A recent study by the Jewish Weekly publication, Forward, concludes that giving levels at churches and synagogues raise similar amounts despite different methods—church dues are voluntary whereas synagogues charge membership dues.
Some churches require a 10% tithing rate, but many rely on the conscience of the member to decide the amount of the donation. In addition, some churches have high numbers of members who do not or cannot donate at the same congregation where other members donate many thousands of dollars. Synagogues charge dues for every member as well as fees for attending high holiday services, although the amount of the dues charged can vary.
Of the congregations surveyed, at the high end was an average gift per family of $7,800 and at the low end was an average gift of $100. For synagogues, base dues vary from $1,000 to $3,000 per family, although some members contribute much more than the required dues. Despite the large differences in voluntary versus required amounts, of those surveyed the median amount of funds raised per-capita by synagogues was $660, only slightly higher than by churches at $640. Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at Duke University surmised: “Perhaps what the dues system does is even out the giving rather than get you more per capital.”
Historically, American churches and synagogues had similar models for raising money—both charged “pew fees” based on their location. This practice declined in churches in the late 19th century and represented a movement away from the idea that one could buy God’s favor by spending more money on the best seats. Most synagogues also moved away from the 19th century system in order to democratize the funding structure.
How do these results impact our Unitarian Universalist way of raising money through the suggested fair share giving guide and appreciative inquiry? If requiring set amounts from members does not raise more money than voluntary contributions that relate to ability to pay, then three cheers for focusing on equitable contributions and positive achievements to fund our church missions!
Stay tuned for the next installment of the study by Forward, that will focus on how churches and synagogues spend the money they raise.