September 8, 2010; Source: Reuters | This Reuters piece republishes an article from the Forward, the New York-based Jewish weekly, comparing giving to Christian and Jewish religious institutions—that is, giving to churches and synagogues. Based on a small survey sample, the Forward suggests that churches and synagogues raise approximately the same amounts per member, though church dues are voluntary while synagogues charge membership dues.

For example, in one matched church/synagogue comparison, the Forward found that the synagogue charged each family a $2,100 membership fee while the church got one-third of its members to make voluntary contributions, but at an average level of $2,700. Christian leaders told the Forward that they were “incredulous” that synagogues charged mandatory membership fees. A Jewish leader responded that “If we eliminated dues tomorrow and said to the congregation, ‘Tithe your income,’ we’d go out of business in a year,” reflecting the idea that the mandatory dues are an entrenched part of Jewish religious organization.

In the study, synagogues’ dues ranged from $1,000 to $3,000 annually per family, while church members’ contributions varied widely, from $7,800 per member family at a Southern Baptist church in suburban Tulsa, Okla. to an average of $100 a year for members of St. Mary of the Assumption, a Catholic parish in Boston.

Raising money from mandatory dues compared to voluntary gifts or tithes is an interesting area of religious difference, but equally important. In the next installment of the Forward survey the magazine will investigate how churches and synagogues spend the money they raise. We will be interested to see how much goes to sacerdotal activities versus services for members and non-members.—Rick Cohen