Taylor: Paying people to attend church

If paid parishioners took their task seriously, I would think they’d sell themselves on the value of belonging.

Years ago, when the horizons of my life were largely circumscribed by church publications, I read about a congregation that made a really determined effort to attract new members.

They hired an advertising agency to design and produce several thousand brochures. They bought newspaper ads. They had a professional quality video made, extolling their ministries. They organized a door-knocking campaign, handing out brochures and videos to anyone who showed the least interest. They even rented billboards at major intersections in their area

The campaign would have cost the church—in today’s dollars—about $20,000.

The result? Two new families attending church regularly.

Yes, there were a few one-time drop-ins, who never returned a second time. I never heard any reasons why they didn’t come back. Perhaps somebody snubbed them. Perhaps they didn’t like the church’s theology. Perhaps they didn’t like the coffee.

But just two new families.

I remember thinking, at the time: “Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier to pay a couple of families $10,000 each to start attending church?”

Now that’s anathema. Unthinkable. We don’t pay people to go to church. They come to church to pay us, don’t they? To help us balance our budget, or to support our outreach ministries, or to pay off the mortgage faster—right?

But something rebellious in me asks: “Why not pay people to come to church?”

It would be like hiring an employee. You don’t accept the first person who walks in the door. You advertise a vacancy in the Help Wanted ads. You set up some job specifications. You define the payment, perhaps $100 for each Sunday service that people attend.

That’s all they have to do—attend church. And one other duty, which I’ll get to, later.

Then you invite people to submit applications. What qualifications do they offer, that would make them the best candidates for this position? What experience do they have? What references can they provide? How much effort have they made to get to know the organization that will be paying them?

Theatres and orchestras make hopefuls audition for their roles. There’s no reason a church couldn’t ask applicants for its weekly payments to audition for this particular community. There’s no reason why a church shouldn’t choose the best qualified candidates, instead of just taking anyone who shows up.

If the successful applicants attended every week, with two weeks off for holidays, they’d take home $5,000 for their year of service.

Oh, yes, that one other qualification—the successful applicants have to sit on the committee that picks next year’s winners. That means they’ll have to do some serious thinking. About what makes belonging to this church worthwhile. About what kind of people this church wants, or needs, and why. How newcomers can fit in, and how they can make a difference.

If they take that task seriously, I would think they’ll sell themselves on the value of belonging. And they’ll continue to attend, even after their weekly incentive starts going to someone else.

And if they don’t, good riddance.