Jason Coker





Offering Plate Alternatives, Part 2

Tip #2: Invite people into a personal and intentional process of annual giving

Recently a friend of mine read my first post in this series, Offering Plate Alternative, Part 1, and tweeted her response to my personal account:

I’m pretty sure Angie is being sarcastic here. If not, I’m sure she’ll let me know : )

Angie and I worked together at a fairly big church in the midwest where she was the Youth Director and I was the Associate Pastor. She’s is a gifted communicator and marketer, and used those skills in an authentic way to quickly grow the youth group among unchurched, inner city teenagers.

When your tools become a substitute for relationships

But here’s the thing: Angie understands what can be so easy to forget – the tools that increase our reach and efficiency are used best as a way to open the door for authentic relationships, not as a substitute for the hassle of those relationships.

Angie branded her ministry like a pro and used the efficiency and scale of the tools at her disposal to reach the teens our church wasn’t previously connecting with. But she did it in a way that was consistent with her values as a leader and, more importantly, once those connections were made, she worked hard to establish actual relationships with the new youth who started responding.

So what does this have to do with passing the offering plate?

Everything.

Passing an offering plate (or basket) in a crowd is a tool for efficiency. Once the system is setup and your ushers are trained well, it’s a quick and effective way to collect paper and coins in a church with three conditions in place:

  1. A large crowd of people,
  2. Sitting tightly together in rows,
  3. Who are primed and ready to give physical money.

But let’s be honest: Most churches in America don’t meet either the first or second conditions on the list. But even among the few churches who do, most no longer meet the third condition either because of massive culture shifts in attitudes about giving.

And even if your church does have all three conditions in place, you are sabotaging your congregation’s ability to engage in a genuinely impactful and sustainable culture of giving by relying solely on this traditional process of collection. Why? Because you’re likely not engaging people in a personal way. More often than not, like marketing and mass communications tools, passing the collection plate on Sunday is the only way churches are directly engaging with their people about giving.

Because of that, passing the plate can actually become, at best, a weak substitute for engaging people and, at worst, an obstacle for effectively discipling them into participating in the generous economy of the Kingdom.

So, what’s a different approach?

In this excellent book from 1996, a comprehensive congregational study of more than 600 churches discovered that asking people to make an annual giving pledge resulted in giving at 2-3 times the regular amount.

There were two different ways of doing this studied by the authors.

  • Individuals and families were invited to pledge an amount of giving for the upcoming year, and a budget was established based on the results of those pledges. On average, churches who used this approach doubled their regular giving.
  • Or, based on the prior year’s giving, a budget for the next year was proposed. Then, individuals and families were invited to pledge an annual amount of giving toward that proposed budget. On average, churches who switched to this approach tripled their regular giving.

This is essentially akin to running an annual campaign in a strong nonprofit organization. The reason this works so well is that the leadership of the church is required to engage congregants in a more personal way during the process of pledging.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for the pastor becoming a salesperson. Good fund development in any charitable organization does not mean you ruthlessly squeeze as much money out of people as possible. It means is getting to know people genuinely, understanding their God-given gifts, passions, and callings, and then helping them faithfully connect with the opportunities to see them and their gifts come to life through your community of faith.

This is not only possible, the best nonprofits in the world have figured out how to do this in meaningful ways. No matter how big your church is, you can absolutely engage your people in this way. I teach pastors how to do that in our courses.

But can’t we do both?

As you’ve probably guessed by now, conducting an annual campaign like this doesn’t mean you can’t still pass an offering plate. You absolutely could. And maybe in your church, because of your people, it would make sense to continue doing so. But it would cease to be the primary way you engage your people in a life of giving.

Indeed, as you can imagine, if most of your people have made a decision about what to give in advance, passing a plate on Sunday morning actually becomes one of the least convenient and efficient ways for people to give money to the church.

More importantly, making the shift to a more relationally engaged process of giving means that not only can you implement more effective ways of gathering their gifts, but you can also put more thought into how your church might create more worshipful and spiritually formational ways for people to express their giving liturgically.

That’s what we’ll discuss in our last installment. Stay tuned.

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