My childhood memories are vague. Still, I do recall with some surprising detail the passing of the offering plates in my first church. I never questioned its validity or efficacy. It was just something churches did.
Most churches used an offering plate or its equivalent prior to the pandemic. Now, most churches do not. It has been that stark and sudden.
The offering plate is disappearing.
One of the members of our Church Answers community conducted a simple poll that asked other members of the community if their church still passed an offering plate. The results were clear and profound. Seven of ten churches no longer pass the offering plate.
While the sample size and selection of the poll would not pass scientific rigors, the numbers are telling. Even among smaller churches, the offering plate is disappearing.
Rather than analyzing the reasons for the disappearing offering plate, let’s take a look at some of the implications of this dramatic shift. There is more to it than a mere removal of a traditional element of worship service. Indeed, the change is very important. Here are five reasons why the disappearance of the offering plate is so significant.
1. Online giving is now the default of the majority of churches. When COVID dictated that most churches would not be open for a season, there were no worship services to pass offering plates. In a figurative blink of an eye, churches that never considered online giving made the move. This change is not trivial. It means that church leaders must continuously point church members to digital giving as their means of stewardship. The offering plate served as the visual reminder to give generously. That void must now be filled.
2. The offering plate communicated clearly that the act of giving is an act of worship. Indeed, this reason is the most often articulated rationale of the remnant of churches that still pass a plate in worship services. Church leaders now must find and communicate ways to remind church members that the act of giving is an act of worship. A number of churches have a stewardship generosity moment during all of their worship services.
3. The offering plate will not return. While churches have resumed a number of pre-COVID practices, don’t count on the return of the offering plate. Once a church member gives online, he or she is unlikely to change behaviors. And church leaders now see clearly that online giving is more dependable. If a church member is out or if the church has to cancel a worship service, digital giving means that the funding will not stop.
4. Millennials do not like the passing of the offering plate; Gen Z abhors it. Though this statement is based on our anecdotal research only, I believe a scientific study will validate our observations. Millennials are not comfortable touching a plate touched by many other hands. Gen Z will avoid it completely.
5. The disappearance of the offering plate provides churches an opportunity to rethink all aspects of the worship services. While the offering may be the most visible change in church worship services, it would serve church leaders well to ask serious questions about other elements or aspects of the services. What are we doing because we’ve always done it that way? What could we change? What do we do that is non-negotiable and must not change? Why?
It happened so quickly. Soon, over 90 percent of churches will not pass an offering plate. The change is profound and sudden. Other changes are taking place as well. For example, the “stand and greet” time in worship services is all but gone as well. We will return to that subject in a future article.
On that latter note, I feel a smile coming to my face.
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Posted on February 13, 2023
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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We discontinued passing plates after coming back from Covid and have not continued the tradition. Online giving was already increasing and we actually saw giving increase even while attendance decreased during and post covid. I believe the key to giving is a trust in the leadership that they are utilizing funds wisely. Also, a giving sermon series seems to help. Lastly, we also stopped and have not continued passing communion trays. It is still a focal part of our service and is set up as self serve.
While we are no longer “passing the plate,” we do make the offering an intentional part of worship. We invite the congregation to “bring the tithes that are God’s and the offerings we make out of our love for Him” to the plate itself. We have an older congregation, for whom online giving has not quite caught on, and so this is still an important part of the worship service
I think that “turn to your neighbor and greet them” is also on the wane. I think the reminder that giving is a part of worship and the plate is a symbol or reminder is something I had not thought of but is true.
Years ago, a mentor offered a reflection about passing the plate and his rationale for not doing so. He kept the plate and moved it to the entrance into the worship space – there was no way to enter without passing by the plate. He wanted to honor each gift alike and not put a giver in the spotlight for a small or no donation. There were many who attended the church who were in college or recently graduated with little disposable funds. By making the plate central to entering worship he highlighted the importance of giving in a unique way. He also instituted an offering table for canned goods and non-perishables – available every Sunday. This allowed people to give what they could and help those in need in tangible ways.
Even before COVID, in our small church, there wasn’t a lot placed in the plate. As part of the practice during COVID we kept the plate but, instead of passing it, it sits on a table in the middle of the aisle at the entrance to the church. We still get checks and bills in the plate. It also allows a newcomer or visitor to leave something on their way in.
It may not be the smartest/safest move but since Covid our plates are in the Narthex where the bulletins are. People have been faithful in their giving. While we do not have online giving (yet), checks also come in the mail. Our budget has been more than met these last three years showing that our Lord is faithful to supply all our needs! Attendance is about 80% pre-Covid and we have had some new members join us. Generally, giving, as well as other topics, are addressed in the liturgy/message. I am very thankful addressing the stewardship of our resources in this way is allowing us to expand our ministries!
Great report, Ralph.
What’s a “bulletin”? 😉
Hello Thom. Interesting read. I hope you don’t mind me chiming in. As usual, I have a slightly different perspective on “all things Covid,” as we never shutdown. Nevertheless, our practice in giving has been impacted by the consequences of the rapidly transitioning conditions imposed on us by the shutdown. This includes your topic at hand, the passing of the Offering Plate, or bucket in our case.
