Giving is down in most local churches. Church leaders and “stewardship experts” cite several reasons for this. I’ve done a lot of reading, studying and speaking about stewardship, and while all the usual reasons given are valid, I think there’s more to it.
What I’ve seen while visiting local churches has prompted some wrestling with God over the way we receive –or don’t receive—offerings during our worship services. Gone are the days when we gave by passing the plate or basket across pews filled with worshippers who come every week. Today’s giving opportunities and strategies, while convenient for those who prefer electronic giving or can’t attend each week, have resulted in an “offering time” that is awkward and clumsy for worshippers and ushers alike.
I’ve seen ushers who won’t let go of the plate, but walk about the sanctuary “collecting” from some people and not noticing others trying to get their attention because they want to give. Worshippers aren’t sure whether to pass the plate or not. It looks and feels as if we are begging for people to “maybe” put something into the offering plate. Even at times when our churches are full, some people don’t have an opportunity to give because we lost the art of passing the plate long ago.
I wonder if all of these factors contribute to lack of stewardship in our churches. Are we making what should be an act of worship simply a financial transaction?
I’ve been praying about ways we can redeem and reclaim acts of giving by adopting a different approach. I am convinced there is a better way – a way that matches the theology that we are stewards of all that God has given to us and returning thanks through an offering as an act of worship can be a sacramental moment.
Can we teach and allow everyone to see this time during worship as an opportunity to offer something – even ourselves—to God, regardless of whether they physically put something in the plate as it is passed? Simply touching the plate could be a reminder that we all have something to offer, even ourselves.
What if passing the plate was an opportunity for you pray? For me – passing the plate to everyone gives everyone the opportunity to participate in the sacramental moment of giving, regardless of what they put in the plate.
To introduce the concept, a worship leader might say something like this:
Psalm 24 reminds us, "The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it, for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.”
Today we are reminded that God has given us everything, and even the best in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In this moment of worship, as we pass the plate to those next to us, we remember that gift and that abundance. As the plate (or basket) is passed to you, I invite you to say a simple prayer. It might be “God, I offer you my best today.” Or, “Today, I offer you my entire life, God. With that life, I offer you myself this week.” Or, “God, thank you for all that you give to me. I am blessed by your abundance.” Or simply “Thank you.”
Then pass the plate to the person next to you, reinforcing our connection with one another in Christ. If there isn’t anyone next to you, pause in that prayer as you hand it back to our ushers. We want all of you here to have an opportunity to acknowledge the giver of all things, whether you place something in the plate today or give in other ways. Will the ushers please come and serve.”