The current system where the freeloading 80% are getting to enjoy the same benefits of church membership as the ultra-committed, is simply not sustainable. And as I've already mentioned, no gimmick will fix the problem. Getting a free-loader to participate in a march where they place a rock at the foot of the cross on the stage, or to tape a post-it-note with a prayer on a cross, or to participate in building a phoney-baloney cardboard Nehemiah's wall - all that will do is make the freeloading Sanballats feel they ARE doing something for Jesus without pulling out their wallets! The churches don't need to construct a cardboard wall - they need COLD HARD CASH for their buildings and salaries. Kindergarten exercises won't work.
But not is all lost. There is hope. That is why the Watchdog is here. I want to help. I have it figured out. And unlike Maurilio, I won't charge your church a huge consulting fee for my advice. I offer this advice free of charge because I love you all and I want your church to be able to repair its buildings, get new carpet....and most importantly eventually hire more seminarians.
Just as pastors have looked to the Jew's Old Testament model of giving: the 10% tithe - they must now look at the modern-day Jewish practice of funding the temple, and it is NOT the tithe. No, even the Jews are not telling their faith community to voluntarily "bring the tithe". They're too smart. They know the Old Testament tithing system was a national tax of sorts, and to try to fit that model to a modern day faith community in a developed country not connected to Israel is nothing short of madness. They know it won't work.
So what are Jews doing today to fund their faith communities? Easy! They have instituted a membership system, with different membership and seating levels. Look at these examples:
Beth Am Synagogue - Baltimore: Notice at left the annual fees for the Beth Am Synagogue in Baltimore. The annual fees for a family are reduced for single-parent families, and for younger families! What a novel idea! If you're single, your fees are also reduced.
And look at the "Legacy Membership" - why if your mom and dad are long-time members, you can get a reduced membership fee!
And also at their dues information page, you'll see that you can get a pro-rated membership fee if you join in the middle of the year, although a "surcharge" may apply.
Are the bells going off? Trustees, deacons, and pastors, don't you see the opportunities here? Membership drives, special deals like "Join by the end of April and you get two months free." and other great pricing and marketing opportunities!
Now, let's look at another example:
Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City: At the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, they have much wealthier members, so as you would expect, the pricing is much different as you see below.
Now we're getting somewhere. Here we have "Regular" membership, and "Associate" membership. And look, this is priced according to seating preference! Now this would be great for megachurches. You could let the poor slobs from the Westside and Middleburg buy a much reduced membership and sit in the balcony...and maybe a cheaper one for the "upper balcony" and "lower balcony".
If you are a "regular" member you get reserved seats for Easter and Christmas and for the other "High Holy Days".
Then, the Park Avenue Synagogue has a huge asterisk paragraph at the bottom of the Membership Dues page that reads:
"In addition to membership dues, all members are required to pay a fee for Synagogue security of $275 per family, $125 for single members; and a building surcharge of $375 per family, $175 for single members. Members are also required to pay $74 per family, $37 for a single member, for dues to the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, & $25 per family or single membership to the Jewish Theological Seminary. Permanent seat holders with more than two seats will be responsible for the cost of extra seat(s) plus a premium of $150 for the third, $500 for the fourth, $700 for the fifth, & $700 for the sixth and each additional seat. In addition to membership dues, all new seat holding members are required to make a $2,000 contribution per family, $1,000 for a single member, to the Park Avenue Synagogue Maintenance Fund. "Look at that! This is what Baptist churches need!! You not only pay for the membership, but then you have special add-ons for special services like a $275 security fee, and a fee that goes to the pastor's favorite seminary, to the state baptist convention, and to Lottie Moon. Make THEM pay extra for these, so your membership dues are staying at home!
And the best one is that last red-lined emphasis: A MAINTENANCE FEE!!! How many Baptist churches have run-down facilities that are in disrepair? Easy solution - when you have special maintenance needs coming up, you bump up the "maintenance fee" per family. Leaking roofs and ratty carpet will be a thing of the past.
Central Synagogue, New York City: Look at this membership page...this synagogue has no new memberships available! They are completely filled up! But you can buy an "Associates" membership to put yourself on the list in case someone dies or moves away - like getting in line for a Green Bay season ticket. This opens up many possibilities when the church maxes out its memberships: if someone is caught blogging or criticizing the pastor, they can be trespassed opening up a slot for a new Associate to come in and take the membership slot vacated by the recalcitrant. Or just start a satellite at a local school and sell memberships there.
