Faith and Reason: How to cash in on a sense of value: In the sixth article in our series on what it would mean to try to be a just rich man in the modern world, Andrew Brown looks at how churches raise and spend their money.

WHY is it the mainstream churches in this country are all broke, while the fringe groups seem awash in money? So far this series has been full of questions asked about how Christians should spend their money; it may be illuminating to ask how they actually do so.

The Church of England is very rich in terms of assets, but has not enough income for its commitments. Most dioceses of the Catholic Church in this country are in the red, according to a recent survey. The Methodists seriously considered abandoning their Central Hall in London some years ago because they could not afford the running costs.

Yet if you walk into any of the successful evangelical or house churches, the first thing you notice is how much money they have. Their offices can look like advertising agencies more than churches. To some extent this is because they have infinitely fewer commitments than the established churches. A house church with one school or rehabilitation centre attached feels it has accomplished great things; the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster alone has 80,000 pupils in schools to look after. That does not feel like an achievement to be celebrated, but an obligation to be borne. A related point is connected with the ways in which people join churches: those which demand tremendous commitment, and pitch at adults, will naturally seem more important in the lives of their members than those into which you are simply born, or grow up. This is not a reflection of the depth of faith involved, merely on the degree to which it is conscious.

But with all those allowances made, it is still remarkable that some churches can successfully tithe their members, levy money from them, while the First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Douglas Lovelock, must hold out the begging bowl to Synod, urging members of the Church of England to give an extra 30p a week. For no one seems to expect them to do so. It may be more likely that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, the Right Rev David Konstant, will get the extra pounds 2m he needs this year. But, if he does, it is unlikely to be because his flock is richer, or even more philanthropically disposed, than that of his Anglican opposite number.

The explanation for his relative success may be more mundane, and of wider application. What he managed to do was to make his appeal dramatic, perhaps even exciting. The real difference between successful and unsuccessful fund-raisers seems to be, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said last week, that the successful ones urge people to buy into a dream. Of course Evangelicals don't have dreams - they have 'visions for' - but with allowances made for jargon, they are selling just as surely as the advertising agencies whose offices theirs resemble.

This is not meant to be snide. Probably the most widely quoted sentence of any clergyman this century is 'I have a dream'. You cannot rely on voluntary effort without enthusing people, and convincing them that they are part of some larger communal whole.

It is all very well to tell the congregation that they are part of the pilgrim people of God, but they must have a sense of where the destination is to be. Nothing, as we know, could be less glamorous or exciting or enthusing than a vicarage, or a vestry, or any of the other appurtenances of a well-endowed church. People will not give generously to support an institution to which they simply belong.

And when they do give to maintain an institution, or to repair the fabric of a church, they prefer to do so in interesting or amusing ways, no matter how little these may be tax-efficient. The Church of England raises nearly as much from jumble sales as from covenanted giving; and obviously would prefer to raise far more from the anonymous brown envelopes to the parish treasurer, with all their neatness and tax advantages.

Yet parishioners stubbornly prefer to organise sales and raffles and silly events, not merely, I suspect, because they are more attractive to outsiders, and to those who take part, but because they are more trouble to organise. Take the trouble, and you feel you have accomplished something worthwhile. It is an unusual mind that can feel a sense of accomplishment on signing a standing order.

At a time when ever more strained activities are invented solely as photo-opportunities - I await without interest a press release announcing that someone will be windsurfing backwards to Barcelona, dressed in a Mickey Mouse suit, to raise money for some charity - we too easily forget how much fun stunts are for the participants. Take the most respectable, stockbrokerly church you like and announce from the pulpit that you will be having a sponsored pillow-fight on a greased telephone pole, all entrants to be wearing stockbroking suits, and you will probably get a much better response than if you merely ask the congregation to increase their giving to some pathetic sum equivalent to the amount they spend on lifestyle magazines.

From this it follows that the drama and inconvenience of tithing is part of its appeal. Of course, the specifics of tithing are tied up with a whole group of ideas inaccessible to those outside a particular evangelical culture. Few Christians find tempting a policy of recreating, so far as possible, biblical society. Few really live their lives as if the world were only a shadow-play, illuminated by the flames of hell, or the hope of glory. Yet many would happily give more than they do if they felt it brought the Kingdom closer to them. It is just that an appeal to rescue the Church Commissioners from the consequence of a revaluation of their property holdings during a recession exacerbated by the Bundesbank's monetary policy doesn't seem to have a great deal to do with the Kingdom of God.

But given a goal of startling disutility, like rescuing the spire on an ancient cathedral, people will give generously. To do this requires that money be celebrated rather than required as a regrettable necessity: when Ely Cathedral introduced glass-sided collection boxes, to replace the traditional opaque ones, the amount deposited rose five-fold.

But this can be very difficult for an established church to do. A far greater obstacle to solvency than the church's supposed contempt for money-making is its profoundly ingrained belief that the world owes it a living.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits