The differences in financial practices between synagogues and churches remain far apart, although there are signs of convergence, according to series of reports in Forward (Sept. 15 and 22), a Jewish website.
Traditionally, Christian churches have raised funds by using explicitly religious language, calling worshippers to give as an obligation to God. In contrast, synagogues speak more in business-oriented terms. Concepts of religiously motivated giving for Jewish causes are more common outside of the synagogue context. Jewish officials are concerned that the traditional practice of paying annual dues may not be sustainable in the near future, with younger generations having a “free stuff” mentality.
At the same time, research has found that those churches emphasizing the practical benefits and services provided by congregations during their fundraising pitches actually raise more money than those emphasizing religious duty, according to James Hudnu-Beumler of Vanderbilt University Divinity School. Although American Jewish synagogues pay their rabbis much more than churches do their pastors and priests, the former give far less of their annual budget to their denominational organizations than do churches.
An earlier survey by Forward found that the median amount of money raised per member by synagogues was nearly identical to the median amount raised per church member, despite the fact that synagogues require dues while churches rely on voluntary giving. But the differences came in how these congregations pay their clergy and in the level of support they give their denominations. There is a wide disparity between the salaries of rabbis and Christian clergy—the median salary for rabbis of medium-sized synagogues ranged from $137,000 (Conservative) to $146,582 (Reform). The salaries for ministers and priests ranged from a low of $25,000 (for Catholics) to $95,000 (although salaries for large synagogues and churches are proportionately larger).
But synagogues give far less of their annual budgets to their denominational organization than do churches. Conservative congregations give between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of a synagogue’s budget. Orthodox synagogues usually give less than 1 percent of their budget to denominational agencies. At first, Reform synagogues resemble mainline Protestants, giving somewhat less than 8 percent of their budgets to the denomination. But it is actually less because only half of this amount goes to the denominational organization, with the rest going to the Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the rabbinical school of the Reform movement. Mainline churches give anywhere in the range of 10 percent (ELCA Lutheran and American Baptist) to 35 percent of their budgets (some African Methodist Episcopal churches). But Protestants may be moving in the direction of organized Judaism, with churches giving less to national offices, not to mention the growth of nondenominational churches that are independent of larger structures.