The ritual of making an offering to a congregation has changed over the years. In one representation of the Reformed tradition, offering plates are passed from pew to pew after the sermon. I’m most familiar with this ritual, which is a response to the proclamation of God’s sovereignty and grace heard in scripture and sermon.
There are other traditions regarding offerings to a congregation. Some congregations set membership dues. These annual dues are not uncommon in synagogues. Some congregations, instead of passing the offering plate, have offering receptors in the lobby or narthex for use after worship. You may attend a congregation that does not take up an offering during worship, but instead receives gifts via checks in the mail or online credit card transactions.
The congregation where I worship does pass the offering plate. I notice many people not putting anything in the offering plate. No judgment, just an observation. I imagine that these folks already gave – before or after worship, maybe via check or online transaction.
Communal act of generosity
I appreciate the power of the ritual. I like passing the plate as a communal act of generosity. Liturgical scholar Geoffrey Wainwright has noted that all essential practices of the Christian faith have ritual expression in the worship service. If no actual gift is offered during worship, then the power of the ritual is subsiding. What’s more, the diminishment of the ritual may be a sign that the practice of giving and generosity in the lives of members may be diminishing too.
The power of the offering
My friend and mentor Dr. William Enright (see: http://thecrg.org/resources/money-and-faith-william-g-enright-and-the-big-american-taboo) has an elegant solution to regaining the power of the offering. He suggests that even if you have given your offering via credit card or check for the month, place a dollar in the plate. For many worshipers, the extra dollar is not a burden, and it represents full participation in the ritual. One is indeed responding to the message of the worship service. It is a signal that one is not resigned to be a spectator just because technology makes it possible to give in different ways.
What do you think?
What drawbacks might there be in encouraging the one dollar practice in congregations that pass an offering plate? What other extra benefits might there be?
Resources you can use
If you are interested in the rituals and practices of offerings, I highly recommend this thoughtful and practical volume, Celebrating the Offering by James Amerson and Melvin Amerson:
I also recommend Giving and Stewardship in an Effective Church. It is an older book, but we hear from congregational leaders that it is still a trustworthy discussion starter for a board or a team talking about giving in your congregation.
Whatever your offering practice, my prayer is that your congregation experiences generosity in many different forms.