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Synagogues or churches: which bring in more donations?

by Brad A. Greenberg

September 12, 2010 | 6:03 pm

Interesting story from The Forward about the difference between requiring congregation dues and just passing the plate. Turns out, in numbers at least, there isn’t much of a difference between the Jewish and Christian traditions.

Josh Nathan-Kazis writes:

While synagogues require roughly the same amount of dues from each of their members, church giving does not appear to be so evenly distributed.

Take Ahavath Achim, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Atlanta, and Church of the Heavenly Rest, an Episcopal church in Manhattan. 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.

Technically, churches do not require dues or fees or donations or anything from members. Tithing is expected, encouraged and even pushed from the pulpit, but it’s voluntary.

The story later explains this, but it threw me at first. What’s not clear is why The Forward performed this survey and wrote this story, the first of two in a series. There really isn’t a nut graph, and I’m not sure if there is some argument out there for moving synagogues away from mandatory dues (even those are only so mandatory because all synagogues have relief funds). However, such a movement is hinted at in the story’s finale paragraph:

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders say that the dues model is entrenched, irrespective of its merit. “If we eliminated dues tomorrow and said to the congregation, ‘Tithe your income,’ we’d go out of business in a year,” said Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of New York’s Stephen Wise Free Synagogue. “Large swaths of American Jewry have in fact adopted a fees-for-services approach, and their commitment is not at a high enough level to make the kind of contributions that would allow us to fund our synagogue in a different way — for example, through tithing.”

Regardless, read the rest here.

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