What About the Offering Plate?

The next worship war might be over the offering plate.

As blogger Wezlo says about the offering:

The impending extinction of the offering envelope is not something I am mourning. In fact, I’ll be quite happy when it comes to a close. On the other hand, I find the idea of seeing the act of the offering disappear as theologically problematic.

On the one hand, you have pastors, theologians, and lay people who appreciate the value of passing the offering plate at every Sunday service. They might pass the plate at other times, too. But Sunday is sacred time for the offering plate.

Their thinking is theologically sound. We are called to offer ourselves to God’s service every day. On Sunday, we symbolize that offering in a very real way by passing the plate and praying that God will honor our commitment and dedication. This tangible, tactile, high-touch moment instills within us a very important idea. Making our offering during worship also places our dedication in an appropriate context.

On the other hand, I never bring cash to church.

Nor do I carry a check book, ever. E-giving kiosks take the offering out of the worship space (usually, they are in the foyer). We personally have a bi-weekly check sent from the billpay system at our bank. I never even see it: it comes in the mail to the church, and the church secretary places it in the financial secretary’s files.

Electronic giving has some definite values. Dr. Christian Smith indicated in his book, The Paradox of Generosity, that a conscious commitment to give that is then made habitual leads to the greatest benefits. In my context, that means, an annual review of our pledge commitment, followed up by arranging for automatic electronic payments. We don’t even have to think about whether our gift is made. And we never miss a contribution.

Some churches have provided opportunities for members to write their online giving on a slip of paper and place that in the offering plate as it comes by. That may have some merit, though I’m concerned that the symbolic action is too far removed from the actual giving of money to be of any meaningful import. Maybe.

I am aware that the Church faithfully fulfilled its purpose without offering plates. Here’s a chart I posted a couple of weeks ago regarding that. I wish it went back even further.

For now, in my congregation, we will stick with passing the plates. We are also encouraging our members to consider electronic forms of giving. Not kiosks, but billpay, ACH, and debit card options. I would certainly love to hear back how you are addressing the use of offering plates in your congregation. Send me a note.