. The French are up and down the Mississippi River and watershed. The Hapsburgs are in charge and give way to the early Bourbons later. The Spain may speak 'Spanish' but they were then under the House of Bourbon.

I realized that Nun~ez is 'estuniegas'. He whom denies [his religion]. Charles I is Charles V and he is a polyglot. He advises Philip II, his grandson, about trust, etc. . Philip II is married to a Portuguese lady and becomes the King of Portugal and Spain. Later, the coregent with Mary Queen of Scots of England. The parallel later is Cohen/Kohan as Carne becomes Carnegie. Car negie or negia as in 'estuniegas'.

Philip II doesn't have a chance; He was economic toast. He finally lets 'new' Spanish Xtians settle in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. [They have Kohanim male bloodline.] We see that bloodline in New Mexico and a certain valley in Texas. The National Geographic DNA project will reveal all of the diaspora and rabbinic/Karaite Judaic blood lines.

My jaw dropped and my hat is off to the 'new' Hebrews in the Greatest Story Ever Told and the Greatest Secret Ever Kept. Here, here and very good work.