The Diminishing Use of the Offering Plate

The offering plate is becoming like the DVD. New technology is replacing it and its usefulness is diminishing. Though it may still be passed down the pews in some worship services, the offering plate is often not the primary way people choose to facilitate their giving to their church. With the emergence of technology, cash and checks are used less for regular donations. Instead, worshippers can give with a click of a button from their bank, through their church’s website, or using a mobile payment service.

How should we feel about this trend? Like any change, it is difficult for some to accept and adapt. Here are a few ways to think about the diminishing role of the offering plate:

1) The offering remains an important part of worship. Removing the plate doesn’t mean removing the offering. Though the collection method may change, it is important for us to acknowledge God’s ownership of all things. PCAF’s president appreciates the opportunity for such worship afforded by the traditional offering, but recognizes it is not the only way. Acknowledging God’s ownership can be done also through prayer or a responsive reading.

Some churches have never passed an offering plate but have opted for an offering box in the sanctuary where worshippers can deposit gifts at their leisure. In such churches, there is still a time in the service where worshippers are reminded of the importance of giving to the Lord and a prayer of thanksgiving is made for the contributed gifts.

Throughout the Bible, there is a pattern for God’s people to bring him a portion of the goods he has entrusted to them. In doing so, we acknowledge that we and everything we have belongs to him. No matter the method of collecting the gifts, we still need to praise God for his provisions in our worship services and proclaim his sovereignty over all things.

2) The offering plate is a utility. There is nothing sacred about the offering plate. It is not a divinely ordained means of collecting offerings. It is a man-made method of carrying out a divine command. It’s easy to become attached to the methods. The offering plate is no more essential to the purity of a worship service than bulletins. Both are simply tools to assist worshippers.

One of the reasons the offering plate is diminishing in its use is that new and better utilities have been introduced. Almost every church with a website now offers online giving capabilities. The PCA Foundation even offers online giving as a service for PCA churches. If not through their church’s website, worshippers can typically use their bank’s bill pay service to originate a check directly from the bank.

Change is being driven by technological process. We can celebrate the fact that it is now easier to give than ever before. The activity of giving is no longer limited to the confines of the worship service but can be conducted every hour of every day. More change is likely to come.

3). The offering plate has always been limited. Though the offering plate was created to facilitate the collection of gifts, it always has come with restrictions and limitations. It can only accept one type of asset: cash. But for most people, their wealth exists mostly in non-cash assets like stocks, real estate, and business ownership. The offering plate has never been a one-stop shop for generous Christians.

When its members want to give non-cash assets, the church needs outside assistance to receive and liquidate these gifts. The PCA Foundation has a long history of helping generous Christians donate appreciated assets. These donations enable the donor to lower their tax burden significantly and greatly increase how much they can give to advance God’s Kingdom.

The offering plate may not have a bright future but this shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as a sign of decreased interest in giving. Instead, God’s people have more ways to give more assets than ever before. May we pray that God would help all of us be ready to give, whether its through the offering plate or some other means.