Most churches still have an offering time that looks something like this.
- An invitation is given, such as “And now, as God has richly blessed us in so many ways, you are invited to return to God a portion of the gifts that God has bestowed. Will the ushers come forward?”
- Ushers then walk down the aisle.
- A prayer is spoken either before and/or after the offering.
- Plates/baskets/containers are passed among the people during a time of special music or congregational singing.
- A celebratory chorus or Doxology is sung as the gifts are brought forward or taken to the counting room.
- The timeframe for this long-held pattern is five to ten minutes.
1. Clarify Your Why
Despite the energy invested in the offering experience in worship, few churches examine if the time encourages a deeper understanding of the theology of stewardship and contributes to growing disciples of Jesus Christ and increasing individual generosity.
To determine whether or not your offering time is purposefully supporting your theology of stewardship, spend some time with your leadership team, staff, and worship planning team to respond to these questions:
- What does your church teach about the theology of stewardship?
- What are your goals for spiritual formation or discipleship related to worship?
- What is the purpose of the offering experience in worship?
- What does your offering time look like? How does it teach spiritual generosity principles?
- What percent of the church’s income is currently being received in the offering plates?
- What message about generosity is conveyed when the offering plates are mostly empty?
- What would it feel like if you did not pass an offering plate?
- What stories could you tell about how God is impacting people’s lives through your church? How might telling stories of life change improve the offering time?
- How would the offering be experienced if giving was directly connected to the story of impact and givers were thanked, not for the gift, but for making possible a changed life?
- How would the offering time be experienced if giving was directly connected to the spiritual journey of becoming more like Christ in service and giving?
- What obstacles must be overcome to create an offering experience that authentically reflects your theology of stewardship, discipleship goals and plan to grow a culture of generosity?
2. Imagine a Better Offering Experience
Responding to the questions in Step #1 should provide some clarity around goals for your offering time. Consider the following sample outline for an offering experience to discern which elements may help you accomplish your worship objectives.
A Sample Offering Experience
Impact Story: In the first two minutes, share a story about a single life that was changed by God through the ministries of your church. Connect the financial generosity of your givers with your church’s ability to do ministry. Use photos and videos, if possible.
By focusing on the story of a single life, you are able to put a face on your ministry impact. Refrain from using a lot of statistics and long descriptions of ministries. For example, if your story is about a student ministry event, focus on one student sharing the story from their perspective. Conclude by referring to the other students who participated and experienced a similar impact.
Ensure there is a clear connection between the life-changing story and the financial generosity of the people who made it possible. Significant transformation happens all around us by the power of God working through God’s people. Of course, people are also impacted through the giving of people’s time and talent. However, it should always be clear to those listening that the life-changing impact experienced in the story is possible because of the collective financial generosity of the church’s supporters.
After the Impact Story. In the next two minutes include the following:
- Say thank you to the people whose collective generosity made this story possible. The grateful hearts of your people led them to financially support the ministry being highlighted. Be sure to express gratitude for those who made the fruitful result in the story possible.
- Connect growth in personal generosity to something specific in your theology of stewardship and/or your discipleship pathway. You have 52 opportunities a year to highlight these points, so don’t try to talk about them all each week. Just weave in a point or two. For example, to highlight recurring giving, the speaker might say after pointing out the other giving options, “or you can use recurring giving like my household does because it helps the church better plan for its great ministries like this student event.”
- Explain the many ways you receive gifts and always promote automatically recurring/scheduled giving. When describing the different giving options, you can communicate more with fewer words by having the options displayed on the screen, on a card in the seatback, or in the bulletin. Unless you continue to pass offering plates, you will need to mention where people can leave a check or cash.
Conclusion (optional). In the last two minutes, provide a time of music during which people are invited to offer their gifts electronically using the information on the screens, seatback cards, or bulletins.
3. Design and Implement a Better Offering
- Plan your stories of ministry impact at least 30 days in advance. The offering story will need to be included in the same planning cycle with the sermon, music, communication, and other elements of worship. Doing so will provide the time to identify and develop quality stories with supporting pictures and/or video.
- Create a calendar of the theology/discipleship elements to be emphasized after the impact story is told. One of the best planning strategies is to create an annual calendar that calls out the specific theology/discipleship points to be emphasized each week. Doing so ensures that what you are communicating is well balanced and fresh. Not making a plan often results in speaking too much on some topics and not enough on others. Feel free to adjust these points, as needed, once the offering story is known and the sermon title is finalized.
- Review the effectiveness of the offering experience each week. A common discipline in thriving churches is learning to measure the effectiveness of investments of time and energy in achieving their desired purpose. A recommended practice is for the offering experience to be evaluated by the worship planning team or staff each week as part of a review of the entire Sunday/Weekend experience (hospitality, worship, discipleship, communications, etc.)
- Ask church leaders to share their impressions of the offering experience. Be sure to receive input from your key leaders regarding their experience and identify if your offering time is having the impact you desire. Invite them to share their personal impact stories to add to your collection.
For additional resources on creating a better offering, I recommend A Better Offering: 5 Unmistakable Habits of Generous Churches by Donald A. Smith and Crafting a Theology of Stewardship (and Why Your Church Needs One) by Joel Mikell.