Let me summarize the advantages that such a system will provide to a Baptist church:
1. No More Tithing Sermons: Think how wonderful it will be for "Pastor" to not have to come up with cute stewardship emphasis sermons. No more talk of "curses" and "redeeming" your money, no more sermons on how God collects from the stingy members by punching holes in their purses or causing the roof to leak. In short: pastors can stop lying to the congregations over tithing.
2. Get Rid of Free-Loaders: Most pastors secretly loathe these penny-pinchers who don't tithe. As Ronnie Floyd has said in no uncertain terms: non-tithers probably aren't true believers, so why would you want these wolves in sheep's clothing in your church - these are fake Christians posing as real Christians. Let them go mooch somewhere else. If it means a reduction in total members, that is OK. The ones that stay will probably pay LESS than they were before (happier members, less complainers), but those non-tithers who do opt to stay and pay membership fees will willingly increasing their giving.
3. Better Recruitment: What better way to encourage members to get new members to visit and join, than knowing that more members means a possible reduction in family dues the following year? In fact, there can be a new-member recruitment award program. For each family that you recruit, you get $50 rebate on next year's dues. Or if you recruit 5 new families you get a free pass on the Pastor's next cruise or trip to Israel. And by pricing events for "members" and "non-members" - such as youth camps, Wednesday night dinners - you incent people to go "all in" and be members to enjoy reduced costs on services offered. So many wonderful marketing and promotion strategies will be available, necessitating a full-time marketing and promotions expert on staff.
4. No More Gimmicks. Only real marketing and promotional strategies. No fake gimmicks like marches involving rocks, sticks, post-it notes, shoe boxes, commitment cards...and best of all...no more phony tithing testimonies.
5. Capital-Project Funding. Churches could build in a capital fund surcharge each year if they know expansion is needed. Better than that, if a church knows their market for membership fees well, funding expansion plans can be done through future estimated revenues based on the capacity increases. Or new members for a certain number of years are the ones that pay a capital surcharge.
6. Improved Satellite Strategy: You can incent current members to help start satellites by pricing the memberships accordingly! No need to beg members to leave the mother church and start the satellite. Just start the satellite memberships at a greatly reduced cost, and you'll have to take applications from members to move to the satellite!
7. Get Maximum Value for Premium Seating: Did you ever notice that the front sections of a mega church auditorium are filled with mostly the nuttiest, most over-zealous crazies in the church? And usually these nutburgers don't have deep pockets - I'm generalizing here, I know - and these nuts really should be in the upper balcony sections, as far away from the man of God for safety reasons. This then frees up the premium seats to be sold to the wealthier members just as the Park Avenue Synagogue is doing. Praise the Lord.
8. Happier Wealthy Members: Let's be honest: why should the multi-millionaire member have to pay so much more then the guy making 1/50th his income? They both enjoy the same benefits, so let them all pay the same membership, and make the freeloader pay his fair share. And imagine the perks coming your way, pastor, if you free up an extra $100k or so for the richest church members! They will be eternally grateful - and this will mean money in your pocket through land gifts, free cruises and vacations with luxurious accommodations! Definitely a win-win.
And pastors, you can sell this. I know you can. I mean look what you've been selling the last 30 years; you've been standing in the pulpit and selling curses on non-tithers, "first fruits", Achan burying his stolen tithe, God causing leaking roofs, God collecting his tithe through holes in purses and premature balding tires and broken refrigerators. You've even been selling possible early death to non-tithers just like Ananias and Sapphira. If you've been selling THAT crap for all these years, surely you can sell this new plan based on sound marketing and pricing principles.
You can tell the members that the Lord has shown you the Old Testament tithe is actually 23 1/3%, and it only applied to grain, produce, and livestock and not money. And there is a verse in the New Testament that you might have missed about people "purposing in their hearts" what to give and not to give under compulsion. This plan is right in line with that verse, since people can decide to be members or not, and there is no compulsion. You pay to play at the church. And you can even tell the peeps the Lord has shown you the evil nature of the tithe when you discovered that the Mormons believe in the tithe, and they are a cult, and therefore you don't want to be a cult (they'll believe you, trust me). Instead, you are going to follow the Lord's people, the American Jews, as surely the Lord has led them and we can adopt their same practices without fear that the Lord will strike us dead.
So there you have it, friends. The Watchdog has this all figured out. I didn't come up with this plan overnight. The Lord has been showing this to me for about a year, maybe two. I've prayed about it, and met with many of you in your homes to discuss this plan and get your input.
Now, to get your commitment on this new plan, we're going to have a march where you decorate a shoe box....wait a minute, I said no more gimmicks, right?