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Tell me, why do we send the ushers around with offering baskets during worship – when most members have already given electronically, either through automatic deductions or by using the QR code provided on the worship guide?

Comments from the church administrator during staff meetings do not usually spark my theological reflection, but something I heard a few weeks ago started me thinking about those three to four minutes in our church’s order of worship when we, to use the words I have spoken in one form or another for more than forty years, “receive the offering.”

At the first church I served, I would say, “Let us bring our tithes and offerings to God,” knowing full well that we had few actual tithers. But the word “tithes” always seemed to me so hopeful and inspiring. In my pastoral imagination, we were that woman in Mark’s gospel who gave two copper coins – “all she had to live on.”

Most people, as I discovered, have already given whatever they are going to give by the time they arrive for worship and are not thinking during worship about their weekly gift to the church. I served churches earlier in my ministry where members “pre-paid” their annual gift to the church in early January, presumably with an eye to their tax filing in April. They weren’t planning to drop anything in the basket when it was passed.

So, during the offering each week, are we just supposed to listen quietly to the choir or praise team (we have both) as the baskets are passed, as a kind of entertainment? And if I don’t ask for “tithes and offerings,” what should I be asking for?

(Full disclosure: I now give electronically too. I resisted for a long time, but finally gave in. I hardly even think about my gift anymore. I touch the keypad on my laptop, and the gift moves from my account to the church’s. It happens so fast that I still marvel.)

Looking for guidance about the offering, I decided to check the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship website. I figured that other churches must have given this matter some thought. Turns out, they have.

Among the resources I found was something from a pastor whose church now receives “special offerings” every week at the time of the offering. What makes the offerings special is that they are designated for a different purpose each week. They do this, the pastor wrote, partly to teach children about the act of giving – to create “muscle memory,” as he put it – but they also do it to teach adults about the importance of giving in response to hearing the Word read and proclaimed.

Sitting in my office that day, I imagined that my church too could re-claim this special time during worship: we could pass the basket and practice the act of giving. The needs were obvious – the war in Ukraine, the earthquake in Turkey, the food pantry in our neighborhood, to name a few. What was important, I thought, was to remember giving as something we do in the context of worship. I was excited.

I called the person with responsibility for mission, and she was enthusiastic. Extra money to give away? What a wonderful idea! I could count on her support. I talked next to our worship leaders, and they seemed to like the idea too, as long as I didn’t take too much time giving instructions about something we already know how to do.

What I didn’t expect was the response I received from those responsible for the budget. While most of our giving comes to us online, not all of it does. We still count on several hundred to a few thousand euros each week that appear in the offering baskets as they are passed. What would happen to our budget, they said, if we suddenly changed the way we received the offering?

A good point. And suddenly I shifted from theological reflection to the ordinary, practical issue of meeting the budget and paying the bills. Maybe we shouldn’t mess around with the offering, after all, I thought.

I am still thinking about the issue. I am still talking with staff members and leaders in the congregation. I want to update a practice that dates to the earliest days of the church without tanking our budget. And in all of the talking and thinking and praying, we are actually having a thoughtful conversation about what an offering during worship means in 2023.

So, not such a bad outcome. For the time being.

Doug Brouwer

Douglas Brouwer is a retired Presbyterian pastor who is serving this school year, 2022-2023, as the interim pastor at the American Protestant Church in the Hague, Netherlands.


  • J Scholten says:

    At our church we do not pass the plate. We have four boxes in each of the corners of the sanctuary to simulate the leaving the four corners of the field un harvested. Each month or sermon series we support a new local organization that we will highlight by having a representative from that organization come and speak about it, usually on the first Sunday that we support them. We also have a couple of boxes in the back for people to drop the regular offerings in. People are encourage to drop a dollar in the four corners offering. Many put more and if it’s an oragnization that someone feels strongly for, I seen 100’s if not on occasion a 1000(I am on a count team so I see this}. We have been doing the four corners offerings for more than 15 years. It’s great to see the kids come up and put their dollar in it, whether it a a dollar thier parents gave them or it is their own offering.

