Is It Wrong to Charge for Church Events?

Stephanie Hodges 5 Comments

Charging for church events is a topic that often stirs up debate. On the one hand, some people believe that all church events should be free.

However, charging for specific events can help offset the costs and provide a better experience.

So which side is right? Or does it depend? Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of charging for church events.

What Exactly Are You Charging For?

Before we jump into the debate, we need to clarify what we’re talking about when we say “church events.”

Are we referring to weekend services? Vacation Bible School? Leadership conferences? There are many types of church events, and each one could be handled differently.

We see no justification for charging for weekend services, small groups, or other standard church ministries. Here, we’re talking about extras like conferences, retreats, or other special events. And these events vary a ton from church to church.

For example, there’s a range of offerings for kids’ summer programs in our local community. We’ve seen free Backyard Bible Clubs, $35 for a week of Vacation Bible School, and a $230 fee for a three-day summer camp onsite at a church. And more options are floating around beyond these three!

The Debate on Charging For Church Events

Whether you can or should charge for church events is complicated, and we don’t think there’s a blanket “yes” or “no” answer. So, let’s talk through some of the critical questions you need to ask yourself when it comes time to plan an event and, potentially, set a registration fee.

Will it Affect the Quality of the Event?

This is a valid concern for anyone planning an event. After all, no one wants to spend tremendous effort planning and persuading people to come to an event only for them to have a mediocre experience and never come back.

You can usually provide a higher quality event with a better environment, tastier food, giveaways, and other bells and whistles with a bigger budget. It also makes it easier to accommodate a larger number of people.

On the other hand, a free event may have to be limited in scope and what is offered.

Will There Be Food?

Food is typically the biggest portion of any event budget. If you want to serve food (especially if you’re aiming high in quality and quantity), it will be challenging to do so without charging for your event.

Are You Offering Something Unique?

A pro of charging for church events is that you can afford extra elements above and beyond the norm. People are more willing to pay for an event if they get something unique or special in return.

For example, a conference with well-known speakers will get people excited and eager to invite their friends. But, for most churches, the honorariums and travel expenses for these speakers are exorbitant without offsetting the cost with a registration fee.

Will it Affect the Number of People We Reach?

This question can be argued both ways. On the one hand, you might say that more people would be more willing to attend a free event than a paid one.

On the other hand, church is free every weekend, but everyone isn’t stampeding to get in the door.

An event may need to have enticing special features to be attractive to more people – and the ability to offer those benefits requires extra money.

Paying for a ticket in advance also means people are more likely to be committed to attending.

One thing is certain: if you’re charging for an event, the value should be obvious. People should clearly see why they paid to get in and have a high-quality experience. Otherwise, you’re better off serving people with a free event and looking at other ways to cover the cost.

Are There Other Ways to Cover the Cost?

So, what if you want to have all the bells and whistles, but you still don’t want to charge for church events. Do you have any other options?

Here are a few ideas for covering the cost of an event beyond charging entrance fees:

  • Ask for donations: this could be food, decor, giveaways, or other items from your church members.
  • Charge for specific items: rather than charging an overall admission fee, you could charge for particular items like food or drinks.
  • Do a fundraiser: this could be anything from a bake sale to a car wash.
  • Get sponsorships or sell ad space: local businesses may be willing to sponsor your event in exchange for advertising.
  • Generate money through sales: rather than give away t-shirts, books, and other items as part of the event ticket; you could offer them for a cost. This would save you money and help generate additional income to cover event programming expenses.
  • Take up an offering: you can take up an offering during the event itself, explaining that it will cover the cost of the gathering and similar events in the future.

But is It Really the Right Thing to Do?

The bottom line is that there’s no easy answer regarding whether or not you should charge for church events. We could argue that Jesus never charged the crowds for an event as He traveled around preaching and performing miracles.

However, we may feel that we need to reach and disciple people by any means necessary, and people have different expectations in our day and age.

It really depends on your church’s culture, budget, and what you’re hoping to accomplish with your events. You can choose to strip down to the basics so you can offer your events for free.

Sometimes we make assumptions that people want or need a big production when they’re looking for authenticity and genuine relationship more than anything else.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully and decide based on what you believe is best for your church and the people you’re trying to reach!

What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!

REACHRIGHT Podcast
REACHRIGHT Podcast
Is It Wrong to Charge for Church Events?
/

Comments 5

  1. Our church just started charging a fee for regular Sunday morning Sunday School during Sunday morning church service. I was searching to see if any other church does this. I am so shocked that this is what my church starts charging for immediately following a big renovation of the church.

  2. It’s fine to charge for events, especially if the activity supports the particular mission of a commission or sanctioned group. Who else is going to pay for the activities? You can’t tax parishioners, or ask for a second collection. For example, in the church I belonged to for 35 years, plate collections on Sunday were handled by the ushers. Tithing was encouraged but only 5% of the parishioners tithed (10% of their gross income). Therefore, with only 400 families in the parish, with the majority of retirement age, we had to find a way to attract young families, so we created a Youth Commission as a Committee of The Vestry (our Board of Directors). We put on BBQs ($5 a plate, stacked as high as you could); Youth/Teen Ski Trip (sponsored by a wealthy parishioner to subsidize the weekend – $50 charge to each teen for food, incidentals and gas for the drivers for two full days); Pancake Breakfast on the Tuesday before Lent started at $5 a plate…and more. All this attracted young families to our church. Within two years we went from 10 young families to over 150 young families coming weekly to church. Unfortunately, this did not translate to increased income in the Sunday plates. So the Youth Group conducted a focus group and discovered two things: a) young families didn’t understand that running a church cost money; they thought it was all free because it was the ‘ministry’ of the church to ‘minister’ to their needs; b) it cost each family $24.95 every Sunday to sit in their pew and get ‘ministered to’. That translated to $1,300.00 a year per family. In other words, the cost to the parish for 150 young families was roughly $200,000 a year in services. And where was that money coming from? Well, it wasn’t. It was draining the savings account. We mounted an awareness campaign focused on these young families and over the course of three years income from young families increased to an average of $750/year per family in collection plate income. That still was a deficit, but progress. And that’s when charging for events began to balance the balance sheet. My suggestion to commission/committee members is: know your audience, know your parish, understand the threshold of what you can charge and run every event with volunteers who are ‘ministering’ through their volunteer work for the good of the parish.

    1. So if everyone is invited, it needs to be free? I generally agree. The question gets more complicated when it is for men’s, women’s, or your events. What do you think about those?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.