Although we had chose to remain open for the duration of the pandemic and never limited the amount of people attending the church, we did exercise prudence, making ourselves aware of the situation and to make a effort to remain as safe as possible. Our safety protocols included a longstanding reminder to stay home and watch online if sick. Our church saw the potential of online broadcasts much earlier. That awareness led us to purchase the necessary equipment to expand into the meta verse in 2011, long before 2022.
We had also strongly encouraged our seniors to stay home and watch online, as we knew that they would naturally be in the high risk category of any viral outbreak. Part of that offer included help getting online if they did not have the necessary equipment. There were only a few people who took advantage of online services among the elderly, as most of them chose to exercise their longstanding tradition of church attendance. I heard statements from them that implied that they were ready to go home to be with Jesus, and if the suspected China virus was their means, they preferred to continue life as they liked to live it.
We encouraged social distancing with a three foot perimeter, as that was always the recommended distance prior to the 6’ Covid barrier. Handshakes and hug’s were highly discouraged and the use of hand sanitizer was highly recommended. Most of the recommended safety protocols were followed, at least initially, including a recommendation to keep young kids home, as we thought Covid would respond like the flu and traditional cold viruses, making newborns to two years old vulnerable.
When we saw that the younger ones were curiously safe but the elderly weren’t, we shared the data with our people and let the parents decide how to respond to a reopened nursery and preschool classes, which we had closed temporarily. I suppose that I should emphasize that our response was to allow people to choose their responses rather than impose our determinations based on external reasoning and impositions.
We did make an early decision about the passing of the plate, as we understood the possibility of contamination from germs. Our solution wasn’t to eliminate the usage of the plates, however. What we eliminated was the passing of the plates at the designated time in the service to respond to the biblical challenge of financial contributions towards the ministry and the ministries financial needs. Our modification was to place the offering receptacles at the edge of the stage. We would pray over the offering as usual and then we released the people to come forward in a not so dissimilar function as an altar call.
The people loved it, as we are a Charismatically inclined church and altar calls have always been a part of our corporate culture. Incidentally, once word escaped that we were conducting services and new people began flocking to our church, I made another modification at offering time. Prior to the prayer and release of the finances, I would explain our position about finances and visitor follow up, as our policies and practices changed. We ended our push for personal data collection by removing the Connection Cards, informing the people that they needed to contact us if they needed to get more information about us as a church.
We also highly recommended that people refrain from giving us their tithes. Our weekly encouragement was for them to enjoy what we offered but to send their tithes and offerings to their home churches, as we did not want to exploit the closure of the churches. The data showed us that the admonition worked, as we were running three services by October 2020. Our contribution totals remained consistent from March through October with a slight elevation, but the contributions were almost exclusively from our pre-pandemic crowd, not the newbies. Our people, like the people in so many churches, responded to the needs of the church with generosity.
Our October experiences saw additional alterations, as many schools and businesses were reopened with limitations. That led to our first confirmed cases of Covid and it was when saw a tremendous escalation of our income that has continued to this day.
We still place our offering buckets at the front of the church and have the people who still like to contribute personally come forward. It has become our new expression of an old practice. And we also have offering receptacles strategically located by exit points placed on the walls for convenience in giving as well. Some people prefer the anonymity of giving with the receptacles but do not like the online process or mailing in their offerings.
I should also comment that we do have a significant amount of people who give online. We had encouraged our people to transition to online giving long before the shutdown. We still teach online giving as a good stewardship practice for all your stated reasons. It is a great budgetary tool, as we realize that online giving almost never takes a vacation or sick time. As in all of our Covid responses, the methods for contributions are dictated by the choice of the individual, not a mandate by church or government leadership.
Thanks again for the stimulating discussion topic!
Thanks for the thoughtful comments, William.
You are welcome! I thoroughly enjoy your topics.
Since our church no longer passes an offering plate, to call attention to giving, we have a “giving” talk once a month in which we share testimonies from those who have experienced God’s faithfulness because of their giving. We also share scriptures which advocate giving. We also remind people how to give through the offering boxes in the back of the sanctuary and through online options.
I like it. Thanks, David.
Good thoughts brother,
We reinstituted the “passing of the plate” in our worship gatherings. We affirmed our conviction that giving is worship. I feel like I did in the ’90s as a youth pastor watching churches figure out blended worship. For now, we are passing the plate, still have giving boxes in the back of the sanctuary, and have online giving (QR codes in the bulletin, etc.). I think much of this depends on one’s church DNA, and for my church family, we felt this allowed us to remind all that giving is worship and provide giving opportunities that speak to all ages/ stages. Maybe it will phase out someday, but for now, it’s back. 🙂 Thanks for all you do.
Good word. Thank you, Andrew.
I’m a fan of providing multiple ways to give (in-person and digital). Our church is multi-generational and each generation uses different “tools” for managing their money. Most Millennials and GenZ do 100% of their money management digitally. They don’t have check books and they don’t carry cash.
So we have a giving moment (without passing the plate) in the service to thank our givers for their generosity, remind them it’s an act of worship, and share an impact or life-change story that was made possible through their generosity. We then direct everyone to the ways they can give if they want to join in. We also teach on giving in our “new member” class and help people setup a recurring giving schedule in class if they want it.
Good idea on the “giving moment.” If we stopped passing the plate, I would for sure consider that, thanks for sharing the concept.
Je viens par la présente lettre vous solliciter d’ouvrir votre église en RD.congo
Merci. Nous espérons que nous pourrons effectivement y avoir une présence à un moment donné dans un proche avenir.