1. Go Back to Basics.
What is an offering? It is a response to the word of God, made in cash or check. That may sound disrespectful to both God and cash but cash is not much different than bringing first fruits into today’s world. It may look more beautiful to bring a homegrown tomato or pumpkin but currency is currency. The offering is a material response to a spiritual experience.
2. Attend to the Liturgy.
Use sentences that become so familiar to people that it prompts their response at a deep and psychic level. Many congregations still sing the Doxology as the plates are brought forward. Some drop the money quietly in a bag and bring empty plates forward as symbols. Still others collect prayer requests and visitor/commitment cards along with the money. Whatever you do, make it a pattern. A liturgical moment has a beginning and middle and an end. Pay attention to the story you are leading.
3. Ask Boldly.
Get over whoever told you “I just can’t ask people for money.” Why not? You are offering them an enormous opportunity to give. Consider touching a nerve by saying, “Too often, people’s gifts are refused on the job, at home, in school. Here we do not refuse your gifts. Here we welcome your gifts. We take whatever you have and put it with what others have and become the living, breathing body of Jesus, here, now. Thank you for giving back as you have received.” Or “Blessed are those who can give.” Or “Be glad that you have something to offer.” Or “It costs X dollars per week to run the ministries of this church. Thanks to all who sang and who freshened the rest room for our use. Please be generous in your contribution.” The invitation has to be in your voice, directed to your people. Be very careful not to just throw something off or to use an obscure biblical passage. Don’t say something people don’t get. Be sure to put your money in after you say the invite. You are also welcome to contribute!
4. Train those Doing the Collecting
Make sure the “ushers” (or whatever you call them in your tradition) are well trained and neither miss anybody or offend somebody by showing up at the pew before she has opened her purse. Ushers can also have smiles on their faces—the offering doesn’t have to be so somber. Rotate out the people who collect the offering. Don’t act like this is unimportant or that only men or bankers can do it. People love to participate as leaders in worship. Offer them the offertory. By the way, the worship leader doesn’t need to do this training. If you have somebody who thinks they “own” the offering, have them become the lead trainer and teacher.
5. Conclude with Pizzazz.
Maybe the doxology works for you. Maybe the rising of the people with the organ and the plates coming forward to the table/altar still works for your congregation. Some people find that a little TOO dramatic with too much emphasis on the money. Sometimes it really helps to tell people they can bring their offering up themselves, when they are ready, during a song or series of songs. Again, you need to do what makes sense for you. But make sure the offering is prayed for. Make sure the prayer is prepared and has a familiar ring for your people. And say it, don’t read it. Bless the ushers for receiving the gifts in God’s name.
6. Think Practically about Money.
In practical terms, how do you collect the money? Envelopes used to work and now they simply don’t. They are great for the church treasurer because he or she can keep good records, but it is very unlikely that you can train people to use envelopes today. Their lives are too episodic. They don’t pay their car or electric bill by check so it is unlikely they will pay you that way. Many people don’t even carry cash anymore, so consider making automatic payments possible via your website. ATM-style giving kiosks can be used for on-site electronic giving. (Both of these options can be limited to debit accounts, so as to not encourage use of credit cards.) Or, you could have an actual ATM to facilitate cash giving. And what of annual pledge drives? Be honest about people’s hesitancy to commit by saying, “We LOVE IT when people promise a pledge for the year but we understand uncertainty discourages people from making such a promise. We hope you will find the courage to make such a promise and to contribute regularly. No one is prevented from participation if they can’t pay. But you will get more out of your experience here if you put more into it – and that means money and participation.”
7. Thank People for Giving.
Do twice as much thanking as you do asking. That means in the sermon, in the benediction, in the bulletin, in the church newsletters, by the ushers as they receive the gifts.
8. Link Stewardship and Discipleship
Consider a benediction that has a stewardship emphasis. “Thank you God for all the people who took the time to show up today. They had many places and people competing for their time and money. Send us out to be your hands and feet and wallets as we do your work in the world. Amen.”
9. De-mystify Money
Money is too often a taboo topic. Teach people as regularly as you can that money is just energy, that it is just currency, that it is not “naughty” to discuss. Energy and currency are extraordinarily positive forces in our lives. Defuse the power around money and you will find the offering having more meaning. Is the offering a “tip” or a “tax” or a “gift?” Help people understand that it is a gift in response to a gift, that we have not a contract with God but a covenant. Emphasize the freedom in doing what is “only right.”
10. Be Self-Aware
Lead worship with the deep awareness that the bread on your own table comes from these people’s pockets and pocketbooks. Respect their gifts. If the generosity goes out of your heart during the offertory, take a vacation. Come back, with generosity in your heart.