Support the Café
Search our site

Free riders in the sky

Free riders in the sky

Many businesses and retailers have discovered that discount coupons that may get people into stores does not always translate into repeat business if no discount or freebie is involved. Churches don’t offer coupons or giveaways, but have the same problem: people who use their services but do not support their ministries financially.


Often it is for pastoral reasons, but sometimes there other reasons.

David Briggs writes in the blog of the Association of Religion Data Archives:

As religious groups struggle through hard economic times, many also are paying increasing attention to “free riders,” individuals who are content to enjoy their services without making a significant commitment to their upkeep and mission.

Observers need only to look to the struggles of the newspaper and music industries to see the difficulty of finding ways to make people pay for services they become accustomed to getting for free.

And research indicates that religious institutions that screen out members who lack commitment make the organizations stronger and more attractive because they place a high value on members giving time, talent and treasure.

But while attracting new members with free or reduced-price services may be risky investments, allowing free riding also is necessary for the future of the church, some scholars concluded at the recent meeting of the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture in Washington.

“Committed people aren’t just born,” Michael McBride of the University of California, Irvine, said in a presentation on “Why Churches Need Free Riders.”

But there is a fine line: demand too much financial commitment and people go away, demand too little and personal commitment goes down.

Economics professor Laurence Iannaccone of Chapman University helped frame the debate in a 1994 article in the American Journal of Sociology. Make too many demands, and religious groups will scare away current and potential members. Make too few demands, and people feel free to seek the pastor’s counsel without putting money in the collection place or to come emptyhanded to a pot luck supper, and the whole church suffers, he said.

Finding an optimal level of strictness “reduces free riding. It screens out members who lack commitment and stimulates participation among those who remain,” wrote Iannaccone.

The key is to allow people to become fully incorporated into the parish at the right pace.

For newcomers who find a good fit, the initial low cost gives way to a higher price in terms of expected giving and volunteering once the quality of the experience is known, they state.

It can be a risky and costly investment in newcomers, McBride said at the religion and economics meeting.

But congregations “must allow non-contributors today to help them become committed affiliates tomorrow,” he said.

Somewhere down the line, enough free riders have to be persuaded to become contributing members of congregations, to pay their share of the private costs of offering public goods

.

Dislike (0)
0 0 vote
Article Rating
Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinmail

Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

1 Comment
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Paul Woodrum

Hmmm. Wonder how this applies to the previous discussion of willy-nilly welcoming to communion folks who haven't been baptized?

Like (0)
Dislike (0)
Facebooktwitterrss
Support the Café
Past Posts
2020_001

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café