We need to have an important discussion about the method we use to gather funds. While it’s important to teach people to be generous (their maturity depends on it), we need to do it in a way that makes sense.
And it’s time to ask if passing the offering plate still makes sense.
At echurch, we’re helping churches transition to mobile giving. Churches are already discovering how mobile can revitalize their giving and prepare them for what appears to be an inevitable change in how people care for their finances.
Here Are 10 Reasons It’s Time to Dump the Offering Plate:
1. It reinforces negative perceptions about the church
One of the most common criticisms of the church is that “it’s only after your money.” While this opinion is bolstered by lots of stories of misused and abused finances in the church, it’s not helped by taking offering.
Church offering—which doesn’t really have an equivalent in any other social gathering—is a ten-minute window in every single church service focused on people putting money and checks into plates, baskets, and bags passed around the sanctuary. It’s a practice that’s so culturally tied to questionable itinerant preachers in tents with sawdust floors, it’s hard for people to see it differently.
It’s a strange tradition that people outside of the church don’t really understand. It only feeds their suspicion that religion is a scam intended to separate people from their cash.
How mobile giving solves this: The benefit of training people to give through mobile devices, online, or through giving kiosks is removing a cultural element that people associate with hucksterism and profiteering (and it enables you to keep the focus on Jesus where it belongs).
2. It makes visitors feel awkward
Maybe you have a visitor that doesn’t really associate church offerings with anything negative. They still probably don’t have any other experience with a person handing them a plate and waiting for them to put money in it. We’re so used to the process, we don’t really think about how weird that is.
If you’re visiting a church for the first time, it’s hard not to feel like every eye’s on you. You start panicking and thinking “Do I have any cash on me!? I know that I don’t have any checks on me—I’ve written three all year. Oh no, here he comes…WHAT DO I DO!? I guess I’ll just pass this plate down, but I know everyone’s noticed that I didn’t put anything in it. AHHHHHHHH!”
How mobile giving solves this: Having people give privately through their mobile device doesn’t put the visitor through the hassle of wondering if they’re expected to pay to listen to this sermon or not.
3. It makes members feel awkward, too
Let’s be honest. Passing the plate makes regular attendees feel awkward, too. I give regularly once a month, and every time the plate passes in front of me, I’m self-conscious that the usher and people around me think that I never give.
And what about the people who haven’t made a commitment to become givers yet? They’re incredibly uncomfortable, too. Sometimes it’s like the offering is designed to make non-givers feel guilty about convictions they don’t feel yet. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, passing the plate seems to exploit social pressures to create a compulsion to give—the kind Paul warns us about (1 Cor. 9:7).
How mobile giving solves this: There’s no reason that regular givers should have to feel unpleasant with the public method the church uses to collect funds, and we don’t want to motivate others with guilt. Mobile giving eliminates both issues.
4. It’s not a secure way to handle cash
There are always security issues with handling cash and checks. There’s a handful of people who have to count it together, and then it’s put in the safe. Then the treasurer has to come and re-handle it and then deposit it.
I had a $2,000 bank deposit stolen out of my treasurer’s car once. We were able to get the checks cancelled and rewritten, but the cash was lost. It was a pretty big hassle.
How mobile giving solves this: The benefit of any method that automates the transfer of funds from one account to another is bypassing this problem. That includes direct deposits, text-to-give, kiosks, and mobile giving. The nice thing is about these methods is that anyone can contest them with their bank if they feel there’s a discrepancy. That’s not the case with cash.
5. It’s not a biblical practice
For years organs were the only instruments allowed in worship. When the culture started transitioning away from organs, many churches fought tooth-and-nail against other instruments being added to church services. Why? Because they sanctified what had become comfortable.
We’re in danger of assuming that passing the plate is biblically prescribed….and it’s not. I guess if we really want to follow a scriptural practice, everyone can take their cash and checks and bring them to the podium and lay them at the pastor’s feet (Acts 4:35). No one wants to do that.
When Paul’s reminding the Corinthians that he’s sending some workers to pick up the money they’ve promised to believers in Macedonia, he instructs them about their practice of giving. For Paul, it’s as simple as giving what they have decided in their heart to give (2 Cor. 9). The onus is on the believer to decide what they’re willing to give, to set it aside, and to make sure it makes its way into the right hands.
The method of collection isn’t a sanctified element, the decision to give is.
6. It’s lost time in your service
Think about all the time an offering takes from your service. Sure, there are times when taking an offering is a meaningful and even beautiful event. But it can be a pro forma activity that kills the momentum from one element to another. Think of all the other ways that time in the service could be better used.
How mobile giving solves this: Obviously, if everyone uses mobile giving, that time is redeemed—and you can still take a minute to remind everyone of your mobile app and giving options in your services without everything coming to a screeching halt.
7. It’s a poor use of volunteers
People want to get involved and do something meaningful and powerful. We shouldn’t just put them into positions that don’t provide opportunities for growth. Some people have been responsible for taking the offering for years, and anyone can do it. Let’s help get those volunteers into areas where they can grow and mature in Christ.
How mobile giving solves this: When people are responsible for their own giving, there is no need to create middle-man positions that require volunteer time—ensuring that we can use them for important ministry!
8. It enables spiritual immaturity
As I stated earlier, the important element in Christian generosity is in making a decision to be generous, deciding how much you intend to give, setting that amount aside, and then giving it. This is the area where we want Christians to mature in how they think about their resources and generosity. Discipling them to do this and not be tight-fisted when it comes to dealing with the Lord and his people is hard work. Passing the plate every week is much easier.
By constantly prompting people to give, we’re not really training them to be givers. And when I talk to other pastors about why we hold on to this practice, their answer is almost always that people won’t give otherwise. The fact that we think that we have to pass the plate every week or else people won’t be generous is proof that the way we’re doing things is enabling people to stay at their current level of maturity when it comes to giving.
How mobile giving solves this: Collecting offerings using sources like mobile giving puts the responsibility on the Christian to be responsible for their resources—and on leadership to train them to be givers. And we can wean people off of a stimulus/response model of Christian generosity.
9. It doesn’t encourage sacrificial giving
In a 2014 survey by Bankrate, it was discovered that fewer than two out of five customers carry less than $20 in their wallet at any given time, and more than two-thirds carry less than $50 in their wallets. USA Today said in a 2014 piece that between 2003 and 2012, the number of checks written fell by 18.3 billion—a little less than half.
If people are carrying less cash and checks but we’re counting on offering to be the way that people give money to the church, we’re just encouraging people to give what they have on them. This isn’t training them to give sacrificially; it’s training people to give as an afterthought from their excess.
If you have a special speaker or mission Sunday and have to take two offerings, you’re dipping back into the pockets of people who don’t have too much to give, and already have given what they felt they could spare.
How mobile giving solves this: When people learn to give using mobile, they have to make decisions about how much they’ll give and are likely to give more.
10. It is a doomed model
Mobile giving is inevitable—every single business knows that people are moving toward exclusively using their devices to make transactions and transitioning accordingly. The church needs to see that holding tightly to an outdated method of collecting funds is foolhardy.
If you’re holding onto passing the plate as the best possible model for your church, you’re counting on Baby Boomers who are more likely to use checks and cash. Millennials have embraced mobile banking. An eMarketer post from 2015 reported “59 percent of 18-to-34-year-old mobile phone users in the country will access their bank, credit union, credit card or brokerage account via mobile browser, app or SMS on their phones at least monthly this year.” Even 28 percent of Baby Boomers are using their mobile devices for banking.
The future requires the church to start training Millennials to be generous givers and considering how to implement the technology they’ve grown accustomed to.
Making the Switch