This is the third and final installment in my Offer Plate Alternatives series. Here’s a quick recap:
In the beginning I stated that there is no good reason why most churches today should continue passing an offering plate. It’s logistically ineffective, socially awkward, and contributes to the wrong kind of worship culture. The only reason to continue is to preserve a tradition that some might find meaningful. That’s an important consideration, but it can be overcome. Click here to read all five reasons.
In the first tip, I suggest that the best way to build healthy, sustainable giving is to get to know people and ask them for their contributions directly. The development of a genuine spirituality of giving in your church isn’t a process of sales, marketing, or manipulation. It’s a process of pastoral care. Click here to read the post.
In the second tip, I visit the results of a long-neglected study of 600 congregations who found there was a far more effective way to engage people around giving. By implementing this one change, churches doubled or tripled their membership giving. By making this switch, your church would be free to explore better ways to empower people’s giving. Click here to read the post.
Which bring is to our third and final tip…
Tip #3: Give people multiple & meaningful ways to give
Make it accessible
Churches aren’t just places or spaces. More essentially they’re communities of faith with one highly countercultural and conspicuous feature: they live out an alternative economy of generosity, committed to meeting each others needs and the needs of the most vulnerable in the surrounding area through the generous grace of God.
That means they give.
If you’re going to ask people in your church to give – and you should – then you should also give them as many different ways to do so as possible. Not everyone is inclined to give the same way and not everyone thinks about their giving at the same time.
In other words, make giving accessible to everyone.
Lower the barriers to giving by providing ways for people to give in person, online, through the mail, on their smart phone, by walking in to your church office and handing someone a check, etc. When you send a letter, include a self-addressed reply envelope. Offer a direct phone number people can call when they have questions about giving to your church, and make sure someone answers that phone and returns messages quickly.
You get the picture. If you’re only offering people one way to give, then you’re cutting out a huge number of people who may very well be willing to give, but your method just doesn’t meet their needs.
Make it automatic
While you’re at it, offer people an opportunity to automate their giving by setting up direct debit from their bank account.
Now, some people in your congregation will hate this, so keep in mind the culture of your church before you set this up. But, the younger your church is, the more likely there is a significant and growing number of people (like me) who wantthe opportunity to make their regular giving automatic.
I’m a good example of the kind of person who prefers this. When I give to charity, I give purposefully. I want to fulfill the commitment I make, but I’m also absent-minded. Deadlines wave cheerily as they pass me by and afterwards I get frustrated for not remembering to take out my checkbook at the right time.
You have lots of people like this in your church.
The beauty of automatic debits for a person like me is that I can use tools to make up for my absent-mindedness. This enables me to keep the sincere commitments I made and turns my giving into a positive experience rather than an exercise in frustration.
Give people that kind of positive experience, whoever they may be.
Don’t strong-arm anyone into giving any particular way. Some people will hate automatic giving, and they’ll resent it when you try to push them in that direction. Just offer it as an option, and watch how people like me start giving more, simply because you’ve made it easier for them to do so.
Make it tangible
Last tip. And this one might seem like a contradiction to the first two, but it isn’t. Create opportunities for people’s giving to be tangible and concrete.
Because of the myriad of tools listed above, financial giving to churches is becoming as intangible as prayer. That can become a problem when you’re trying to help people engage in giving as a spiritual formation practice.
Take a cue from prayer practices like lighting prayer candles, using prayer beads, or praying in groups where intercession becomes a communal experience.
In the same way, give people ways to express their giving physically and communally.
Here are three ideas I’ve seen used effectively:
- Make giving an act of worship. Create a time in your worship gatherings where people can come forward and offer their gifts in physical way. This could be cash, check, or even a pledge card if it’s done during a campaign. This reverses the flow of the typical offering and gives people a chance to come to the altar in a worship expression.
- Give small groups power over their giving: In small group settings, you can integrate a family’s giving into their process of discipleship and connect them to the impact of their giving at the same time by having group manage a portion of their own giving. Invite them to agree on a local outreach cause, then give them control over a healthy percentage of their own giving in order to fund that cause. This puts the power of the outreach budget squarely in the hands of the people who are giving.
- Represent your church’s generosity artfully and inspirationally: In churches where there has been a giving campaign for a significant purpose – like a capital campaign or an endowment fund – smart organizations represent their supporters giving in artful ways in order to remember the effort and inspire others to give. This may be anything from an art installation, a supporters garden, or a donor wall. One church I was on staff with created a quilt made from the hand-painted artwork of members in the congregation, which was then displayed on the wall as a reminder of that collective effort. These kinds of physical representations become a regular and powerful reminder of the generosity of the community.
These are just three representative examples, but there are a number of ways to make giving more tangible, more formational, and therefore more abundant.
If you have examples of your own, share in the comments below!