Let’s bring back the offertory plate

Progressively bigger stacks of coins grow plant shoots.
 on May 30, 2023

Churches have experienced a noticeable and protracted change in giving patterns since the earliest days of the pandemic and beyond. Not only has there been a major shift to online giving, such as use of e-transfers, CanadaHelps, text and tap giving, and quick response (QR) codes, there has also been a sharp drop in the use of envelopes. Regarding the latter, two aspects of their usage stand out: envelope giving is unreliable (especially when online worship was the only option), and churches have been slow in returning to the practice of passing the plate.

While it might appear to be more convenient – and hygienic – to leave the plate at the entrance for congregants to make a gift as they pass by, it may be overlooked or misunderstood as to why it is sitting there. I believe the time has come to reclaim, and repurpose, the use of the offertory plate.

If we examine the practice of offering from the Old Testament, we see that distinct types of giftings were made: some for grain, first fruit, and money. The experience of offering was a joyful one that often marked rites of passage: a newborn child, a safe return from a journey, a coming of age, a bountiful harvest. Often when an offering was made, the various gifts were held heavenward and dedicated for God’s purposes. If one happened to have been in the temple at that time, one would have experienced a feast for the senses, including the burning of incense, sweet corn and freshly baked perfumed breads.

There are very few opportunities in our secular society where the practice of making an offering has the potential to be as graciously received as at church. For that matter, other than giving to the office United Way appeal, we are less and less exposed to the whole concept of generosity. Churches still have the market cornered on this aspect of giving. So why don’t we endeavour to do a really good job of celebrating the act of intentionally putting something on the offertory plate?

The church service itself presents a wonderful opportunity to use the offering as stewardship education. As the offering is introduced, received and dedicated to God’s mission, we can reinforce important beliefs about our relationship with money, such as why we give, how to give joyfully, the importance of voluntarism, and the missional service of the Church. The offering is an ideal time of congregational participation, and it should be encouraged from everyone present, including our children.

Typically, our offering experience has been reduced to the giving of money. Why can’t we reclaim at least part of the ancient practice that goes beyond this? The act of giving should be expanded so it includes more than what is in our bank account; it should be reflective of our whole selves. During the offering we could offer words of encouragement to members of the congregation, get-well notes to those who are ill, requests for forgiveness, pledges of time, personal needs, declarations of gifts in an estate, and tangible items like food.

Just imagine how the offertory could be done differently in your church now that social distancing is behind us. What if this space of five minutes after the sermon was transformed into a joyful celebration of giftedness and thanksgiving? If you were new to church, how might a celebratory offering impact your experience of worship? Leaders often struggle with the feeling that the church is money grubbing. If we included non-monetary giving – in the same way an offering was made in the temple – an intimate connection could be made between God and God’s people. Giving is not just about money; it becomes an opportunity to show that God cares about all that we have and are.

By receiving offerings, both monetary and non-monetary, providing stewardship education and celebrating individual giftedness, the offertory period could be transformed into an anticipated component of worship. By inviting us all to bring forward some gift, we are joined in Christ’s own offering of his self out of love for each one of us. And that could be truly transformative.


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