Move over worship wars. There’s a new battle brewing in North America’s churches, this one focused on the Sunday morning offering.
Fewer of the faithful carry cash these days, and for younger worshipers, writing a check is as old school (and annoying) as email. But tradition dies hard. Stewardship stalwarts cling to their collection plates for dear life, pooh-poohing calls for automatic transfer of funds, giving by credit card, or (gasp) digital collection kiosks.
As heels dig in on one side and gifts dry up on the other, what should have been a mere tempest in the offering basket could escalate into a full-scale brouhaha if we’re not careful. That’s the word from Brian Kluth, giving guru and author of the annual State of the Plate report.
“We are in a world where it’s not about the methodology that people give, not even the frequency, but being faithful,” Kluth told a reporter from NPR’s Money Marketplace. “I encourage churches to give them any opportunities they can to help them be faithful, and if people can do that electronically, then help them to do that.”
According to Kluth, “40 percent of churches now accept donations online, through kiosks or other digital methods — a 10 percent bump from four years ago, and the percentage of people who give electronically is going up too.”
For most of the other 60 percent, accepting the need for new approaches to “bringing in the sheaves” will likely be a tough sell.
Offering up objections
As the NPR piece reported, “some churches don’t want people in debt donating with credit cards.” A noble sentiment for sure, and one with which few would argue. But it’s not reason enough to shut the door on credit card giving by responsible users – or so I think. When it comes to the debtor crowd, nothing says the church cares as do classes on budgeting and access to financial counseling. For everyone else, freedom to donate as preferred is a sure route to regular giving.
Many pastors complain that digital giving saps the worship out of the gift, as though dropping a check or giving envelope in the offering plate is a sacred act. Unfortunately, by fussing over what parishioners do or don’t hold in their hands on a Sunday morning, church leaders miss opportunities to encourage right attitudes of the heart. Worship happens as God’s people – the offering plate crowed and the digital donors – celebrate God’s mission accomplished as they give together. Generously, joyfully, and without squabbles over methods.
Then there’s the concern that today’s kids won’t grow up to be donors unless they see their parents place their gifts in the collection plate. (Apparently, there still are churches where young children are in the worship service. That hasn’t been the case at mine for years.) However, it’s assuming a lot that youngsters will become generous simply by being there. As I’ve written here and here, stewardship habits are taught not caught, and parents are the front-line teachers.
If pastors and other stewardship leaders insist upon turning the Sunday morning offering into a battleground, as has already been done with music, we’ll lose coming generations of stewards. Younger givers of faith will be generous, just not to via their churches.
The good news is it’s not too late for churches to re-think attitudes about how the faithful should/can give and to be open to giving methods that connect with the greatest number of parishioners. The battle lines are only beginning to form. Let’s nip this one in the bud.
For the sake of the Kingdom, generous matters too much to fight over methods.
Speak up: What’s been your experience with alternatives to the traditional passing of the plate — good, bad, indifferent? How do you respond to critiques of electronic giving within church settings? Can worship and electronic giving mix?