This section is from the "How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt" book, by Rev. Sylvanus Stall. Amazon: How To Pay Church Debts And How To Keep Churches Out Of Debt.
One quite common method of renting pews is by fixing a special day, and after giving due notice, have all desiring to become pewholders assemble at the specified time, and then rent the pews according to one of two plans, viz:
At Auction. - The pews are frequently set up at auction, and struck off for one year to the highest bidder. In this way a large amount of money is sometimes secured by the rental of the choice pews, but unless the preacher is exceedingly popular, or some other unusual excitant quickens a vehement competition until all the pews are sold, the entire amount will fall short of that which might be realized by some other method.
Some congregations fix a graded schedule of prices, accepting no bid which falls below this, they sell to the highest bidder. This plan protects the pews from being rented at less than the apprizal rates. Others, again, attach a fixed value to each pew, and then sell at auction, not the pew, but the choice, or privilege of making first and succeeding choice of all the pews. The bid is for the choice, to which the regular rental price of the pew is added. The following are the conditions of sale, published by a large congregation in Brooklyn, N. Y.:
"Each pew has a fixed valuation, and the choice of all in the house is offered, without reservation for previous occupants, to the highest bidder.
"Each aisle seat has a fixed valuation, and is offered to the highest bidder for a premium above that valuation. The seats are known by the same numbers as the pews to which they are attached.
"Payment of rent for pews is required semi-annually in advance, and for aisle seats the whole year in advance.
"The trustees reserve, and will exercise, the right to re let any pew or seat, on account of the original lessee, if the rent is not paid within thirty days after becoming due.
"No bid will be accepted from those in arrears.
"No pew, or part of a pew, nor any aisle seat, will be rented either at the public renting or at any time thereafter, for a less period than until January next.
"The pews and seats are rented with the understanding that if not occupied at least ten minutes before the commencement of the services, they may then be assigned to strangers.
"All regular attendants at the church are expected to rent sittings, in order that the large current expenses may be shared by the whole congregation.
"The house will be open every morning in January, after the public renting, from 8 to 9 o'clock, and on Saturday evenings from 7 to 9 o'clock; and a person will be in attendance to rent such pews and seats as remain undisposed of, and to receive payments of rent. By Order of the Trustees."
The sale of pews by public auction tends to excite among the members a spirit of rivalry, jealousy, personal pride and vain glory, and may be conducted in such a manner as to subvert the very cause Christ had in view in establishing His church upon the earth.
Public Rental, not at Auction. - The custom of renting pews at auction lacks the approval of God's Word, and of many Christians whose judgment is worthy of great respect. Most congregations renting pews announce the day and hour, have a graded schedule of prices, and rent, not to the highest bidder, but to such as first notify the committee of their choice. The schedule of valuation, if judiciously arranged, may serve an excellent purpose in fixing the income of the church so that is shall fully meet the annual expenditures, and also avoid great diversity in the prices of pews equally desirable. If the pews are all rented each successive year, the former occupants are usually granted the first refusal.
A more desirable method is to rent the pews for an indefinite period, at a fixed rate, to be paid monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually in advance. The lessee may at any time vacate the pew by giving notice of the same in writing, and paying all arrearages. At least twice a year public attention should be called to the matter, and new attendants given an opportunity to secure regular seats; or this matter may be left in the hands of a judicious committee, who shall personally call upon all such as should be pewholders. One difficulty often arises in churches where seats are rented. There are frequently those who are too proud to sit anywhere except in the very best pews the church affords, and are, at the same time, too mean or too poor to pay the price which the sitting will and should reasonably bring. As another says, they are frequently "of that class who can pay freely for tickets to the theatre, or other places of popular amusement; can hire a carriage for a Sunday drive to the park; can entertain company splendidly at Sunday dinners" - and in short who can pay for anything except religion. They are not willing to sacrifice their pride to the best interests of the church, but want the church and all its interests sacrificed to their personal vain glory. The fewer of this class of people you have in your church the better, for when the church has to be sacrificed to satisfy the pride of individuals, its usefulness is at an end. Such people have not, and cannot have the best interests of the church at heart, and the sooner they seek sittings somewhere else, the better for your church, at least.