Some Things We Learned in Marion, Indiana

By Cecil Willis

Since its beginning in 1969, 1 have been a member of the Westside church in Marion, Indiana. Prior to that, I worked with the Southside congregation in Marion, where Tom Wheeler now preaches. Part of the time at Westside, I have served as preacher for the congregation, but on a part-time basis, due to my meeting work and the work done on Truth Magazine. Brother Steve Wolfgang, now of Franklin, Tennessee, worked two years with the Westside church shortly after it began, and during that time it enjoyed excellent growth. Brother Norman Midgette now preaches for the Westside congregation.

A few weeks ago, during one of the class discussions, the thought was raised, “I wonder what the contribution of this congregation would be if every wage-earner contributed just 10% of his earnings each week.” Someone else took up the thought, and within a few weeks, someone suggested, “Why don’t we all just deposit in a question box at the rear of the auditorium a small slip of paper on which we list only our income for last year?” The contribution at Westside is not bad. For instance, last month (June) our attendance at the Sunday morning service averaged 154 and our contributions averaged $785.31 per week.

Westside congregation would have to be called an “average” congregation. We do not have any big business men in the congregation, nor do we have any one wage earner whose income is so fantastic that it would off-set and disrupt any average we might take. Most of our members are people who moved up from the South, and who have an hourly job in one of the plants here. Some of the larger employers here are General Motors, RCA, Anaconda, St. Regis Paper Company, General Tire and Rubber Company, Foster-Forbes Glass Company, and Dana Corporation. Though we have what I consider good employment opportunities for a community of 40,000 people, yet the employment opportunities are somewhat typical of others in surrounding cities, like Kokomo, Indianapolis, South Bend, Columbus, Fort Wayne, Gary, Hammond, Evansville, etc. I see nothing that would make the income of the Marion members unusual.

After, it was decided that we were going to do such a survey, we emphasized that it was being done strictly on a voluntary basis, and that no importance was being attached to whether a particular member participated in this survey or did not do so. Furthermore, we insisted that the figures be turned in without any kind of identification upon them. In order that we might have some standard measurement guide, we asked that the value of fringe benefits be not included in the figure cited. Incidentally, an accountant told me recently that the company-paid fringe benefits of the six largest corporations in America average a little over $300 per month per employee. I am sure nearly every employee would dispute that figure, but when one figures in the cost of company-paid retirement programs, along with what some would call standard fringe benefits, I suspect that the figure given is correct. But fringe benefits vary widely from company to company. Some companies have a “matching dollar” stock purchase program, whereby an employee might put in one dollar, and the company would give him another dollar with which to purchase company stock. On the other hand, some employees get virtually no fringe benefits at all. So we asked that these be omitted from the figure submitted.

Furthermore, we asked that part-time employees not enter their income into the composite figure. We asked that students who worked only a part of the year not participate. We asked also that if both husband and wife had full-time jobs that two figures be deposited, instead of lumping them together. In the cases of those who had business-related expenses which were income tax deductible, these expense amounts also were to be excluded from the figure cited. In other words, we wanted either one’s “Adjusted Gross Income” tax figure, or one’s W-2 tax form figure. A goodly number of our members did not participate in this survey (not quite half of our employed people reported), and no criticism whatever was made of them for not doing so. We were very emphatic in stating that this was voluntarily being done just to see what we might all learn about ourselves, as a congregation.

Now here are the results: 8 of our wage-earners earn $15,000 or more per year; 5 of our members earn less than $10,000 per year; and the other 5 earn between $10,000 and $15,000 per year. You can tell thereby that only 18 full-time employees reported their income. However, what we learned from this little survey was quite revealing to me. One thing I learned is that I am going to have to treat some of my brethren with a good deal more respect than I have in the past, for I did not know that we had anyone in the congregation who earned as much as several of these brethren reported. Unfortunately, I do not know which ones of the brethren have these higher incomes, and furthermore, it would be sinful if I treated them any differently than I did the lowest paid member of the congregation.

But the most interesting figure of all to me was that the average income of those who participated in this survey was over $14,000 per year! The Internal Revenue Service states that the fact that a preacher’s housing is provided for him tax-free, or that a housing allowance is excludable from income, makes him equal with other employees who do not pay income tax on their fringe benefits. Of the 18 people who reported their income, our preacher (Norman Midgette) was Number 12 on the list. We all know his income, because it is posted every month on the bulletin board for everyone to see! How many other members would be willing to have their income posted on the bulletin board for everyone else to see? Some might even consider that to be an intrusion upon their privacy.

