The practice of regularly passing the collection plate in churches has only been around for about 100 years, and thankfully it replaced church revenue streams such as the annual pew rental auctions.
Offering practices also vary widely among congregations. Some take up offerings during worship every week, while others have an alms box at the entrance of the sanctuary. In addition, many seeker-sensitive services often lack an offering time in worship to avoid creating offence.
Times continue to change and one blogger asks, “Why, even in our era of digital banking and services . . . does plate-passing still rule in churches?”
I believe there are many good reasons to have an offering time in worship. Instead of being a time when the church asks for money, the offering can be a vigorous expression of our loyalty to God, not money.
In the revised edition of Teaching a Christian View of Money, authors Mark Vincent and Barbara Fullerton observe, “Resources on congregational worship and stewardship are easy to find, but most say nothing about the offering. . . . Perhaps we are uncertain what to do with the offering because we have divided hearts. It’s tough to bring both of our gods into the same building on Sunday mornings!”
There is a reason why Jesus said that we can’t serve both God and money. Money has an illusion of being the source of our security. A well-planned offering in worship can remind us that this is not true. Rather, the ritual can help us understand that all that we have and are is a gift from God, to be used for the good of all.
Taking up an offering is a tangible, physical activity of giving that has the potential to reveal God’s incredible love and faithfulness to worshippers. It can also be a time of confession that confronts us with our tendency to trust in ourselves and our material resources.
An offering time can also make gospel preachers out of the whole congregation. According to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, through the ministry of generosity, “you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ” (II Corinthians 9:13).
Beyond the impact on individual worshippers, the offering has the potential to transform us as congregations. We collectively express our values in many ways, but perhaps more than any mission statement we may write, our values are demonstrated by our financial statements. Our hearts personally and collectively go where we put God’s money. A time of offering in worship gives us an opportunity to express generosity together.
Maybe with the change in the way we process our financial transactions brought on by the digital age, we have an opportunity to approach the time of offering and money in worship in a new way. Has your church been trying something new? I’d love to hear about your experiences as Mennonite Foundation of Canada considers how we might assist congregations with generosity worship resources.
Dori Zerbe Cornelsen (dzcornelsen@MennoFoundation.ca) is a stewardship consultant in the Winnipeg office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.
—Posted Jan. 28, 2015