A survey conducted by the Forward finds that although synagogues rely on dues and churches on pledges their income on a per member basis is similar.
The more than 20 churches and synagogues surveyed by the Forward represent a sampling from a variety of denominations in six cities across America. While there are significant regional and denominational differences, an examination of the aggregate data indicates that the amount raised per individual member is very similar between synagogues and churches. But the level of participation is quite different: 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.
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.
Read more in Forward.