How can a church celebrate the offering in an online worship service when there is no plate to be passed?
Congregations can still enjoy a musical interlude (cue the solemn organ fugue) but admittedly our sense of duty and obligation are reduced when we can’t see a sanctuary full of people around us giving – or when our fellow congregants are sitting on the couch in their PJs.
Fear not, gentle church folk. What we have here is a fresh opportunity to explain why we celebrate the offering.
Wait ̶ do you hear that muttering in the background? “People should give! We need to meet budget or we will close the doors!”
Those are the voices of guilt, desperation, fear and even panic – the voices that can take over when a congregation is anxious about money.
We need to remember that our generous God, giver of every good thing, is still in charge. Even when we’re scared!
Celebrating the offering is grounded in gratitude. Gratitude for God’s generosity to us, for the ministry of our church and for the faithful generosity of people in the congregation.
Start with gratitude to God
Scripture reminds us to be thankful in all circumstances. Not for all circumstances, but in all circumstances. When our circumstances seem overwhelming – like they do seem for many during the pandemic – we can remind each other of at least three things a church can always be grateful for:
God. God doesn't change. God is faithful today, next Tuesday, next week and next year. The pandemic is temporary; God’s love is eternal. Amen to that!
Worship. Our congregation can gather to worship. Even without a building, strategies, programs or goals, we can worship. Even online! Thanks be to God.
Hope. We have hope. God is faithful, we can worship, and we are not alone.
Share stories of ministry
Even during online worship we can still share stories of the work God is doing through our congregation, whether or not we call this “the offering.” Does your church have the privilege of having a phone bill and internet bill to pay? Thank God together that your church has these vehicles for ministry. Were there encouraging phone calls? Words of comfort? Online Bible study?
How has generosity supported ministry? Imagine your pastor saying this in a service: “As your pastor, I am grateful I was able to connect someone from the community to the food bank when they called on Tuesday morning. It's part of our churches ministry that we don't all get to see.”
Pastoral care moments, prayer times, grocery deliveries ̶ all tell a story of ministry from the life of the local congregation.
Thank God for the faithful givers at your church
Here’s a helpful prayer and introductory few lines that your worship leader might say:
Our generosity does not depend on passing the plate. We give in response to our generous God, who gives to us in various and creative ways. I thank God that people give to the ministry of this congregation in many ways.
I'm grateful for faithful givers who mail cheques, or who contribute directly from their bank account through pre-authorized giving or e-transfers. Some people give through the church website or through an app on their phone. There are many gifts, but the same Spirit!
Your steadfast love never ceases, your mercies never come to an end.
Thank you for the faithful giving that supports the ministry of this congregation. We are grateful for new ways of doing things and for generosity that carries us through difficult times.
Thank you for acts of kindness and encouragement, prayers, and words of comfort. You alone are our hope and our strength. Please accept our offerings as a sign of our trust in your faithful provision.
Three generous things you can do right now
Generosity is not just for Sundays. The spiritual discipline of giving, like the spiritual discipline of prayer, can be practised on other days too! Consider these ideas:
- Pray for your church leadership team. Even if, and especially if, you are part of the church leadership team.
- Write a thank-you note to someone on the finance team.
- Investigate giving options at your church. Online? Pre-authorized giving? Regular, predictable giving is a wonderful gift to your congregation.
Churches demonstrate creativity and resourcefulness in so many ways. Blessings as you navigate new ways of worshiping and giving, with or without an offering plate.
Lori Guenther Reesor is a giving and fundraising consultant in Mississauga, Ont., and author of the new book Growing a Generous Church: A Year in the Life of Peach Blossom Church, available at www.lgreesor.com and www.commonword.ca.