I’ve heard this question at least a thousand times, and in spite of the number of times the question is asked, the answer is always the same. “Because.” That’s easy to say, but the rationale behind per capita giving is more involved.
Per Capita literally means “for each head,” and it’s essentially a “per-person” fee paid to the denomination to keep the denomination running. For a lot of folks, that seems like carrying coal to Newcastle. Why does the denomination need our money? What difference does it make if our church does or doesn’t give to this fund?
The denomination needs the giving of every church because giving is an act of faith. Yes, there are endowments and investments and a whole lot of churches pay their per capita without fail, and yes, the giving by a lot makes up for the lack of giving by a few. But it’s important to remember that per capita is the primary source of funding for the Office of the General Assembly, and it is through participation in per capita giving that nearly 10,000 PCUSA congregations equitably share the costs of the work of the wider church.
Giving is a holy discipline. When the disciples went out into the world to share the Good News, they relied upon the generosity of the churches they planted to support their work. Furthermore, they encouraged those new churches to set aside a collection for the widows and orphans, the hungry and helpless, the broken and bereft. It is our call as Christians and as Presbyterians to share in the ministry of all our churches, to fairly pay those who serve Christ at all denominational levels, and to offer compassion and support to our sisters and brothers in need.
Why do we have to pay per capita? Because we care about the future of our churches. Because we care about each other. Because we are still being sent into the world to share the glorious Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Because we are under grace, and it is from there that we can see how dynamic our graciousness can be.
Transitional Presbytery Pastor
Rev. Dana Hughes