The Future of the Offering Plate Part 2: What Do You Expect?
And we’re on to part two of this three-part mini series on the Future of the Offering Plate (say it with me now, the “F.O.P.”). I just know that PBS is going to pick this up as a new program in the fall. It’s destined (in all humility) to be the next “Masterpiece Theatre.”
In this week’s installment to the question, “Given that we are moving toward a cashless and checkless society, what do you think is the future of the offering plate during worship? How do you see the church receiving tithes?” – two responses referred to two well-known religions: Judaism and Mormonism.
As Rev. Kate Conolly (Albany UMC) remarked, “My best friend Lori is Jewish - when Lori and her husband Roger joined their temple - they were told upfront what the ‘dues’ were for the year - so no plate passing, stewardship campaigns and, if there are people who say they cannot afford the dues…and appear to have a lifestyle that says otherwise, they have to show their tax documents to the temple administrator…” (I dare you, give that one a try in your church.)
Because money is not to be handled on the Sabbath (that means no offering plate) Jewish congregations have had to find other ways to fund their building and administrative costs. Setting up a mandatory dues system became one way to let congregants know what was needed and expected. But change may be afoot. In a fascinating New York Times article, some synagogues are trying out the “Pay What You Want” system (hey, just like our churches!) and engaging in pledge campaigns. This has been more attractive to younger givers and people who come to Judaism through an interfaith marriage. However, the long-term success of this newer system remains to be seen and the majority of synagogues still embrace the dues structure.
Another well-know religious group has no intention of changing their system. Rev. Ralph Lawrence (retired, Boise, ID) wrote: “One of the most successful and rapidly growing religious groups, financially speaking, is the LDS (Mormon) Church. Their theology is very different from ours, and there is a certain type of legalistic obedience built into their structure. Church Authorities (capitalized) loom large and teach a works-righteousness, ‘carrot on a stick’ theology, undergirded by fulfillment rewarded in the beautiful Mormon Temples.”
According to Mormon Think, “Members of the LDS Church are to pay ‘one-tenth of all their interest annually.’ Every year, each member is asked to meet with the bishop to declare their tithing status: full-tithe payer, partial-tithe payer, or non-tithe payer. Tithing is considered a debt. However, it is also an entrance fee—only full-tithe paying members are allowed to enter the Church's most holy place, the temple, and participate in important saving ordinances.”
Neither Conolly nor Lawrence is suggesting that we adopt either of these practices per se. But what is clear is that Judaism (the dues paying kind) and Mormonism lay out what is expected of their people. And, in case you didn’t notice, income of each member is not a secret.
So what’s a mainline Protestant to do? In general, no one wants to be told what to give. But there are some guidelines you can offer to your congregation. Here’s the first thing to do: preach. Preach about the 10% tithe. Preach on what Jesus meant about “selling all you have and give to the poor.” Rev. Duane Anders (Boise First UMC) still has one of my all-time favorite lines – “You can be an Old Testament tither and give 10% or you can be a New Testament tither and sell all you have an give it to the poor...I'm an Old Testament kinda guy.” Unless people hear what scripture says about money and possessions, they may never feel called to take action.
An obvious response to the love God has so freely shown us is to respond in kind and freely give – of our time, talent, and treasure. That’s not a suggestion, that’s a clear expectation. Make sure your people in the pews know it.
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She is dreaming that she will be co-starring with “Poldark” star Aidan Turner in, “F.O.P. Masterpiece Theatre.” She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.