There’s a small Southern Baptist church not far from my home that my family attends from time to time. They’re a relatively young church – most of the people who attend look to be in their 30’s and 40’s – and pretty non-traditional in style. But there’s one thing they do every Sunday that is so old-fashioned it always surprises me: They pass the offering plate.
To be fair, most churches I’ve been to do this. It surprises me every time. Here are 5 reasons to consider abandoning this practice.
Many people don’t carry cash or checks
Do you carry cash anymore or even a checkbook? Chances are, you don’t. Recent studies show that most people no longer carry cash and those who do, don’t carry much of it.
It encourages small gifts
Not only will people give less because they don’t have much in their pocket, people making spontaneous giving decisions tend to give in smaller amounts. In a comprehensive survey of individual members in over 600 churches from the 1990’s, people who were given an opportunity to thoughtfully consider their giving for the year in advance, give 2 to 3 times as much as those who simply responded to the offering plate in front of them, depending on how they were engaged.
It breaks the continuity of worship
Occasionally, churches do a great job incorporating a traditional offering time into the flow of their worship, but that’s rare in my experience. Other than an opening prayer, there is often no meaningful frame for what is happening during that time, so from a visitors perspective, the whole experience feels disjointed, or worse, cliché.
It’s embarrassing and awkward for everyone
One of the most socially awkward experiences in most worship services is the offering time, because ushers feel self-conscious about asking for money and the people in the seats feel self-conscious about putting money (or, especially, not putting money) in the plate. Even worse, this is almost always the experience of first time visitors who are not yet ready to even think about giving to you. Factor in a small crowd, where you often have ushers conspicuously handing an empty plate to one or two isolated people sitting in an otherwise empty row, who often, embarrassingly hand it back empty, and you have a corporate experience that feels like a collective failure (see what I did there?).
It perpetuates a transactional consumer relationship with your people
In a previous post, I encouraged churches to stop asking people for their money, because money isn’t nearly enough. But “your money is enough” is exactly the message churches send when they put a great deal of time and effort into facilitating a worship experience and then proceed to ask for a few bucks in return. The whole thing becomes a soft transaction, like that old “pay what you want” Radiohead experiment. But the healthiest relationships are transformational, not transactional and the same is true for the healthiest churches.
There is simply no good reason why most churches should pass offering plates. There aren’t enough people in most American congregations to logistically justify this method of collection, and even if your church is bursting at the seams, it’s a pre-information-age mechanism that isn’t socially appropriate anymore. There are far better ways to encourage giving and facilitate collection. Offering plates are impersonal, inefficient, embarrassing, and ineffective.
So, what could a church do instead?
Starting tomorrow, I’m going to post 3 things that churches should be doing instead of relying on the collection plate.
But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What has your church done to make giving (and collecting) more effective for everyone?