Don’t let your church be a casualty in the offering wars

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?


  1. Just added an extra gift of a Bible to our World Vision sponsored child, via an electronic transfer through our online account, after receiving an emailed “request”. The paper letter, that came with the same “request” along with an envelope to mail a check back in is still sitting where I stuffed it in the drawer.

  2. Generous Matters says:

    Good for you for making the extra gift of a Bible for your World Vision sponsored child — it will be a blessing in that young life. That you responded to an online appeal, when an identical paper ask languished in a drawer, illustrates my point that Christians aren’t getting less generous, they’re just giving differently. If churches don’t recognize the shift and adjust accordingly, budget woes will continue to increase. And it’s not a very winsome welcome when newcomers walk in on a congregation moaning about finances.

  3. Lori Guenther Reesor says:

    The book “Passing the Plate” notes that Christians perceive spontaneous giving as more genuine. I’m doing donor research and encountered the same perception. Credit card giving is equated to paying a utility bill. How does the church persuade its members that pre-authorized giving is equally valid? Paul says in 1 Cor 16:2 “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” I’m sure he would have been in favour of electronic giving!

    • Generous Matters says:

      I agree, Lori, with your take on how the Apostle Paul would respond to the idea of electronic giving, were he to be transported into 21st century church life. Paul was a pragmatist, ready to be all things to all people, in order to win over the greatest number.

  4. Geoffrey Isley says:

    My church started offering electronic giving years ago, and we were one of the first to sign up. I appreciated the “planned giving” decision to make that gift on a regular basis. We just emailed the treasurer when we needed to adjust the amount. We still gave to special offerings through the “ingathering” or offering plate method a few times a year. It also helps with budgeting — to be sure we didn’t miss a portion of the charitable giving we had designated to our home congregation.
    But I appreciate the symbolism of the passing the plate too. It doesn’t offend me, and the active reminder that giving is a community act of worship is a good thing to stress in the church.
    I also like your reminder to talk about/teach our children about giving. We really need to do that more intentionally.

    • Generous Matters says:

      I, too, like the symbolism of passing the plate, and I appreciate that it doesn’t have to be an either/or thing. I’ve written “automatic transfer of funds” on our offering envelopes, although I too often forget to stick the envelope in my Bible as I dart out the door on Sunday morning. I’ve seen the suggestion of putting cards in the pew pockets (or on the chair) that persons who give online can place in the plate. New ways of giving will call for adjustments in how we worship with our offerings, but new ways can be good — even invigorating.

      Thanks for adding your comment to the discussion.

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