Inspiring Generosity: Is the Offering Plate Relevant? Part 4: Series Finale


Is the Offering Plate Relevant? Part 4: Series Finale

Alright, alright. I grant you this series finale may not be as exciting as the last Ted Lasso or M*A*S*H or Seinfeld but it’ll come close, I’m sure.
For the past three weeks, we've been attempting to answer the question: “Is the physical offering plate relevant?” Part 1 set the stage. Part 2 (yes) was given over to those of you who think it needs to be an integral part of worship. In Part 3 (no), those of you who were on the “nay” side weighed in.
We finish with what the rest of you had to say – which indicated a high-level of ambiguity. However, that uncertainty came with observations that are well-worth your consideration. Some comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Julia F.
Ever since Covid, my church just keeps the offering plate at the entrance to the sanctuary so people can drop offerings on their way in and out, but I ignore it because I never, ever have cash or check on me. Everything's on a credit card, because that way the transactions get automatically categorized in my budgeting app. And a lot of times I don't even have my card on me in church because I have my hands full with the kids, and women's clothes don't have POCKETS (grrrr), so my wallet is buried at the bottom of the diaper bag. Whatever. I feel like I'm not really the target audience for the offering plate, anyway. I usually give a lump sum by check at the end of the year.
Rev. Jerry P.
My church…passes the plate. They were not doing that when we moved here about two years ago, because of Covid. A few weeks ago, they re-instituted the practice. As a retired pastor, I have mixed feelings. I think passing the plate is a good reminder for those who need it. I frankly don't need it. I contribute via check as often as I receive income, which is not weekly. I liked the box that stood in the middle of the welcome aisle so people could put something in the box as they came in or went out.  
Rev. Jerry finishes with, “I can understand your ambivalence because I also feel it.” 
Deborah M.
I am traditional when it comes to worship style. Passing the offering plate has been part of worship all my life. I don't feel guilty when it passes me by – because it's not my week to bring a check.
A creative approach that I see in a UMC in Seattle when I visit there is that they have a traditional offering plate in a very visible place in the back of the sanctuary. One passes it to get to the center aisle. People can put in their offering...or not. There is, as best I recall, no mention of offering during the service. There is a brief statement in the bulletin about the opportunity to give, including the plate.
Rev. Karen H.
…When I guest preach, I've learned to ask in advance, "Will you be passing the offering plates? What is your practice?" It's different everywhere!  
The pattern that troubles me is this: announce/explain the offering is given at the door/online, then immediately sing the doxology and pray as if we'd just passed the offering plates. It's odd that the only thing that has changed is that the offering plates are missing. It's like we all pretend that we made an offering...but we didn't. On the other hand, the churches that still include an offertory song or musical interlude and invite people to offer prayers and/or make their online gifts during that time, that feels more comfortable and sensible to me from both a practical standpoint and in terms of maintaining the flow of the worship service.  
My personal favorite when I'm in the pew: Give me a QR code, please.  Put it on your screen or in the bulletin. Do this whether you pass the plate or not because I'm prepared to be more generous than the cash I have on hand. This practice reminds me to use my card and empowers me to do it really, really easily…I want to support your church financially! When I need it to be made this easy for me, I assume that I'm not the only one, that lots of people who are far less committed to the church than I am would give if they could do so in the moment with minimal effort. [For more on QR Codes, check out 4 Things about the Generational Report from Giving USA.]
If I offer more feedback than you bargained for, is that a form of generosity??  [Cesie here: Why yes, yes, it is!]
Jane M.
Some things to add to the list.
Pro: there is often beautiful music during the quiet of the offering moment. I like that
Against: if you give monthly on line or even yearly like I do, the offering plate is redundant. Special offerings (UMCOR, etc.) could be via “plate.”
There is guilt in seeing the plate go by without adding something. Not a good reason to break open the wallet. Pro or con?
I love how the pastor tells how our money is used during the discipleship moment. A good reminder. 
Jennie M.
I’m a “counter” after church and have been for many years. So, I see what’s coming in and of course from whom. Most of our folks give once a month. And many mail in their check. We currently don’t have an electronic way of giving. (We tried but decided it wasn’t being used and also was a bit of a pain for the bookkeeper.)…After we opened back up, we had a plate at the exit door. We’ve just recently started to pass the plates again. Honestly, I don’t see much difference in passing or walking past on the way out… My prior church had a box at the back of the church when folks left. That seemed to work fine. I wonder if it’s an encouragement to give when the plate passes by or a deterrent? In times past I’ve always felt I needed to add a little, at least, as it went by. 
Bottom line….  I don’t know. But passing is an opportunity to collect more and I guess we should take advantage of every opportunity. 
[I asked a follow-up question: “Is there anything that leads people in your church to see the offering as a moment with God – or is it a transactional experience (the church needs money so I better give)?”] Yes, I think that folks who may not be regulars would feel obligated to give something. I don’t think my folks feel particularly spiritual during the offering (even though I try to play the offertory as spiritually as possible. HA) and I think it’s a way of keeping the church going with everyday needs. We have a “Generosity Moment” before the offering in which our pastor gives some relevant examples of generous giving. 
Rev. Jo Dene R-S
...The offering plate is sitting on a small table at the entrance to the sanctuary.  During the Doxology, the offering plate is brought forward. I give a short announcement about bringing our offerings in the many ways we do so to God as an introduction to the Doxology, and afterword give a Prayer of Dedication and the Lord's Prayer. People have gotten into the habit of having the bank mail in a check on a regular basis. I used to put all that came in the mail in the offering plate, but the Finance Secretary did not like that because the plate was too small for all the various sized mailing envelopes.
There you have it, friends! The jury is still out. It’s up to you, knowing your ministry context, as to whether or not it makes sense for your congregation to “pass the plate.”
However, it is important is to make the stewardship moment one in which you remind people that giving is a spiritual discipline – that all we have comes from God.
Rev. Jo Dene also passed along something she wrote and has used in worship. This is right on the money (sorry, I couldn’t help myself):
Generosity is a matter of action, intentions, and heart. One way to describe it is the grateful outpouring of gifts to others, out of our love for God. Outpouring is a terrific description, since the priceless treasure of the gospel (and all the gifts of covenant, relationship, and life that go with it) comes from God and is meant to be poured out, through our living, upon others.
As I have said before, you, my readers, are the best. Thank you for weighing in on this important topic in the life of the church.
And with that, we call it a series wrap. El fin.

Photo credit: Milada Vigerova at Upslpash.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a Stewardship Consultant for the OR-ID Annual Conference. She is also a Senior Ministry Strategist with Horizons Stewardship. For 25 years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she has helped raise over three million dollars for numerous churches and non-profit organizations. Life is too short. “Apparently,” Cesie wants you to laugh more with this oldie but goodie.
You can reach Cesie at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com, at CesieScheuermann.com, or at cesieds@horizons.net. Want to schedule a meeting? She’s got you covered!
Schedule a meeting now.
If someone has forwarded this to you and you would like to subscribe to "Inspiring Generosity," click here.  Miss an issue?  Click here.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann
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.