It’s stewardship time. We’ve been stuffing cards into envelopes with great fury over at our place. We are not only mailing them out, but we’re also filling them out at home. We always try to give ten percent. It’s our personal goal. Sometimes we achieve it and other times we don’t, but it’s always the target.
I thought about the Burmese monks who protested by withholding their alms bowls from the government and the military, and the great unrest it caused in the country. What would happen if we stopped passing our brass plates and handing out these pledge cards? Would anybody notice?
In Louisiana, the average income of our church neighbors was 28k. In Barrington, the household average was 128k. In D.C.? Well, it’s 250 to 500k. Yet, in each place, people have given roughly the same amount, about 2k.
Now, as I’ve said before, I don’t keep track of who gives what. But, in light of this reality, I wonder if asking for ten percent makes any sense any more. Are D.C. residents much more greedy than Abbeville residents? Certainly not. A number of factors are in play.
(1) Housing costs take up a much bigger percentage of income. For instance, one hundred percent of my income goes to housing. We pay bills with my husband’s income.
(2) People tend to have a variety of causes that they give to, beyond the church.
(3) We have a lot of young urban single households. They don’t have the added cost of children, and they can live in a smaller place, but they’re still living in a place where it takes two incomes to afford real estate. Plus, they have student loans to manage.
I guess what I’m saying is that between Fannie Mae and Sallie Mae, there are many, many factors that a flat tithe doesn’t take into account. Our economy is different than it was two thousand years ago. Shouldn’t we be thinking about this more? Or, explaining it better? Every pastor knows that most people in the pews are not giving ten. Why is that? Are people more uncommitted and greedy than they were in the past? Have we set up an impossible goal?
One last thing, just to play devil’s advocate here (maybe literally…gulp). What if someone in our neighborhood did tithe her 500k, and gave 50k to the church? It would be lovely, because of course, it would pay my salary. But then my position would be completely reliant on one person. Would it be healthy for the church? We all know congregations that leaned too heavily on one or two really generous and wealthy people, and when they moved to Florida, the church budget went into a free fall. Can there be a problem with giving too much to a church?
I have a Rabbi friend whose congregation is charged a “fair share” based on the income and the congregation’s budget. That way, he explains, everyone pays, but the congregation is not too beholden to one individual. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we’d ever move to this model, but it did make me wonder…. Should we be thinking about this more?