As long as I have been preaching (and that is now a little over 25 years), I have been told that preachers should not make more than the average member makes! I have never particularly objected to that statement. However, some preachers work hard enough that they ought to be paid more than the average member makes, and some other preachers are so lazy and indifferent toward their work that they should be paid a good deal less than the average member makes, if indeed they are going to be paid at all!

But let us, for the time being, just accept the generality that “A preacher should not make any more than the average member makes.” Does it therefore follow that the preacher ought to make as much as the average member makes? If that be the case, I am sure that Brother Norman Midgette will be delighted to learn, when he reads this issue of Truth Magazine, that the Westside congregation is going to give him a $3800 raise this year! If we are going to use this “average member” as the criterion by which to decide how much we are going to pay a preacher, then let us smoke out this “average member” and see how much he is making.

Income and expenses vary greatly from one part of the country to another. But I would like to see 25 or 30 churches across the nation do a similar survey just to see what the average member does make. Preachers all over the land might get substantial raises! Let me hasten to add, however, that within the past months brethren in many places have awakened to the fact that they have not even been giving their preacher a cost of living raise, and that preachers’ wages have increased substantially during the past six or eight months. It would appear that brethren who negotiate into their labor contracts annual or semi-annual raises, and cost of living increases in pay, would be thoughtful enough to remember that preachers have to live in the same economy, and that they should receive increases in pay, commensurate with those being received by other members.

Brethren in this country sometime remark that brethren in some of the foreign countries must think that every American is rich. Well, he is! Compared with most of the rest of the world, the American who lives in the worst ghetto of this country, or that exists solely on welfare, is well-off. But most of them do not know it. Some are on welfare because they are too lazy to work, and think society owes them a living. Paul said of these, “if any will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). The application of that scriptural principle would lessen considerably the number who are riding on the welfare rolls of America.

When Brother Cogdill and I visited among the Philippine brethren in 1970, we met brethren from about 50 congregations. We did not meet a single brother anywhere who owned any kind of an automobile. We did meet two brethren who had what would be called in this country old “Junker” trucks, but no brother whom we met even had an old “Junker” automobile. On the other hand, we had a major crisis at my house this past week. A week ago Sunday night, I wrecked an automobile. We have been in a terrible bind all week. My son had to have an automobile to get back and forth to do his selling work; my daughters had to have an automobile to get to Berne, Indiana (an 80 mile round-trip), where they work in the printing plant; and my wife had to have an automobile in order to get to town and back to do some Summer work she is doing for the Board of Education. That left poor old Brother Willis stranded! We poor Americans are in bad shape, aren’t we? Here is one family that was severely handicapped because we only had three operable automobiles this past week. Brethren all over this nation like to cry around and feel sorry for themselves and say, ABut we are all poor people.@ The truth of the matter is that every faithful brother is rich in faith, and should be rich in good works, and nearly every single one of us is rich in this world’s goods, when compared to the remainder of the world.

In the event that you are going to dispute the figures that characterize the Westside church in Marion, and are going to say, “That may be true in Marion, but it is not true here,” let me suggest first that you do your survey before registering your complaint and protest. I sincerely would like to see similar surveys made by churches in Tampa, Florida; Atlanta Georgia; Birmingham Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Louisville, Kentucky; Annandale or Glen Burnie Maryland; Akron Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Kansas City, Missouri; Denver, Colorado; San Diego, California;

Seattle, Washington; Portland, Oregon; Phoenix, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Houston, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California, and on and on we could go. Get your members to participate in a survey similar to what we did here in Marion, Indiana, and then if you are willing to do so, it would be interesting to have the report of your survey collated with other such surveys, and a broader report carried later in Truth Magazine. Let’s see if we can find out what this proverbial “average member” of the church does make. And the preachers across the country will probably encourage such a survey, for we have all been hearing for so long that “The preacher should not make more than the average member makes.” Preachers may all be going to receive significant pay increases, or we may find that our Marion figures are much out of line with those compiled from a cross-section of brethren across the Nation. If our pay here is very much higher than it is in other similar cities, knowing brethren as I think I do, I hereby predict that Marion, Indiana is going to have rapid and tremendous influx of population from the East, South, West, and North. In fact, we might soon be able to say that “Marion, Indiana is the fastest growing city in America!” Or else we might find that this proverbial “average member” was not as “average”and as Apoor” as we have all been led to believe that he is. If you brethren elsewhere decide to do such a survey, and are willing to share the results of your reports with other brethren, we would be glad to hear from you.

Truth Magazine, XVIII:42, p. 3-5
August 29, 1974