How Much Does Church Cost?

We called him “Tom.”  We had trouble pronouncing his real name.  He was the first person from Japan that many of us had ever met. He was, despite a language barrier, funny guy.  He was an International Economics major.  He was a self-proclaimed agnostic.

Tom was a foreign exchange student from Hiroshima.  He was at my university for an academic year and lived on the same floor in my dorm.

He had a distrust of organized religion.  He said it was because the Japanese government used people’s religious beliefs to recruit them to be kamikaze pilots during WWII.


However, he often ask about the church that a few of us attended.  We asked him if he would like to go with us.  He said he wanted to as soon as he thought he understood the English well enough.

Sometime toward the end of  the academic year, after spring break, he said he would like to go to church with us.

It was an American Baptist Church that sat on the corner of our university’s campus.  There were probably 170 – 200 people at the Sunday service on average.  The minister was a nice man, but not very dynamic.  In fact, he hardly ever looked at the congregation as he read his sermon, despite the fact that he had a doctorate in theology and was near retiring.

I wondered what Tom would think.


Like every Sunday, before the sermon, there was the offertory.  As the ushers went to the front to get the collection plates, we all got our our money.  I noticed Tom getting out a 10 dollar bill.

I knew that he only lived on five dollars a day when we were on winter break and he was traveling.  I also knew he lived on way less during the academic sessions.  After all, he had saved money from a paper route and other jobs for years in order to afford one year at our college.  He was poor, like the rest of us.

I looked down at the two dollars in my hand.

Before I could say anything, he asked me how much it “costs to go to church?”  Wow, I never thought about him even thinking that there was an admission fee.  I failed to consider it was not just his first time in an American Christian church, it was his first time in church.

I explained that it did not cost anything to attend the church service.  He looked at me with a puzzled expression.  Then, he pointed out that everyone around us had money in their hands.  I said that was only because they wanted to give their money.  It was a donation.   For most, it was part of their faith.

I told him he did not have to put anything in the collection plate, certainly not a ten dollar bill.

He put in the ten dollar bill as the collection plate passed.


Later, I asked him why he put in his ten dollars.  He told me that he wanted to; it was the right thing to do.

I thought of Luke 21:1 – 4, the story of the widow’s offering.  However, the widow had faith and Tom did not, right?   Or was that the difference…

Did Tom think it was the right thing to do just to fit in?  Or was it in the same spirit as the widow?  Or was it something else?

I still ponder Tom’s question of how much church costs to attend.

Anyway, it was Tom’s  first and last trip to church with us.  He returned to Japan a few weeks later at the end of the term.

He became a very successful, married, business man.

I lost contact with him years ago.

I do not know if he ever went to church again.


  1. Often we do take things for granted and give it little thought then it takes a stranger to make us focus on the real reasoning behind it. Nice post

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