I got to thinking a little more about the whole Jewish charging-for-membership thing. I think it comes down to yet another example of the scarcity mindset vs. the abundance mindset.
Scarcity thinking says "there are limited slices of pie, we’d better charge for each or we’ll never break even".
Abundance thinking says "if we invite everyone into the kitchen, we’ll wind up with five pies and probably some cake to and ice cream to boot".
In the computer industry, scarcity thinking brought us shareware, exorbitant software licensing fees for broken software, and a whole host of applications and business models that are being rapidly obsoleted. Abundance thinking brought us Linux, Firefox, the Web, and an array of Open-Source code which is rapidly becoming the foundation of your technological life, whether you realize it or not.
Scarcity thinking says that as a skilled knowledge worker, I should charge for everything I create. Instead, I blog about my ideas and release my code to the world as Open Source projects. Instead of one-time fees, from this practice of abundance I get a network of contacts who will ensure that should I ever lose my job, I’ll be hired again within a month.
Jesus, always one for the pithy quote, said "cast your bread upon the waters…". Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Christian churches have for the most part embraced the abundance mindset. Open your doors, give people something they need, and ask – but don’t demand – money or other contributions.
Jewish congregations – perhaps still trapped in an immigrant mindset of penny-pinching ("because who knows where the next meal will come from?") – have embraced a scarcity worldview. We offer a service which costs money, and that money has to come form somewhere, so fees must be levied.
Guess which one is growing faster?
And the thing is, I’ve embraced abundance. I’ve decided to model my life on principles of giving what I can whenever I can, with the understanding that the Universe will bring those investments back to me many-fold. And I’m simply not interested in involving myself with groups that have totally internalized the scarcity mindset.