Hallelujah! Masks are no longer required for people who have been vaccinated. Masks are no longer required? Hallelujah?
Whether you are happy or concerned about the latest CDC guidelines, this means that in-person worship, for many of us who are in mainline churches, may be on the horizon. Hooray! Hooray?
While it may seem as clear as mud (such an apt image) as to what you should be doing for your congregation and how you should be doing it, let’s assume that you’re already planning for the return of in-person worship.
What about the offering?
The offering has been a staple of worship services for decades. Long ago, we stopped renting pews or finding rich people to underwrite the operating expenses of the church. The church went full-on egalitarian, encouraging everyone to give as God called and as much as God called them to give (thanks for the example, Widow’s mite!). Bob Smietana, in Will COVID Finally be the End of the Offering Plate?, provides an excellent overview of the history of church giving. His overview of data about giving trends during COVID is also very helpful. I highly recommend his article to you.
Now that COVID seems to be waning (please get your vaccine), the question is: what should you do with the offering time once we get together again, face-to-face or mask-to-mask?
Here are three options:
1. Go back to what you always did.
From all indications, the coronavirus is primarily not transmitted by touching items. It’s the aerosol spray from doing things we love about church: laughing, singing, and saying “The peace of the Lord be with you” super loud and at close range. However, there is some evidence that passing the offering plate may also pass along the virus. Even if it's a slight possiblity, it is possible.
So at this point, it's probably best practice to hold off on passing the plate.
Just because you can, doesn’t always mean that you should. Like mask wearing, people’s comfort level will vary. Some will shy away from touching what may be perceived (and may rightly be) a germy surface. And, if anything, COVID has taught us that the old ways were not necessarily the best ways.
2. Have an offering box.
- The box can be at the back of the church and as people leave, they can put in an offering. You can mention the box during worship, but there’s no formal offering time.
- The box can be at the back of the church and during the offertory (traditional or praise song), people can get up – walk to the box – and give.
- The box can be in the front of the church. During the offering time, people can come forward, as an act of worship, and put in an offering (or a prayer card or a “I give/tithe electronically” card) in the box. I have seen this done in a large church. It was part of their culture and it was meaningful.
If you’re leaning toward having an offering box, plan now on who will make such a box, how it will be managed, and how you will keep it and the contents secure.
3. Emphasize on-line giving and recurring gifts.
According to the Lake Institute, 94% of churches with more than 100 people take online donations. “By contrast, more than half (54%) of churches with fewer than 50 people in attendance said they had no online giving options.” Most on-line giving companies give a choice to make one-time or recurring gifts. Take time to reinforce the importance of recurring gifts.
Still haven’t gone to on-line giving? Maybe it’s time.
For smaller churches, emphasize the benefits of monthly automatic withdrawals that will go directly to the church.
Whatever you do, make the offering a time to remember that all we own ultimately belongs to the One who gives us our life and our breath. Giving is an act of worship, of sacrifice, and of generosity…no matter how it’s done. Now that's worth a hearty "Hallelujah!"
How is your congregation handling the offering post-COVID? I’d love to hear from you and share your ideas with other readers. Send me an email at InspiringGenerosity@gmail.com.