Beyond the Offering Plate

Tuesday on Theotek we discussed things churches can do when there is a “snow day.” We spoke briefly about different ways to keep some form of interactive connection available for congregants on Sundays when Church is cancelled, which inevitably led us to the concept of the offering. Our conversation then moved into the concept of online giving, which made me surprisingly uneasy.

Now, I understand we are moving into a post cash and check society. In fact, I exist as a person who is post cash and check 1. I have not regularly carried cash in almost twenty years, and cannot stand writing checks. The era in which offering envelopes make sense is quickly fading away.

The impending extinction of the offering envelope is not something I am mourning. In fact, I’ll be quite happy when it comes to a close. On the other hand, I find the idea of seeing the act of the offering disappear as theologically problematic. This is an essential act of Christian worship, and has been for the entire history of the Church. This doesn’t mean keeping the offering plate is a metaphorical “hill I would die upon.” The way we take an offering is not “the one true way.” Christians brought offerings to worship long before faux brass plates became commonplace, and we can survive their extinction.

I also think this shift away from the world of offering envelopes is an opportunity to reevaluate the purpose of the offering.” In America we tend to see “passing the plate” simply as the way we gain the funds needed to operate the church apparatus. Practically speaking, this is what it’s become, but the theology of the action is actually much different. Money is, in fact, actually only one aspect of the offering.

Whenever I lift up a prayer of thanksgiving 2 I thank God for “all of our time, talents, and treasures” and ask Jesus to guide us in using them all to proclaim the good news of his Kingdom. Even in this prayer the money put in the plate is only a small reflection my meaning. It is certainly a part of “treasure,” but is by no means the whole of it. “Treasure” is all of our possessions, and whatever we have is supposed to dedicated over to God’s purposes – to bless others and proclaim the name of Jesus.

In my typical thanksgiving prayer, however, “time” and “talents” are every bit as important an offering as our treasures. If we hoard a talent, for example, we are every bit as miserly as if we refused to give any of our treasures to bless someone else. If we use our time self-centeredly we are likewise being stingy. As one of our panel said last night, in our hurried society the idea of giving “time” as an offering is something with which our society needs to wrestle. In our culture it could be our most valuable asset, and the one which we most greedily horde.

So what’s this all got to do with the offering as it’s currently handled in worship? It’s mostly an issue of how the theological aspect of an action was superseded by it’s practical application. Collecting the funds to operate the church is the sole purpose of the offering in many people’s minds 3. And there is an unstandable reason why “money” and “offering” became synonymous. Money is the universally accepted manifestation of a “treasure.” It is something which we can physically bring to worship and offer up to God. Creating a symbolic manifestation of a time or a talent is a lot more difficult 4.

In worship, you see, an offering is something which is brought to worship – a physical manifestation of submission to the God of our Salvation which we leave before God. We came to this notion through the practice of the early church, the Synagogue model which has shaped the body of Christ, and the Old Testament idea of not coming before the LORD “empty handed.” Money, being something a church organization needs has been an easy way to manifest this idea.

And now money as we know it is going away. It’s being replaced by more convenient forms like mobile payments, text-to-pay, and a host of other experiments.

So my question is, “If the offering really is about more than the money, how can this aspect of worship be preserved in the post cash/check society?” What physical offering, representing our complete submission to the Lordship of Christ, can we bring to worship which may reflect the whole aspect of offering better than it’s fading predecessor 5? Once cash and checks finally do pass away, what can we bring forward as the Doxology plays?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Amen

I suppose we could say it’s just a symbolic action and if the practicality of the offering plate as faded then it’s perfectly fine disregarding the practice of the offering altogether. For me, however, the power and necessity of symbolic actions for fixate our entire being on Christ is something of which I am firmly convinced.


  1. If my wife didn’t take care of handling our offering, I probably would have pushed for online giving at Central a long time ago. Just so I’d have a way to give which matched the way I think. 
  2. For my readers who are not versed in Christian worship, this the the prayer which is said after the offering is brought forward. 
  3. Some even call it “the collection,” and reference the plates as “collection plates.” 
  4. No, “just being there” doesn’t quite cut it. Unless “being there” is an act of deliberate sacrifice. For many folks, worship is simply one habit out of many, which can be trumped by anything in our schedule. My favorite is when people complain about having worship when Christmas falls on a Sunday. “Keep Christ in Christmas,” folks. 
  5. Cash, if you’re wondering. 

3 Comments

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  1. Offering cash is symbolic of offering. ALL I have and all I am by. His grace to God and worship is away to do that. That is why I love giving as part of our worship.

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  2. Great article, thanks for sharing. I love the approach you take to giving of ourselves in a very holistic sense.

    Passing the plate is a powerful symbol. It has a frequency and accessibility that lends itself to regular, weekly worship. I’m with you – what can fill the same theological space?

    I do take solace in remembering that the Church has fulfilled its calling even in times when cash and offering plates weren’t use.

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