There are several reasons why passing the offering plate or basket seems to be on the decline. For decades now, some churches have chosen to relegate the offering to a box or receptacle in the lobby so as not to offend newcomers. Others have found the offering time as less and less relevant with the advent of digital giving. COVID-19 is the latest reason churches have chosen to forgo the offering as a regular element of the worship service.
What has surprised me is our hesitancy to bring back the offering and our inability to incorporate worship through generosity without physically passing the offering plate. Let me be the first to acknowledge that passing the offering plate is not the holy grail of worship. Methods and practices come and go.
However, worship through generosity and sacrifice has always been part of our Christian church tradition. From the many Old Testament practices of sacrifice, tithes and offerings, making a physical gift to God has been central to our worship practice. This practice echoes through the words of Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”
The New Testament only built on this practice with instructions like those found in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 encouraging us to give as part of our corporate worship. The actual practice of the collection plate didn’t begin till the 1800s and became commonplace by the 1900s.
I’m sure some churches will return to the collection plate as part of worship. Others will join the trend of implementing a collection box and/or encouraging various forms of digital giving, making the offering plate obsolete.
Regardless of the forms employed for collecting our tithes and offerings, my concern is this: How do we continue to encourage, teach and promote generosity through our worshipful giving?
Unless our church leaders wrestle with this issue and develop a meaningful response that fits their church context, generosity will be relegated to the supply closet along with felt boards and puppet ministries.
Jon C. Wiebe has served since 1998 as president and CEO of MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry serving U.S. Mennonite Brethren. He is a graduate of Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas, and the University of Denver, Colorado. He is an active member of Parkview MB Church in Hillsboro. He and his wife, Ellynne, have two married sons.