The church collection as standard practice is ingrained in our ethos. We just expect it.
Growing up, the offering always preceded the sermon. Usually it was accompanied by the special music, a soaring vocalist or a solo by a flamboyant (well, we didn’t exactly use that word) pianist.
The plate got passed Sunday evenings and sometimes on Wednesday prayer service too. I remember the first time I went to an event and a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket was passed around.
Some Protestant churches have made such obligations to salaries, mortgages and infrastructure that giving strategies and campaigns are among the top priorities.
In the most extreme examples, attenders march up to the front altar and there “present” their gifts. Sitting in the pew must be uncomfortable beyond belief. Dubbed “The Sunday Morning Stickup” such guilt trips are hardly biblical, especially when given Jesus admonition to give quietly and anonymously.
In one Atlanta church, extended calls to “give the widow’s mite” resulted in wedding rings and dress shoes offered at the altar.
Joel Osteen’s mega church was roundly criticized for passing plate during a service with Hurricane Harvey victims.
These rare examples give giving – and churches – a bad name.
Digital giving – Moving toward an eCollection Plate?
I get it. Giving to the church is necessary, as there are bills to pay and the collective obligation is for the church to take care of our own. It’s good for the soul and the heart, reminding me “not to store up treasures.”
Tim Challis writes, “There is something sweet and deliberate about putting $100 in the offering plate each week and whispering a prayer of thanks to God while singing “Take My Life and Let It Be.”
But the digital age has been challenging for some who used to drop cash in the plate. But automated giving has also helped churches plan and stabilize offerings year round. Many churches have even stopped passing any kind of collection, relying solely on digital means of giving. Some churches even have installed giving kiosks in their lobbies. A mobile giving app is another solution that offers convenience.
Challis continues, “There is something that seems odd and less significant about knowing that $100 will be automatically syphoned out of your account that evening. And yet this is the world today.”
The need for accountability
I have to believe that collective efforts to fund church activities have been present since the very first gatherings
Jesus never passed the plate, the bucket, the basket. However, he seemed to exist off the giving of a group of women, including Joanna, Susanna and “many others.”
But money always comes with a huge warning sign. The temptation to abuse and manipulate the process led to indulgences in the Catholic church and helped fuel the Protestant Reformation. It’s led many leaders astray and hurt the gospel in way unimaginable.
It’s always good for a church to be accountable, to have clear delineations regarding finances and expenditures. Published processes and transparency help givers like me willingly offer my money.
And I love to see examples of my money in action. Show pictures of the local mission, or the children’s ministry, or African village with a new well. Help connect the mission to the money.
Taking money out of the plate
There’s a new twist to the offering – invite people to take money out of the plate. If churches implore people to trust God with their finances enough to be able to give, sometimes “till it hurts,” then that same kind of trust and reliance on His provision should apply to the church institution.
In my church last Sunday, before ushers passed the basket, the leader spoke to the audience and with every ounce of sincerity recognized that there were probably some deep and painful financial needs in the congregation. He encouraged people to freely take from the basket as it went by, “with no shame, no guilt.”
That kind of attitude, the “freely have we received and so freely we give” makes me want to trust the church leadership more.
It’s a loose grip on the things that can drag them down — like power, influence and money – that will help churches succeed in this age and the age to come.