A few years ago I was worshipping in a rural church in East Anglia with my husband, and when it came to the offertory, we appeared to be two of the only people in the church who gave anything. I was a new Christian and unfamiliar with the ways of the church, so it made us feel a bit uncomfortable and confused.
Years later I’d realise that the rest of that congregation probably contributed via Standing Order, and so when the plate came round, it went straight past them. Ah so that explains it. But even once I understood this, something still bothered me. It seemed a shame that so many of the congregation didn’t take part. It didn’t seem to fit with the spirit of the thing.
That’s technology for you I suppose. Giving via Standing Oder is so efficient that you don’t even have to stretch your arm out in church! But it does seem rather a shame.
So I was very pleased to find that some churches print off little tokens that could be placed on the plate by those who contribute by Standing Order. This means they can physically take part too.
I love this idea, but wondered if the cards could have a wider use. So, thinking hat firmly on, I developed the concept even further to address a much broader set of issues we seem to have with the offertory!
Because let’s face it, in a lot of churches we try to get this awkward money bit out of the way as quickly and as discreetly as possible. We avoid looking at the plate by reading the words in our hymn books and we avoid hearing the clatter of coins by singing those words loudly. The offertory hymn covers a multitude of… embarrassments!
But what if things were different? What if we properly celebrated this bit of the service that conjured up a sense of joyful giving, or prayerful gratitude?
The token idea that I’ve been adapting ( link to ready-to-use template at end of article) tries to help with this, and I’d love everyone to consider whether this idea could be for them, after reading my proposal, which is as follows:
The basic idea
When the plate comes round, Standing Order contributors put the laminated token on the plate, in the same way envelope or loose cash givers do. The token could say: “This is a symbol of the different ways I give generously to serve others, and recognition of the many ways God gives generously to me.”
Read on for the ever increasingly creative ways this idea can be developed to completely change attitudes to generosity in your church.
The super deluxe ideas
- Prayer. Make the card two-sided and on the reverse side have a prayer. This helps people to see the link between God and generosity.
- Mission. Have dozens of different prayers. I’ve written 40 or so prayers, some inspired by hymns. These prayers could highlight God’s vast generosity, the mission of the church, and might especially help those who don’t know how their money is spent, to see that is really does fund things like clergy and lay training, stipends, mission activities, youth events, Messy Church resources, etc.
- Inclusivity. Open it to the whole church, rather than it just being used by Standing Order contributors. Include everybody, even the vicar and the choir, who may not be able to keep their purse under their robes but could easily pick up this small card on their way into church. Every person could choose a prayer card from a basket near the entrance and regardless of how or what they give, when it comes to the offertory, they can place their prayer on the plate to be blessed at the altar. This helps everyone to understand that everyone gives something at some point and everyone is included in God’s generosity and God’s mission on earth. Those who can’t give (because they forgot, they weren’t aware or they’re too poor) can take part in a church-wide blessing of generosity.
- Generic Generosity. The sentence on the front doesn’t include the word financial. This is so that other type of gifts can be prayed about and blessed at the altar. An asylum seeker may not have cash to give, but they could give generously to the ongoing mission of the church in other ways. This card placed on the plate recognises all types of giving. It ties in nicely with the inclusivity idea above.
- Collaboration. you can use prayers I’ve written, or… the prayers on the back could be written by your PCC, or by your youth group. Or they could be written one week, by your whole church at the various services people attend, so that a collection is built of the prayers of the entire body of the parish.
- Participation. Instead of the vicar/rector/worship leader blessing the offering using the standard liturgy “Yours, Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory…” or their own prayer, they could pick a card at random each week and read that out. This could help whoever chose (or wrote) that prayer to feel very much part of the worship, strengthening bonds and participation.
- Pause. Why not consider using the offertory as an opportunity to pause… and think back on the previous week/month about all the ways God has shown generosity and all the ways you have given generously of yourself, including the gifts given today on the plate. As the plate comes around, and everyone is holding their prayer card, each could be reflecting on all the ways they are blessed and bless others. It could be done in silence or with an appropriate piece of music playing (possibly the organist, a CD, or our worship band). By not singing a hymn, the church could take time to pause and focus. And when it comes to the blessing, the music could end and everybody could hear the words of the minister/worship leader.
These suggestions could help your church to do so many things with just one small piece of card.
From creating a clear and obvious link between the mission of the church and the gifts that people contribute, to the participation and collaboration of every member, to the pressure it could take off visitors or others who can’t give much or give in other ways, by other methods or at different times. Wouldn’t a church that celebrated the offertory like this communicate to an outsider that it was a generous church? I think it really would.