  • Jonathan Bradford says:

    Whether for the general operations of the church or the support of ministries near or far, the “collection” is an act of worship. To more clearly reinforce that, the alms basket should remain near the front of the worship space. Walking to the front to anonymously present a euro, a dollar or a note that says one gave by electronic transfer gives us all an active experience of worship. And relax, it takes no longer than the passive experience of plate passing.

  • Noreen Vander Wal says:

    While the baskets are being passed at our church, a “Four Corners” offering is also received–four treasure chests in each corner of the worship center, designated for a local or global cause that changes each month. Adults and children go to the boxes to contribute. The idea came from the OT idea of leaving the “four corners” of the field for the poor to glean. Works well for us!

  • Jerry V says:

    My former church had an offering tradition that has worked very well. Sometime in the past, the diaconate had asked members to turn in a list of the agencies/charities/ministries (outside of the church) which members supported. The lists that came in were revealing. Members had been supporting far more than the church knew or had acknowledged. The diaconate reviewed the lists and selected 25 ministries which were then printed on the outside of a Thanksgiving envelope. After the Thanksgiving offering was counted, the diaconate selected those ministries which had considerable support. The deacons now had a list which became the planned offerings for the next year. This tradition has worked well and is periodically updated by once again asking for favorite charities.

  • Pauline says:

    We don’t have electronic giving at an option (very small rural church), but since the start of COVID we have had the offering plate in the back so people can put their checks/cash in as they enter or as they leave. People apparently like doing it that way so we have continued even though pretty much everything else has gone back to how it was pre-COVID (except that the “passing of the peace” was never added back into the order of service, but then most of them treated it as a time for greetings/chat rather than passing the peace, so no great loss there). But we still have an “offertory” at the same time in the service, followed by the Doxology and a prayer of dedication. My husband (the pastor) tells people to use the time to meditate on how God has blessed us and how we can give back some of what God has blessed us with the bless others. It’s part of the “Response to the Word” part of the worship service, and it belongs there regardless of when/how we actually give our offerings.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    A totally cashless economy excludes the poor. We kept our traditional offering because our poor members so clearly put their coins and dollars in.

  • Cindy Heisler says:

    We are back to passing the plate, but little seems to go in except our care cards. There are probably only 50 members who still request envelopes for their offerings. However, I find that actively writing my monthly checks and putting my tithe in the plate is an act of worship for me. Yes, Doug, you did an excellent job during our annual pledge drive teaching about the tithe and how you were taught to do so. The humor in how you told it made it lasting. Recently, I mastered on-line giving to donate for the Easter lilies and to attend a Women’s retreat and it felt rather hollow. I like to consider what I am giving and give it intentionally.

  • Rowland Van Es, Jr says:

    We have a plate in the back that people can put money in as they enter or exit. We also put it by the tea after the service as that is partly what we pay for. Depending on electronic payment misses the spontaneous gifts and excludes the guests and occasional attendees. The biggest offerings are when the kids pass the plate!

  • arjan overwater says:

    Hi Doug, my experience growing up was always twofold: a collection for the church (meeting the budget) and one for another purpose. It could even be the pension fund of the pastors! Giving became a real part of the service and ingrained (yes muscle memory) in us as children and youth,. We were also to bring a quarter every Monday to school for mission purposes. (grade school). Yes I donate automatically every month but still like to add on the plate on Sundays. We should teach our children to do this also. Many members and visitors now pass the plate: this is strange I feel. It’s called a service: we serve, serving means giving: it’s hard, yet needs practice (like anything in life).

  • Jennifer Simon says:

    Hi, Dr. Brouwer. It’s all about goals, balance and a plan. You have to leave things the way they are for this current budget but in the future ask Operations how they could plan budget more on the electronic donations and less on the plate offering. May take a couple of years but ask for a small percentage of the plate offering next year and increase that percentage over time. Anything is possible with a plan!

    And I STILL like this idea a lot!

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