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Member canvassing akin to begging

Guest author

Let the begging begin. That, in any case, is what it seems like to many church people when October or November rolls around each year. These are the months of the Every Member Canvass, Loyalty Sunday, the Stewardship Drive, etc.

No matter how different the names are, the message is the same: Get your pledge up.

It is rarely put that crassly, of course. Many churches have become as wily and adept as the old-time encyclopedia salesmen in getting their foot in your door. They want to “get to know you better” or “see if you have any questions to ask about the church.” But before they leave, they will have your filled-in pledge card in their pocket.

Certainly, churches need money to operate, and most of them run their affairs more economically than other businesses. So it is often hard to see why people are so resistant to giving, forcing the churches to beg and coax.

But resistant they are. One Presbyterian church says that half the people whose doorbells were rung on Pledge Sunday weren’t home. One solicitor got nine “no answers” in 11 calls. It was a wintry-cold Sunday when you would expect people to be home. Did they go out or hide in the kitchen to avoid the canvasser?

Such experiences have forced some churches to give up the door-to-door Every Member Canvass.

“We have learned that people don’t like that approach,” says the Rev. James Donnan, pastor of Livingston United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. “So we have become more giver-friendly.”

Rather than draw up an annual budget based on projected expenses for the coming year as most churches do, at Livingston Methodist members are asked to make voluntary “gifts to God.” This, Donnan feels, puts giving on a more spiritual basis.

When all the “gifts to God” are totaled up, the church knows what it will have to spend in the next year.

While there is no arm-twisting, all members of Livingston are encouraged to tithe give one-tenth of their income to the church, if they are able. Donnan considers it part of his job to convince everybody that they are able.

There have been suggestions that the churches to what most synagogues and temples do that is, charge membership dues. Every family’s dues are the same.

“We find it more dignified not to have to go begging,” says the business manager of one temple.

But is it fair that the $25,000-a-year family has to pay the same dues as the $100,000-a-year family? Well, it is pointed out, the truck driver has to pay as much as the CEO for a quart of milk or for an automobile or a ticket to the movies. The price of most things is the same for everybody.

“Actually,” says one synagogue leader, “the basic dues rate is based on what the average person can pay. About 30 percent of our families pay more than the basic rate, and about 20 percent have asked to be allowed to pay less. Adjustments are made in individual cases all the time.”

A novel way to raise money for the church has been tried by several Unitarian churches which charge tuition for Sunday school. The charges vary, but the average is $25 a year per pupil up to a maximum of $50 for a family. Those who cannot pay have the tuition waived.

Families are said to have a deeper sense of commitment to the Sunday school, resulting in increased attendance when they pay tuition.

Some churches resort to games and gimmicks to warm people up for giving. One passed out play $1,000 bills with the message: “This represents what God has given you. What will you give him?”

But the “knock-knock” routine is still the most popular gimmick being used.

Well, not popular exactly … (Copyright 1999 Newspaper Enterprise Assn.)