No, it wasn’t something you’d serve fried chicken on. That was for the after-church potluck. The offering plate was round, made of gold (OK, brass), with felt on the bottom (to, of course, dull the noise from all the annoyingly clanky coins).
Ceremoniously and with great seriousness, it would be passed up and down the rows. Touched by dozens upon dozens of perhaps less than sanitized hands. Remember? Ah, the Before Times.
While not quite saying that in a post-COVID world the offering plate should be ditched, Donald A. Smith in his new book, A Better Offering: 5 Unmistakable Habits of Generous Churches, certainly indicates that whether or not we keep the practice should be a serious point of discussion. Nowhere in his “unmistakable habits” does Smith mention that “Passing the Offering Plate During Worship” is a habit of a generous church.
In this easy-to-read book, Smith starts by covering the history of the offering plate. Spoiler alert: Jesus never passed the plate among his disciples. Know why? They were already giving everything they had to follow Him. Fun fact: it wasn’t until the early 1800’s that passing the plate became a thing in America. Passing the plate is a relatively new custom in the scheme of history.
Smith, a long-time pastor and Senior Vice President at Horizons Stewardship, believes that all we have and all that we are is a gift from God. How we live out the call to be generous people in a practical way is at the heart of this book.
As I have said many times, and has now been reinforced in A Better Offering, it is critical that you to offer options for electronic giving to your congregation. One reason to implement electronic giving is that people rarely carry cash or checkbooks anymore. The offering plate gets passed around and in all likelihood is pretty empty. How does an empty plate inspire generosity? Clearly, it doesn’t.
Instead, Smith says, use the offering time as an opportunity to tell stories and share testimonies. Lives changed. Transformation. New life…all because of what is happening in and through your congregation and work of the church. Short two-minute stories do inspire generosity. And lucky you, Smith provides a story-telling guide to make it easier to accomplish.
COVID has given everyone challenges and opportunities. With the need to turn on the proverbial dime, we have all experienced very real and awful challenges. The opportunity now lies in how we go forward as we begin to return to in-person worship. A Better Offering is a simple yet effective book to use with your worship and stewardship committees to strengthen the message that all we have joyfully belongs to not to us, but to the One who gives us life.
After your discussion about how to “do” offering during worship, maybe you’ll keep your offering plate. Maybe you’ll ditch it.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll inspire generosity in a whole new way.