I’ve been reading a lot lately. Shocking, I know. I come across some interesting articles (interesting to me anyway). Today’s no exception.
This article is about the offering plate. I found the article interesting and thought-provoking. I had no idea that the offering plate has only been used about 100 years.
I think this is a wake-up call for churches in the US to start being open to change. Change is a loaded term, I know. I don’t mean change everything either. I mean this seriously. If a church isn’t open to alternative ways of collecting money, then it won’t survive. The bigger issue though goes beyond the survival of an organization.
Doing things the way they have always been done is a sign that death is imminent, as far as I’m concerned. At least when that is the reason given for doing something. Obviously, passing the plate has not always been done, so even this line of reasoning is invalid.
Here in Finland, the churches I have visited do things a bit differently. First understand that the financial system is a bit different here. There are no checks. When I first arrived here to make a deposit with a check, the bank teller looked at me funny and said, we can’t accept “those”. That was a wide opening experience for me. The US is lagging when it comes to financial practices. Why don’t they accept checks – too easy to forge – it’s a security issue. It’s also an issue of time – checks take longer to clear. Because finances are handled differently here, there are many implications to other areas of life, too numerous to mention right now.
Churches here do a number of things. First, there’s this long history of a church tax. It’s 1% of your income. The money is sent to the church and the church uses it for a variety of things. (This could be a separate blog post or series. For now, just take this at face value.) Second, churches list their bank account information so congregants can make money transfers to the church account. Churches also pass the plate, or rather, the bag. But these donations are typically used for special offers like an offering for Lutheran World Relief or something of that nature.
In the article, the author mentions a real challenge that churches have – the theology of giving. People don’t give to budgets. Nor should they, as far as I’m concerned. They give to causes. Of course causes need to have staff sometimes in order to move things along. The way something is communicated is important. You can either pay for a staff person, or you can pay for a cause which has staff. This isn’t about trying to pull a fast one on people. This is an important difference. It’s a difference between an organization that exists for its own sake and an organization that is mission oriented, believes in something so much that it is willing to risk things, that is thriving, etc. The wording matters because the wording communicates a great deal. The wording is a signal to others.
Here’s a question – if cash and checks went away today, how would your church survive? What changes would have to be made? How would the offering change? In both literal terms and theological? How would you communicate that? How would your financial situation look?
These aren’t just rhetorical questions – they are coming. And in some places they are already here.