I was given three opportunities to put something in the offering plate in worship this morning. Well, almost. The usher in the center aisle made two feints, uncertain whether he should send the offering plate down the aisle to us and the other couple sitting in our row. Seeing nothing in our hands, he moved on to the next row, just as the usher in the side aisle sent a plate down our row. All pointless, it turned out, as none of us had anything to put in it.
You already know what is happening. In our case, we make an offering once a month, so the other three or four Sundays we have nothing to put in the plate. And we are among the few who still write out a check for our offering. Increasingly, people are contributing by direct deposit, a change that is less trouble for contributors and a boon to the cash flow of congregations.
So what is a church to do?
A few weeks ago a friend of mine remarked that the next issue the church needs to grapple with is what to do with offering plates in worship. Like the fax machine—once essential to the life of an organization—its usefulness is passing. In the case of fax machines, we keep putting “Fax: ____________” on forms even though email and PDFs have made fax machines all but obsolete. (In fact, one form that my business office makes me send to presenters has an asterisk next to the fax number blank, indicating that it is a required field!) So, it seems, we mindlessly keep passing the offering plate, even though fewer and fewer people use it. And we keep processing offering plates to the front of the church, and then we pray over increasingly empty plates, “we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us.”
On the one hand, though, passing the plate is a useful reminder of the importance of giving. In fact, something in me longs for the processions of dancing members in Tanzania, making their way to the offering boxes, two or three times for a variety of offerings. If only our offerings were an occasion for such exuberance! So, if we yield to the demise of the offering plate’s usefulness—opting instead to put an offering plate in a spot where those who want to place something in it, can—how soon would it be before we forget about the importance (not to mention the joy) of giving?
I’m curious. What is your congregation doing with the offering plate these days? Have any of your practices changed in recent years? If so, have those changes had any impact on your congregation’s life and ministry?
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