This blog post is the first in a series that asks the question: What happens to ministry giving in the wake of COVID-19?
Whether your church is currently worshipping inside the building or not, there’s one big absence that all ministries share right now: no one is passing the plate. For the congregation I currently serve, we joke about the fact that “we’re not coming to your house to pass a plate to you,” but the reality is that the plate very likely will not come back for a few years (if at all) until this pandemic resolves.
But… but… we’ve passed the plate forever!
But… how else will people possibly give if we can bring that back?
But… what if people stop giving altogether?
Let’s breathe and think through the anxiety:
First, we haven’t passed the plate forever. Offering plates didn’t become fixtures in worship services until the late 19th century, as most churches before that were publicly funded (as in – funded by the government). Churches were expected to serve the common good, and in the colonies that meant following the English tradition of paying for churches out of taxes and fees. However, once the American Revolution came to a close, and rules started being made to eliminate the use of poll taxes and fees towards houses of worship… churches started to look to tithes and offerings as a revenue stream.
Second, there are plenty of other ways to give. Online giving has seen a steep incline over the past year, and will continue to rise. People use online bill pay through their bank (saves on stamps and envelopes). People mail in checks, too – the Post Office is doing a great job of keeping the mail moving.
Finally, if you are afraid that people will stop giving… take a deeper look at that fear. I believe that people give to causes they believe in, to causes that they connect to. People stop giving if they stop caring. If you aren’t actively connecting to people in new ways, you’re right to be afraid that they will stop giving altogether. But that also speaks to the depth of your ministry. Look at your ministry if you have that fear, look at the relationships you’ve built and the vision you’ve cast. If it’s authentic, open and communicative, people will give (and new ways of giving will reach new people!).
Also, if people are threatening to stop giving because there’s no offering plate, odds are they were going to stop giving eventually anyway. As with anything in ministry – the spark point of conflict is never really what “it’s about.”
It’s okay to be afraid of what could happen in the absence of the offering plate. It’s okay to take a little time to reflect on things that will change in the wake of the pandemic. However, it is not okay to put people at risk and bring back the offering plate because it’s “what we’ve always done.” It’s not okay to bring back the offering plate for your own comfort, or to appease some angry parishioners.
Christians shout the words “We are an Easter people,” generally meaning that we believe in the reincarnation of Jesus and that things become new after apparent death. This is a mindset that I think can come in handy when re-thinking giving at a congregational level in the wake of the “death of the plate.”
But let’s be real; plate passing hasn’t really worked in a while, and here are five reasons why:
- Passing the plate when you have nothing to put in it is terribly awkward. Whether that’s because you’re poor, or because you give online, there’s a unfriendly pressure around putting things in the offering plate. This can deter visitors and online givers. It doesn’t matter if you say “feel free not to give today if you are a visitor,” or have special cards for people that give online that they can put in the offering plate.
- Passing the plate lets other people see how much you’re giving, which puts the wealthy at an “advantage” and the poor at a “disadvantage.” For the wealthy, plate passing can be more of a status symbol, while for the poor it can be a symbol of how much more others have.
- Passing the plate ignores the worth of online giving (which I think is where many churches are heading).
- Passing the plate also ignores a generation that doesn’t carry cash and doesn’t use checks (that’s my generation, and likely the next generation quickly becoming adults).
- Passing the plate is unsanitary; I know of congregations that scoff if a communion steward (using hand sanitizer first) hands each person communion… what makes everyone touching a plate any different? In fact, that seems worse!
One of my most memorable professors at Drew University, Rev. Dr. Heather Murray Elkins, taught me that people strive to make meaning out of the uncertain. In the church, the best way for us to make meaning can be through creating new rituals. I think that our offering plate loss is no different.
We can thank God for the gifts that have come from the plates, and breathe new life into ministries. For a free copy of a memorial service for offering plates, sign up for my email list (the sign-up is to the side of this blog post or on the Contact Page) and I’ll get it right to you.
A shout out to Dr. Elkins’ book that first taught me the meaning of ritual, starting with a simple spoon: Holy Stuff of Life: Stories, Poems, And Prayers About Human Things
Whether you decide to have a formal funeral for your collection plates to help people mourn what was, or decide to hide them in a closet somewhere never to be found again, I highly recommend that your congregation rethink it’s giving strategy. Giving was going down anyway, if you’re like most small- to mid-size churches (at least in the Northeast), so maybe this is time for something daring and new to help reinvigorate your giving strategy.
It’s okay to mourn the loss of your giving plates, it really is. After all, everyone mourned for Jesus when he died. But there is hope beyond death, that we do know. Resurrection of giving will look much different for all of us, and I hope you bravely take that decision head-on.
Do you have any other reasons in mind why we should shift away from the offering plate? Or, are you a big offering plate proponent that has other thoughts on the subject? Are there other things that you think might be lost in a post-COVID 19 world, like bulletins or passing the peace? Please feel free to share your thoughts with me in the comments below!
Our next blog post in this series: From Offering Plate to Online Offering
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