A few weeks ago I was asked to lead the candlelight worship service at the Walk to Emmaus Retreat. Gathering for worship were past pilgrims, sponsors, and friends of this very vital ministry. Because this particular retreat was being held in the Mankato area, we were expecting double the participation of past years. And like many ministries, Walk to Emmaus depends on the charitable giving of others. So, my instructions were clear: “don’t miss the opportunity to encourage generosity.”
Always loving a challenge, I prepared in three ways. First, Stacy and I prayed about our own contribution and cut a check at home to bring to the service. Second, I shared why I believe so strongly in the Walk to Emmaus and testified to the impact I have seen it have on district leaders and churches. And third, I put forth a giving challenge, leading with our own contribution, to raise an offering that was 2.5 times greater than what was typically raised at these services. Of course, in my mind it was brilliant execution of a call to giving consistent with my learnings by stewardship gurus like Phil Maynard, Cliff Christopher and Val Walker.
But at soon as the ushers came forward to pass the plate, I already knew I had forgotten a very critical piece. I had not made it easy to give. Those of you who lead corporate worship, you know when you can just sense the Spirit is in this place and at work? That feeling was palpable on this evening. However, while these people’s hearts were ready to give, they were not able to give. How did I know? Because like most everyone else in the room, my checkbook sits at home, I lug very little cash, I prefer a credit or debit card, and the only thing you can count on me carrying is my phone. Yet, I decided to pass a plate. Sigh.
At the very least this was a missed opportunity, but at most it may have been pastoral malpractice. The pastor challenged them to respond, the Spirit was moving them to respond, but the pastor provided no feasible opportunity for response. I could even see this on their faces. I scrambled and asked the musicians to lead us in a praise song to allow people more time to get their checks—that that they don’t have—written, or their cash—which they don’t carry—ready. This only made an awkward moment even more awkward as persons remained motionless, shrugged, or turn their palms up as if to say, “I can’t really help you out, brother, and another song isn’t gonna change it.” While this was an uncomfortable moment, it was also a learning moment. I resolved that day to not let it happen again.
Folks, I want to say that this same awkward experience is happening every Sunday in most of our churches in the conference. We challenge people to give, and at the same time do not make it easy for people to give. Consider resolving with me to make, at minimum, the following changes in your churches when it comes to giving.
Some will say, “don’t these options charge the church for set-up and transactions costs?” While I appreciate the frugality behind the question, if you want to give me $100, but it will cost me $3 to receive it, I’m still your guy! Incorporating the actions above will make it easier for people to give, allow people to give more consistently (a real plus when worship attendance patterns are decreasing), and increase contributions to your ministry.
The church throughout history has always made adjustments to giving practices. Many of those were particularly aimed at making it easy for the faithful to give. Before the passing of the weekly offering plate (a practice that only came into prominence at the turn of the last century), and offering envelopes (which began in the middle of last century) the preferred means was “renting a pew,” and all of these ways were adaptive responses to a changing culture. It’s time to adapt again so that joyful act of giving can become easy again.
Offer them Christ,
Rev. Fred Vanderwerf
Rev. Fred Vanderwerf is superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference's Southern Prairie District.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church